These articles are meant to strengthen the capacity of all faith-based organizations to live out their faith-based missions. If you are already a Sacred Sector participant, log into the Participant Portal to access the toolbox resources. If your organization is interested in becoming a Sacred Sector participant, click here.
A new report on race and economic mobility in the United States exposes the stark racial divides between black and white American men with the same economic starting points. Using data from government sources to track the lives of 20 million Americans born between 1978 and 1982, the report indicates that across generations, black men are less likely to experience upward economic mobility and, when they do, are more likely to experience downward mobility after. According to the New York Times, “Even when children grow up next to each other with parents who earn similar incomes, black boys fare worse than white boys in 99 percent of America.”
The results of this report highlight the undeniable role of race in issues such as poverty and homelessness. Thankfully, organizations like Columbia Learning International Ministries are well aware of how racial inequalities exacerbate existing employment and housing challenges, and have been developing programs to empower those who lack access to equal opportunities in society.
Columbia Learning International Ministries (CLIM) is a Sacred Sector participant and faith-based organization that provides affordable housing, life-skills programs and counseling to support homeless individuals and families’ transition to permanent housing. CLIM has provided affordable housing to almost 400 individuals and families in the last 17 years, and has provided community service to more than 3,000 individuals and families in the last three years.
In part, CLIM’s success is due to its understanding of the complexity of homelessness. CLIM recognizes not only the racial implications of homelessness, but also the spiritual and relational dimensions as well. Its ability to work towards incorporating its sacred mission throughout its organizational culture enables it to transform lives and impact communities.
While some believe racism should be addressed primarily through government and others believe it should be the role of the church, CLIM recognizes the capacity of faith-based organizations to promote inclusion and reconciliation despite racial divides. Angeloyd Fenrick, Founder and Executive Director of CLIM, notes the particular challenge of bridging racial, ethnic and cultural divides: “I think both white and black faith-based organizations could be doing better. On both sides, we have a predetermined disposition that prevents us from meeting someone [different from ourselves] or getting to know them.”
According to Fenrick, one of the key ways to overcome these predispositions is to form relationships with communities of different backgrounds. Doing so encourages familiarity with different ethnic and cultural contexts and empowers individuals to apply for employment opportunities at workplaces in communities where they wouldn’t have otherwise. An example of such a relationship is CLIM’s partnership with Little Lights, a local nonprofit for which Fenrick serves as board member.
“The common denominator that we need in navigating challenges of race and inequality is love,” said Fenrick. “Love can turn the tide in our differences. It is about understanding God’s grace.”
In addition to empowering individuals by fostering restorative relationships, CLIM helps them overcome the barriers to equal opportunity they face through innovative programs. All the while, CLIM keeps its Christian faith at the center of its work.
At CLIM, affordable housing is the first step in a process that helps those experiencing homeless reach independence. CLIM also provides their tenants with access to case management, parenting classes, counselling and credit repair. In addition, it provides employment opportunities for teens and youth by donating space for a local ministry’s urban garden.
CLIM believes that to best accomplish its work, it must be able take faith into consideration when making staffing decisions. As a faith-based organization, CLIM has the right to do so.
Sacred Sector’s Religious Staffing Organizational Practices Toolbox is included in the resources Sacred Sector provides to faith-based organizations such as CLIM. The toolbox says,
FBOs have the freedom to consider religious factors when identifying the hiring criteria, making the hiring selection, conveying employee and applicant expectations, and determining staffing decisions. [...] By living out your mission of faith in the workplace, your organization can embody a faith-centered culture while also demonstrating it has legal standing as a religious institution.
CLIM takes seriously the integration of its sacred identity and daily practices. Fenrick explains, “ClIM lives out God’s will for its mission through much prayer. We have a weekly prayer line so that as we enter into anything new, we are surrounding it in prayer.”
CLIM’s intentional prayer life yields results. For example, a former CLIM tenant currently volunteers to do building maintenance; by helping individuals transition from receiving services to giving services, CLIM demonstrates the transformational power of faith.
In addition to prayer, CLIM collaborates with fellow believers so that it can more fully live out its mission. For instance, CLIM has partnered with Christian individuals and organizations to improve its maintenance and its business management. No matter whom CLIM engages with, “faith is the common denominator.”
By living out its faith in its programs, staffing decisions and ministry partnerships, CLIM exemplifies how its faith-identity is crucial to its successes. Though CLIM recognizes that there are always ways it can strengthen its sacred mission, by working toward consistently integrating the faith identity it professes CLIM exhibits the significant contributions of faith-based organizations in society.
For more information on how faith-based organizations can implement their sacred missions throughout their organizational practices, see Sacred Sector’s Religious Staffing Organizational Practices Toolbox.
Challenging public issues such as poverty and homelessness are too complex to be addressed by one institution, whether it be the government or the church. CLIM demonstrates how faith-based organizations can integrate faith and organizational practices in ways that churches and government cannot. By taking faith into consideration when making hiring decisions, collaborating with groups and individuals who share its faith and saturating its organizational life with prayer, CLIM effectively embodies its sacred mission and demonstrates the importance of faith-based organizations to onlookers. Moreover, by rooting its racial reconciliation efforts in a biblical understanding of love and grace, CLIM illustrates how faith-based organizations are uniquely equipped to address social issues that neither the government nor the church can solve on their own. Altogether, organizations like CLIM help disentangle the close associations between poverty, homelessness and racism and have an integral role to play in society.
If you are not a Sacred Sector participant and would like access to resources on public policy, organizational practices and public positioning for faith-based organizations, sign up to become a Sacred Sector participant here.
Kathryn Mae Post is an intern with the Center for Public Justice (CPJ). She contributes to two different initiatives at CPJ: Sacred Sector and the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance (IRFA). She is graduating from Calvin College in May of 2018 with a BA in both political science and English.