This report maps and analyzes the field of educating religious leaders for faith-rooted justice work in America. The scope of this report is limited to places and programs where religious leaders are intentionally educated, equipped, or trained to engage in social justice work and leadership. The findings of this report are based on more than thirty interviews of educators in the field from 26 institutions conducted in 2013.
The Reverend Alexia Salvatierra, a veteran organizer in faith communities and an Evangelical Christian, coined the phrase “faith-rooted” in 2007 while working with Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE). She used the phrase to describe a style of organizing and action work that is shaped and guided in every way by faith principles and practices. As she would later write in her book (with Peter Heltzel), Faith-Rooted Organizing, “Faith-rooted organizing is based on the belief that many aspects of spirituality, faith traditions, faith practices and faith communities can contribute in unique and powerful ways to the creation of just communities and societies.”
While a consensus definition of faith-rooted organizing or faith-rooted work for social and economic justice may not yet exist, the following characteristics are lifted up by champions of the movement:
These practices stand on the shoulders of historical faith-rooted activism such as the civil rights movement led by figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., the Central American Sanctuary Movement in the U.S., and the farm workers movement led by Cesar Chavez, among many other inspiring examples of justice work that communities of faith have led and participated in. Indeed, faith-rooted justice work is not a new practice, it is an ancient one. What is new, however, is: (i) a burgeoning commitment to systematically teasing out and understanding the role that faith plays in justice work vis-à-vis secular practices; (ii) new contexts and new tools to engage in faith-rooted justice, such as an increasingly multifaith American society and digital organizing practices; and (iii) a blossoming of formal education programs that strive to equip leaders of faith with specific skills, practices and knowledge to engage in faith-rooted justice work.
We’ve compiled a list of profiles of education programs in the faith-rooted social justice field separated into two categories: (i) NGO and congregation-based programs, and (ii) seminary-based programs. Please help us keep these lists up to date.
American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute
At the University of Southern California. The American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute offered a 9-month leadership program for Muslim civic leaders (ages 25-40) across the country from 2008-2013. 84 fellows in four cohorts have participated. The fellowship is on hiatus while the leadership explores the development of regional programming. While all fellows were exposed to organizing techniques as part of the program, some were more focused on social justice work and community organizing than others (who may prefer community development, governmental leadership, etc.). Partnership with Bend the Arc’s Community Organizing Residency, with five full-time Muslim organizers emerging from that relationship. Also convened meetings of Muslim organizers.
From 2006-2011 the Beatitudes Society offered a summer-long CPE-inspired program for seminary students to practice and learn Christian-rooted social justice leadership. Students were placed in major cities at sites like Bread for the World and Sojourners. After a major evaluation of the program’s impact in 2010-11, Beatitudes adjusted its program offering and re-launched as an elite year-long fellowhip program for early career Christian religious leaders engaged in social justice work in a congregation setting. Fellows must be under 40 and within 7 years of seminary. The newest class was announced in the summer of 2015.
Bend the Arc
Bend the Arc, which formed from the merger of various Jewish social justice institutions in recent years, is working to build “a national movement that pursues justice as a core expression of Jewish tradition.” Bend the Arc currently offers three core leadership development programs: (i) the Selah Leadership Program trains Jewish leaders working in social change organizations (6 months, 1 week intensive plus ongoing learning). 275 leaders from 200 orgs have been trained since 2004. (ii) the Jeremiah Fellowship is for Jews age 22-32 in northern or southern CA or D.C. who are engaged in economic and social justice work. 200+ alumni to date. (iii) Detroit Community Leadership Initiative is a new regional offering in partnership with the University of Michigan’s Jewish Communal Leadership Program. 19 young leaders (ages 25-38) were part of the first cohort.
Christian Community Development Association
The Christian Community Development Association focuses on faith-based and asset-based approaches to community development. They generally work with churches to engage in their neighborhood. Through regional training programs and a national conference (with over 2,500 attendees), CCDA educates, inspires and equips clergy and lay leaders to engage in faith-rooted community development. CCDA is more focused on community needs than national campaigns.
Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE): Ziegler Young Religious Leaders Fellowship
An early version of this program started in 2002. The current summer organizing fellowship is open to students, non-students, lay leaders and pastors from high school to graduate school ages. Participants learn faith-rooted community organizing techniques through “deep training, shadowing, hands on practical work to develop strong relationships with local religious communities and worker leaders.” The current version of the fellowship began in 2012. In 2013 there were 9 fellows.
Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts: Leadership Development Initiative
The Leadership Development Initiative trains teams of people of faith (mostly from Episcopal congregations in greater Boston area) in faith-rooted action skills over the course of a 9-month program. The techniques and philosophy are rooted in Marshall Ganz’s thought and adapted for communities of faith. In 2012-13, fourteen teams participated in the program, which includes discerning and then launching a specific mission program. Funding comes from the Episcopal Diocese, Episcopal City Mission (a local foundation), and individual donors.
Inner-City Muslim Action Network
The Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) in Chicago may be the most advanced home of Muslim-oriented social justice work in America. In 2007 IMAN offered its first organizing training, and is now honing training programs to be even more effective (a new Community Organizing 101 Training will launch in September 2013). Over the years, IMAN has developed forms of Islamic-rooted community organizing that have been influenced by the Ta’leef Collective. IMAN also opened a health clinic to support the neighborhood (40% of patients are Muslim), runs a campaign to work with owners of corner stores to offer healthier food and drink alternatives, and offers various arts programs.
Interfaith Organizing Initiative, Seminary Strategy Table
The Interfaith Organizing Initiative is a working table of denominations, religious bodies, organizing networks and funders committed to advancing Congregation-based Community Organizing (CBO). The Seminary Strategy Table of IOI was launched in 2010 to strengthen the ties between congregation-based community organizing practices and seminary training. Steve Newcom is chair of the effort. The group held a daylong strategy session in April 2013 in Chicago.
Interfaith Worker Justice
Interfaith Worker Justice, based in Chicago, trains a handful of seminary students each year (from McCormick, North Park, University of Chicago Divinity School, and Garrett) in both academic year experiences and through a summer internship program. The learning focuses on the community organizing experience and is supplemented by theological reflection. IWJ’s goal is to educate religious communities to address issues of worker justice. 3-5 day organizing training for faith leaders are part of IWJ’s offerings.
JOIN for Justice: Seminary Leadership Project
The Seminary Leadership Project in synagogue-based organizing was founded at Interfaith Funders and later housed by Jewish Funds for Justice before moving to JOIN for Justice in 2011. Over 200 rabbinical and cantorial students have been trained through their seminary course in congregation-based organizing, one in NYC and one in LA (led by Just Congregations), and field-based organizing internships in synagogues and NGO’s. JOIN also offers a year-long paid community organizing fellowship in Boston for young Jewish adults ages 21-30.
Judson Memorial Church, Community Ministry Program
Donna Schaper created this unique parish-based educational program for seminary students and recent graduates. Judson became a unique field site for religious leaders who wanted to engage in intensive congregation-based urban social justice work. In 2012-13 there were seven community ministers in the program (for a total of 48 since 2006). Critical funding for the program was provided by the Carpenter Foundation. Although the future of the program is uncertain, the program was pioneering. See “precedents” section below for mention of a survey of related programs carried out in 2009.
PICO National Network
The PICO National Network trains and equips leaders for faith-based and faith-rooted organizing through various programs. Two one-week-long national trainings are held each year (Jan. and Aug.) for leaders and clergy. The August 2013 training had 130 participants. While these trainings include faith reflection, the bulk of the content is focused on understanding power and learning campaign skills. In addition, each PICO campaign offers quarterly trainings (2-3 days each) for campaign leaders. A newer Prophetic Voices Initiative works with clergy to develop forms of religious leadership that complement campaign-driven approaches.
