Can you imagine a robust social service sector without the 350,000 congregations and 228,000 faith-inspired organizations that support America's food banks, refugee resettlement and housing programs? How might voting access diminish without the 12,875 houses of worship that serve as polling places? Can you imagine civil rights advocacy-historically and today-without the leadership of the Black Church and interfaith clergy? Yet many philanthropies and PSOs avoid the topic of religion or partnerships with faith organizations because religion is also a minefield of personal and collective hurts. We get it. The challenges of culture wars, church/state complications, and values conflicts simply seem too daunting to navigate.
But we argue that the positive impact of faith on American democracy and civic engagement is too powerful and too pervasive to ignore-especially for vulnerable Americans and communities of color. Immigrant, Black, Native, and rural Americans tend to be highly religious, and to have more trust in and better relationships with faith-based organizations that are religiously and culturally competent to provide services. Further, research shows that faith-based nonprofits are equally professional and fiscally sound as their secular counterparts that may not have relevant cultural competency.
This interactive conversation offers open dialogue and practical tools regarding the urgency, hazards, and guardrails of philanthropic investment in faith-based organizations, particularly those that work at the intersection of faith and democracy. It's presented collaboratively by Aspen Institute's Religion and Society Program, Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement's Faith In/And Democracy Initiative, and Faith and Philanthropy-experimenters and practitioners in this fraught, critical, and growing area of philanthropic practice.