How Faith-Based Organizations Empower the Marginalized Across Contexts [Part 2 of 2]

 A group of Peace and Hope's young Quechua beneficiaries celebrate together in Andahuaylas, Peru.  Photo Credit: Peace and Hope International

A group of Peace and Hope's young Quechua beneficiaries celebrate together in Andahuaylas, Peru. Photo Credit: Peace and Hope International

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.

Religious freedom is a comprehensive issue that deals with a range of topics. Religious freedom protections have implications for whether an Orthodox Jewish community can build a temple, whether a Muslim man can retain a beard while imprisoned or whether a public university can host a Catholic club on campus. Today, conversations about religious freedom often revolve around the intersection of religion and sexual orientation/gender identity (SOGI). While religious freedom has to do with far more than questions regarding sexuality and gender, upcoming court cases and shifting policies indicate that the rules surrounding SOGI are subject to rapid change. Therefore, it is essential that faith-based organizations critically assess how their faith informs their positions on SOGI so that they have informed responses to changes in policy and legislation.

Peace and Hope International is a Sacred Sector participant that operates in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia (and proximately will open offices in Brazil and Chile). Because its work takes place in multiple countries, the organization must address how its sacred mission shapes its position on SOGI issues across cultures.

This article is the second in a two-part series on how faith-based organizations can empower marginalized groups in a range of contexts. As Peace and Hope International explores how to best approach SOGI in its organizational practices and carry out its mission to serve the oppressed in a variety of locations, it remains committed to having its sacred mission at the center of its organizational practices.

Organizational Practices

Peace and Hope International is a faith-based organization that comes alongside individuals, families and communities in poverty, so that they can live with dignity, free from violence and injustice. Though their focus is on empowerment at the local level through training, education, financial support and capacity building, Peace and Hope International also promotes change through government advocacy.

Peace and Hope International lives out its sacred mission as it seeks to empower the oppressed across contexts. One of the resources Sacred Sector provides to participating faith-based organizations such as Peace and Hope International is a Nondiscrimination Laws Organizational Practice Toolbox. It says:

Think critically about how religious beliefs make a difference in your organization’s day-to-day operations. Additionally, ensure that conversations with staff about the organization’s faith-shaped values and practices extend beyond the initial onboarding process. The focus should be not on adopting policies to avoid lawsuits, but rather on creating clarity and consistency internally so that the FBO remains or becomes an authentic expression of its religious identity in the world.

Peace and Hope International is an example of an organization that considers how its sacred mission impacts its daily practices. Dr. Vilma “Nina” Balmaceda, President and CEO of Peace and Hope International, mentioned that the organization recently started work in Colombia. She said, “The life of our Lord demonstrates that His kingdom is built on justice, peace and truth. We want to bring that kingdom vision to help people with their trauma on a personal level but also promote the changes Colombia needs on a more structural level so the massive violence they have been experiencing will not be repeated.”

The organization’s vision of justice shapes the spiritual support services given to trauma survivors, and also ensures that the organization equips Christian leaders to rely on biblical principles in their peace building work.

Peace and Hope International’s faith identity also influences its approach to SOGI. As mentioned in the previous article, one of the unique aspects of this organization is its ability to recognize how communities experience marginalization differently across contexts. For instance, the LGBTQ community may be marginalized in one country, while more conservative communities may be marginalized in another. In either case, Peace and Hope International is committed to coming alongside whomever is experiencing oppression, regardless of whether PHI shares all the same values as the groups they are advocating for.

Balmaceda explained, “We do not have a single position in terms of the theological issues regarding LGBTQ lifestyles, but we do have a single theological position in terms of protecting the human rights of all humans created in the image of God.”

While Peace and Hope International realizes there is always room for improvement, it exemplifies how faith-based organizations should carefully consider how their sacred mission impacts their practices for serving vulnerable communities. For more information on how faith-based organizations can navigate SOGI nondiscrimination laws or establish best practices, see the Nondiscrimination Laws Organizational Practice Toolbox.

Conclusion

Religious freedom is a fundamental right for reasons that extend far beyond the question of sexuality and gender identity. Nevertheless, in today’s rapidly changing political climate, faith-based organizations must assess how their sacred mission impacts every area of its organizational practice, including, potentially, its stance on SOGI issues. Peace and Hope International faces a particular challenge in this area due to its involvement in many places throughout Latin America. Yet the organization demonstrates how faith-based organizations can live out their calling to serve the oppressed while also considering how their faith informs their approach to SOGI issues, regardless of location. By centering its work on its sacred mission and biblical vision of justice, Peace and Hope International reveals how faith-based organizations can promote flourishing across a variety of contexts.

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.