Religious Action Center, Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Program and Brickner Rabbinic Seminars
The Religious Action Center (RAC) is the advocacy arm of the Union for Reform Judaism. For more than thirty years, the RAC has offered an intensive year-long program for recent college grads to engage in Jewishly-informed social justice advocacy in D.C. Six to eight legislative assistants are selected each year. Participants engage in a mix of legislative activity (attending coalition meetings, meeting with members of Congress, writing press releases – 60%) and programmatic activities that create materials to educate members about the issues (40%). Many alumni become rabbis and Jewish communal leaders. The RAC also offers an occasional yearlong Brickner Rabbinic Fellowship, designed to provide rabbis with the foundation and skills to be “more effective social justice advocates.” The program has 28 alumni (from many streams of Judaism) and a new cohort is being recruited in 2014 in partnership with CLAL.
Sojourners was founded by seminary students in D.C. in the 1970’s who were frustrated with their seminary’s silence around civil rights and the Vietnam War. Today, Sojourner’s specialty is bringing the ‘social justice gospel’ to conservative Christians. Sojourners currently offers the following education and training programs: (i) intern program, year-long full-time experience including life in an intentional community (~8-10/year). Includes both post-undergrad and second career folk. 30 years in the running; (ii) Emerging Voices project strives to “support the next generation of faithful leaders articulating the biblical call to social justice.” Includes mentoring by Jim Wallis, support group, active pushing out of fellows voices, and training (started in 2011); (iii) faith-rooted organizing training: 4-5 trainings a year of leaders at the regional level who then train at the grassroots, tends to focus on Hill-based advocacy. Full version (2-3 days) by invitation for leaders with existing networks, and 1-day version at conferences, etc.
T’ruah: Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
T’ruah offers a range of opportunities for rabbinical and cantoral students of all denominations to integrate issues of human rights into their religious education through the Year in Israel Program and the Summer Fellowship in Human Rights Leadership.
Claremont Lincoln University: MA, Religion and Social Change
Claremont Lincoln launched a multifaith MA in Religion and Social Change in the fall of 2013 with six students. The program was conceived by professors of ethics from the university’s various schools (including Claremont School of Theology, Academy of Jewish Religion, University of the West, and a new Islamic school). Helene Slessarev-Jamir and Santiago Slabodsky will teach most of the required courses to start. Includes an interfaith requirements in dialogue, leadership, and learning about other religions. Students can take advantage of relationship with the Drucker Institute.
Covenant Theological Seminary: City Ministry Initiative
Covenant (affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of America) launched the City Ministry Initiative to bring the school into a more intimate relationship with the city of St. Louis where it is located. A new MA Religion and Culture was launched. Many students help faith communities serve the large refugee population (St. Louis is the 3rd largest destination for refugee settlement in North America). “Cultural intelligence” learning was added to the MDiv curriculum. Faculty are reinterpreting what missiology and evangelism means. The initiative has also led to a major relationship building with the city’s arts community, as well as a significant emphasis on vocational discernment.
Denver Seminary: MA Mission and Justice
Denver Seminary launched the professional MA in Mission and Justice in 2012 with approximately 25 students and 25 more entering in 2013. The program is designed around evangelical approaches to justice and tends to attract evangelical students. Gary VanderPol, whose dissertation focused on evangelical responses to poverty, designed the curriculum. Students earning an MDiv can also do a concentration in Mission and Justice by taking 12 extra credit hours.
Fuller Theological Seminary
Fuller offers two areas of emphasis that feature justice-oriented work: children at risk, and international development and urban studies. Courses such as Advocacy for Social Justice and Organizing Urban Communities prepare students for faith-rooted justice work. The Just Peacemaking Initiative promotes learning and research of faith-rooted peacemaking practices. The Deep Justice initiative at the Fuller Youth Institute focuses on youth issues in justice work.
