Faith in Public Life converts clergy into changemakers

Written by: Troy Price

Date: October 11, 2018

Faith leaders across the country yearn to share their vision for a just and equitable America, but philanthropy has been reluctant to support them.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series of posts featuring NCRP nonprofit members.

What if funders focused specifically on empowering faith leaders?

Faith in Public Life (FPL) has spent the past 10 years training, mobilizing and empowering faith leaders across the country to change the narrative around faith’s role in politics while taking strategic moral action to shape policy locally and nationally.

Through these efforts, FPL has built a growing network of almost 50,000 clergy and faith leaders united in the fight for social justice.

This includes helping individual leaders develop hard skills like media messaging. FPL members learn how to do an interview, how to write op-eds and letters to the editor, and which messaging platforms to use, among other skills.

They even do simulation trainings and practice podcasts – whatever it takes to empower faith leaders to lead with their moral and values-based message.

Certain coverage of religion’s role in our modern society would have us believe that fear of progress has overtaken our country’s houses of worship. Faith in Public Life’s work proves that this is not the case.  

Staring down the White House’s travel ban on people from predominantly Muslim countries in early 2017, FPL’s Ohio branch organized a press conference with more than 200 faith leaders in Columbus to denounce the ban and call for a welcoming of their Muslim neighbors. This included clergy from the prominent Vineyard evangelical mega-churches in Columbus.

One could also point to the 500 faith leaders who decried the federal tax bill last fall or the 400 who flooded the public comment on the citizenship question in the 2020 Census.    

FPL is showing that faith leaders can use their leadership and values to drive progressive change. Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews and others are putting their privilege on the line to not sow division between them, but instead sew together the fabric of shared values uniting them.

Funders should be prepared to take that risk with them.

There is no strategic reason to cede ground on faith in public life to what some have defined as Christian nationalism, especially because there is already legitimate infrastructure in place.

Houses of worship are central to civic life everywhere, whether in communities of color, the suburbs or rural America.

Tapping into their leadership to propel civic engagement could be an effective tool in bringing the country together in the pursuit of what is just, good and equitable.

We know there are some who will continue to use religion to exclude. Those groups are heavily funded. Three major faith groups on the right, Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and the American Family Association, pull in over $100 million per year combined.

FPL has already demonstrated an ability to build and illuminate relationships among varying faith leaders around social justice causes with comparatively modest resources.

Imagine what they and their allies could do with funding even remotely approaching the amounts flowing to their regressive counterparts.

Secular funders may bristle at directing more money to faith-based advocacy groups. The incorrect weaponization of faith throughout history has left us with examples that should never be replicated.

Beyond that, one is hard-pressed to find faith-focused portfolios to model after in progressive spaces – aside from direct service work.

It may be a new road to traverse, but the payoff could be huge. The necessary infrastructure already exists. Supporting groups with talented and well-placed messengers who can reach reluctant ears is a worthy investment.

In 2018, it’s not about what makes us different, it’s about what makes us the same. The moral power that these faith leaders have to influence public debates and build just and equitable societies is a severely untapped resource. 

Troy Price is NCRP’s membership and fundraising intern. Follow @NCRP on Twitter.

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