Review and Reflection on “Faith-Based Organizing.”

I recently read “Faith-Based Organizing.” This is a good book if you are looking to get into some practical application of community organizing within a faith setting. There are several chapters with the how-to’s of organizing, the people that you’ll need, and the foundation to get you started.

Here’s my sticking point – throughout the book, I kept reading about how certain aspects could not be tried or didn’t work out. It left me a bit confused. The reality of this is that organizing and change in a culture is difficult. Ideas on paper can be mapped out perfectly. But then as soon as you deal with people, it gets messy.

I don’t say all of that to dismiss this book. What I pulled away from this book is that here is a method that works if it is applied. It’s the ideal. And we recognize that no ideal works the way it ideally should. But it’s a great model to be a guide for action going forward. x

Part 1 of the book is the foundation. It talks about congregational transformation. That’s the stuff I love and needless to say, it’s the part of the book I enjoyed the most. Because talking about Congregational transformation provokes ideas, questions, and more. Congregational transformation is also about individual transformation, relationship transformation, community transformation. It allows me to sort though these things and figure out what might work in my setting, why, and to what purpose.

The core of this book is based on one premise – “Charity does not resolve the root causes of poverty, nor does it empower people caught in the vicious cycle of poverty.” (Pg. 3-4). This is the challenge for the church in America because it means that we have to look beyond our good works to the systems that maintain poverty. This is where our confession comes in handy – it reminds us that we are captive to sin (systems of abuse) and cannot free ourselves. We do this work because “We believe addressing and overcoming poverty matters to God.” (Pg. 5)

A good chunk of the book is focuses on a pilot method called – Congregation-initiated community-based advocacy. (CICBA). It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s about “transformation from charity to advocacy.” (Pg. 7). It is in advocacy that transformation takes place.

Here’s the part that is really important in this – definition of terms. Far too many Christians here the word advocacy and think – “but that’s political and the church isn’t supposed to be political.” Hog wash. We aren’t called to be partisan, but the church, and faith itself if political because politics is the process by which people come together to make decisions that impact the greater population. Politics is not a dirty word. It’s a tool. There are certainly people who have abused it, but show me an industry or process that is pure and free of such abuse? Certainly not in the church.

Here’s what the authors had to say about advocacy, “One CICBA presenter, Susan Engh, defines advocacy as speaking to someone in power on one’s behalf or on behalf of another to bring about change. Advocacy addresses policies because they determine the laws that control people’s lives.” (Pg. 12)

Still need convincing? How about some examples from Scripture – ” Advocacy has its roots in Scripture. Moses, for example, approached Pharaoh repeatedly on behalf of the Hebrews. Queen Esther later advocated on behalf of her people in exile. Prophets spoke to kings and priests on behalf of those suffering injustice..” (Pg. 12)

And in my Lutheran tradition, “Martin Luther advocated for changes in laws and taxes to provide for the poor.” (Pg. 12). Martin Luther King, Jr, advocated for those in poverty as well as for blacks whose rights were restricted unjustly.

The authors rightly identify that “the work of advocacy is to change systems that perpetuate poverty.” (pg. 12). And poverty can appear in a variety of forms.

The book goes on to talk about laying the groundwork for transformation, which is done through a variety of forms of listening – listening to God, the congregation, and the community. It is also based on relationship.

At its core, what this is really about is building trust. We build trust by spending time with people and listening to them consistently over time. People feel authentically heard and they know that they are cared about. We share a common interest in better life for each other and others. That’s what transformation is about. And that’s what this book offers a roadmap for.

As I mentioned, there are practical sections that you can take and start to implement. The other valuable parts of this book are its summary portions about the challenges that congregations and communities face – understanding different types of poverty and racism.

Overall, this is a helpful book for leaders in congregations to read and use as a guide for congregational transformation. But even more – a guide for how to live into the mission of Jesus for the church that will transform communities.

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