June 11, 2020

The Tipping Point Our world has been turned upside down. In a few short months, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the rhythms of our lives and caused vast human suffering – physical, social, economic, spiritual. Hardest hit by the disease and its financial fall-out are those who have long experienced economic and social inequality. The pandemic is not causing these deep inequities but revealing and exacerbating them.   Our world was convulsed again by the murder of a Black man by White police officers in Minneapolis.  George Floyd is not the first Black man to die in police custody. Far from it. But his tragic death captured on video is revealing the depths of racism in our country. Entrenched systems of power tip the scales in ways that perpetuate inequality and deny many the resources they need to thrive...or even to just stay alive.  The public outcry has been angry, loud, massive, sustained, overdue, righteous. Heightened awareness and broad engagement present an opportunity to make real change in the systems that perpetuate inequality. The most hopeful among us believe we have reached a tipping point.  The Church Shows Up in this Time of Crisis The churches offer spiritual comfort and hope in this crisis as they always have. They proclaim God’s love and God’s justice. They provide direct service to those most affected and they do it well. When sequestered, they adapt to bring people together in new ways. They advocate for wise and compassionate use of public resources to ease the pain. They protest. They urge their members to vote.   What more can churches do to change the systems that perpetuate inequality? In this time of radical disruption, churches could cast a powerful vision for upending oppressive power relations in the emerging post-pandemic world. Churches could demonstrate that it is possible to create alternative social and financial systems that are more equitable and just, following the vision of God’s economy. Criterion Institute is committed to partner with churches, religious organizations, congregations and people of faith in this audacious work of financial imagination and action.    1K Churches Sparks New Thinking and Acting One way that Criterion fosters financial imagination is through the 1K Churches Bible Study and Loan Program. That program helps people connect finance with their faith, put their new understandings into action, and experience for themselves the freedom and power to change how finance works through real relationship in their own neighborhood. The ultimate goal of the program is to grow a cadre of leaders who believe they can change financial systems to tilt toward justice and who look for opportunities to do so on a larger scale. Two stories from 1K groups in the midst of crisis:

  • The Microlending Program at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Ruxton, Maryland, has made 16 loans totaling more than $50,000. Their 1K leader, Bob Locke, reports that their robust lending program, like their city, is pretty much in lockdown now. They have money to lend and would gladly entertain a new opportunity, but they are not actively looking for lending prospects at this time. Acting with faith and compassion, they have told their current borrowers that there is a moratorium on all repayments until further notice. Locke said, “We do not want them to worry about repaying us on top of everything else.  We just want them to stay healthy.”  
  • An interdenominational group of women took up the 1K Churches Bible Study on Zoom last month while sheltering -in-place. They all work for Everence Financial, a faith-based financial services company. They are having good discussions about money and faith, and they are being challenged to think about using finance in new ways. Aware of how many financial institutions place restrictions on people of color, they want to get more women of faith behind the recent effort by Everence to create greater financial access for underserved people in Philadelphia. The convener of this group, Marlene Kroeker, will invite the participants to propose their own action steps with questions like these: “What are you going to take with you from this study?” and “What change do you want to implement in your economic life?”

1K Churches continues to do its work of awakening a financial imagination in hundreds of congregations across the country. They join many other church leaders and financial professionals who grasp the potential for creating needed social change through finance. Those who have caught the vision are asking for more ways to engage the church with all its resources in on a larger scale.   A Deeper Conversation that Leads to Bold, Systemic Action There has never been a more critical time for the church to bring its wisdom, its voice, and its influence to ensure that the financing of the recovery tilts the scales toward justice. This is our moment to organize and influence the shape of the economic recovery. The church has power. We need to use our power to disrupt destructive systems of power.  With this in mind, Criterion Institute is inviting church leaders to join us in a series of focused conversations about how we emerge from the current crises in ways that address our deep systemic injustices. We are creating a community of learning, imagination, action, and reflection. We intend this conversation to lead to action. As churches and with churches, we will work together toward the following commitments:  

  • To use our collective voice to shift the narrative about what happens in the recovery away from a return to what we thought of as normal and toward a vision that reflects our hope for the future God intends.
  • To use our collective influence to disrupt systems of power that are destructive and to encourage the transformation of systems to promote greater equity and empowerment.    

We cannot know where God is leading us or what exactly will emerge from these conversations. But this much is clear: Radical change in our financial systems is possible. Our faith gives us a starting place and a vision. Our churches have untapped power to make a difference. This moment, this tipping point, is an unparalleled opportunity for bold, systemic action for greater equity in our world. To learn more about our work, please visit our website or contact Photo Credit: "Change the System" by burrows.nichole28 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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