Iliff School of Theology: MA in Social Change
Iliff’s MA in Social Change is entering its fourth year with a new curriculum developed by Jenny Whitcher. Expected enrollment of 23 in 2013-14. This program sits alongside an older peace and justice certificate program, but the MASC is more praxis- and professionally oriented.
New York Theological Seminary: Micah Institute
NYTS offers a Doctor of Ministry in Transformation Leadership and Faith-Rooted Organizing, with roughly 10 clergy entering the program each year (30 have begun the program so far, and 10 more will begin in Fall 2013), 80% from NYC region and 20% around US. In addition to academic and theological learning, DMin candidates are exposed to significant field-based faith-rooted organizing in NYC and travel to the American South to better understand the role of faith-rooted activists during the civil rights movement.
Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary: Justice and Evangelism Concentration
Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary offers a concentration in Justice and Evangelism that prepares leaders for exploring new ways of doing and being church that are centered in both social justice and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that respond to the changing dynamics of the new century. Special attention is given to skills for developing ministries with and in service to people who have been marginalized by mainstream society. Participants in this concentration address the intimate link between social justice and the well-being of God’s good garden Earth, and they have access to the wealth of inter-religious engagement offered by Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union of which PLTS is a member.
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College: Social Justice Organizing Program
The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College launched a “track” for its rabbinic students to focus on social justice organizing and leadership, the first specialized academic track at a Jewish seminary to focus on justice organizing. The program emerged out of the Selah program (now at Bend the Arc) and features leadership training based on Rockwood’s approach. Students study Jewish perspectives on key issues like economic justice and environmental justice. They learn a variety of skills, including finance, nonprofit administration, active listening, social entrepreneurship, community organizing and nonviolent action, and learn how the Jewish community functions. Participants complete a year-long supervised field placement in justice-oriented field sites (10 hrs a week).
Starr King School for the Ministry: MA in Social Change
Starr King’s two-year MA in Social Change receives about 5-10 new students each year. Through a close and active one-on-one advising relationship, faculty work with students to create an individualized, student-centered learning experience. The program features a specialization area, 6-month internship, integrative reflection class and final Masters Project. Starr King is committed to eight “thresholds of religious leaders” (Pastoral Counselor/Spiritual Director, Teacher, Artist, Pastor/Congregational Leader, Scholar, Prophet/Social Change Agent, Preacher, Theologian). Students can take courses from GTU schools and UC Berkeley.
United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities: Center for Public Ministry
Steve Newcom founded the Center for Public Ministry at United in Minneapolis to develop more holistic and praxis-based approaches to religious-based social justice leadership (see “precedents” section below for more info on Newcom’s research prior to founding the Center). He is working with faculty to introduce social justice learning into coursework and is creating justice-focused field experiences outside and inside congregations. His colleague Sue Ellers Hatley is also working to use CPE learning in community-based justice institutions.
Wesley Seminary: MA with focus on Missional Church and Urban Ministry
The Center for the Missional Church at Wesley Seminary is creating an approach to religious leadership called ‘engaged ministry.’ Under traditional taglines like urban ministry, public theology, and evangelism, the Center is working to get students and churches engaged in the community as well as being witness to their neighbors. Some students participate in special programs (see below) while others do internships in community NGO’s. Takes advantage of downtown D.C. location. Community organizing and policy advocacy are not currently integrated into these programs.
1. A faith-rooted approach to social and economic justice is a new outgrowth of a faith-based approach, which itself grew out of secular social change practices.
2. Faith-rooted justice work is an emerging field of practice.
3. The field of educating leaders for faith-rooted justice work is just beginning to blossom.
4. How we got here: faith-based NGO’s led the way by pioneering education programs to equip religious leaders for social change work.
5. Seminaries are deeply committed to social justice work in their mission and language, but most seminaries show little commitment to educating and equipping religious leaders with the necessary capacities or skills to carry out social justice work in congregations or other organizations.
6. Faith-rooted justice education networks need support: connections between seminaries and NGO’s are emerging and need to be strengthened and broadened, and connections across faith lines need even more attention.
7. There is excitement about the possibility of bringing together leaders from the field and the seminary to advance the cause of faith-rooted social justice education.
8. No institution is examining the national picture of equipping religious leaders for justice in order to build the field.
9. Models for congregation-based justice work merit and need more attention.
Alexia Salvatierra, consultant to numerous faith-rooted justice organizations, provided initial and ongoing mapping and guidance to this project. In addition, each of the following individuals were formally consulted on the topics included in this report.
American Jewish World Service (NYC): Lisa Exler, Senior Program Officer, Experiential Education; and Rebecca Wasserman, Director of Campaigns and Organizing
American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California: Nadia Roumani, Founder.
Beatitudes Society: Anne Howard, Executive Director
Bend the Arc (NYC): Jason Kimelman Block, Senior Director of Leadership Initiatives and Rabbi-in-Residence; and Stosh Cotler, Executive Vice President
Christian Community Development Association (CCDA): Bethany Dudley, Education & Curriculum Director
Covenant Theological Seminary (St. Louis): Gregory Perry, Director of City Ministry Initiative
Denver Seminary: Gary VanderPol, Director, MA Justice and Mission
Echoing Green (New York City): Linda Kay Klein
Fuller Theological Seminary (Pasadena): Mark Lau Branson, Homer L. Goddard Professor of the Ministry of the Laity
Iliff School of Theology (Denver): Jenny Whitcher, Director, Masters in Social Change program
Inner-city Muslim Action Network (Chicago): Rami Nashashibi, Executive Director; Alia Bilal, Executive Associate; and Zeinab Bakhiet
Interfaith Worker Justice (Chicago): Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow, Student Programs Coordinator
Judson Memorial Church (NYC): Donna Schaper, Senior Minister
Leadership Development Initiative (Boston), connected to the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts: Duncan Hilton, Director of Programming
McCormick Theological Seminary (Chicago): Deborah Kapp, Professor of Urban Ministry and Interim Dean of Faculty
New Organizing Institute (Washington, D.C.): Katie Ellis, Director of Training
New York Theological Seminary (NYC): Peter Heltzel, founder of Micah Institute and co-author of forthcoming Faith Rooted Organizing
North Park Theological Seminary (Chicago): Richard Kohng, Paul De Neui, Soong-Chan Rah (faculty)
PICO National Network (Washington, D.C.): Joy Cushman, Campaign Director
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (Wyncote, PA): Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Director, Social Justice Organizing Program
River City Community Church (Chicago): Ivan Gonzalez, Pastor
Seattle Pacific University: Tali Hairston, Director of the John Perkins Center
Sojourners (Washington, D.C.): Elizabeth Denlinger Reaves, Intern Program Director/ Administrative Director; and Jenny Smith, Sojourner intern 2012-13
Starr King School for the Ministry (Berkeley): Gabriella Lettini, Professor of Theological Ethics and Dean of Faculty; Betty-Jeanne Rueters-Ward, Adjunct Faculty
United Theological Seminary (Minneapolis): Steve Newcom, Founding Director, Center for Public Ministry
Uri L’Tzedek (national) Shmuly Yanklowich (founder)
Wesley Theological Seminary (Washington, D.C.): Doug Powe, Professor of Evangelism and Urban Ministry; and Sam Marullo, Assistant Director of the Center for Public Ministry
This report may be shared and quoted, with attribution, in print and electronically. The report and the information therein may not be sold. Feedback about the report, including errors, omissions, and praise, should be directed to Auburn’s Dean, Rabbi Justus Baird. Auburn expresses gratitude to the educators listed above for giving generously of their time to share information and wisdom.
© Justus Baird and Auburn Seminary 2013-15.