At its most recent meeting on December 11, 2013, the Board of Directors of Community Renewal Society approved the following Declaration of Faith. It is intended to guide the work of CRS in the months and years ahead. I commend it to you with a few introductory comments and observations.
DECLARATION OF FAITH
Guided by God’s word and impelled by God’s Spirit, Community Renewal Society seeks to renew God’s world through redeeming relations among all peoples.
We are rooted in the life and teachings of Jesus and the witness of the Hebrew prophets – a religious tradition of revolutionary and transformative love and justice. We serve the God, revealed in creation and scripture, in experience and relationships, who redeems a fallen and divided world into an inclusive community of love. We seek a Beloved Community that is lived out in justice, compassion, and peace.
God calls us to be agents of change in the world – to take action against institutional racism and economic and political injustice. We do so by being grounded in the life of churches and communities most harmed by these social sins.
This Declaration emerged after six months of strenuous discussion among a committee comprised of theologians, clergy, board, and staff. It would be presumptuous of me to speak on behalf of such a diverse group. My remarks, therefore, will be “confessional” – I will speak to what in the statement seems most meaningful to me.
The statement is explicitly Christian. This will not surprise those who know that our founding name was the Chicago City Missionary Society and that we were created to fight corruption and immorality in Chicago by strengthening the life of Congregational churches. But in 1967 we adopted our current name, and in the following thirty years added two “secular” publications: the Chicago Reporter, and Catalyst Chicago. To some, our faith orientation became less clear.
CRS as a Christian organization is asserted with two caveats: first, our commitment to work in partnership with many faiths; and, second, the editorial independence of our two investigative journals. It is not assumed that these publications must reflect our faith in order to serve our mission.
One notices two references to the concept of “redemption.” To me, this conveys the theological assertion that injustice results from our “fallen” state, but that we are offered the possibility of redemption through the love God has for all. It falls to us to seek to express this love in our individual and political lives.
The Declaration refers both to “an inclusive community of love,” and to “The Beloved Community.” To me, these are synonymous. Some have wondered about the latter, which surprises me. Martin Luther King used this phrase repeatedly, by which he meant that we “we are all one” regardless of race or creed, because we are all loved equally by God. What concept could be more central to an organization committed to combating institutional racism?
The Declaration calls upon us to be “agents of change in the world.” Our purpose is transformational. It is no surprise that Don Benedict, CRS Executive Director from 1960 to 1982, whose values shape the goals of CRS even today, titled his autobiography “Born Again Radical.” He deplored a church that so often reflects society rather than seeks to change it. Once asked why, since he was so critical of the church, he did not simply give up on it, he replied “Because it has the Gospel.” Rightly understood, the Gospel renders private religion a contradiction in terms.
Since the days of Don Benedict, CRS has been defined by its fight against racism. The word “institutional” (or “structural”) in the Declaration is essential to this battle today. Michelle Alexander in “The New Jim Crow” uses a “birdcage” metaphor: “If one thinks about racism by examining only one wire of the cage, or one form of disadvantage, it is difficult to understand how and why the bird is trapped. Only a large number of wires arranged in a specific way, and connected to one another, serve to enclose the bird and to ensure that it cannot escape.”
Although CRS’ mission statement refers to the struggle against “poverty”, I prefer “economic injustice” because these words point to the cause of poverty. And I am so pleased that the statement refers also to “political injustice.” The famous phrase of Justice Brandeis bears repeating: “We can have a democratic society or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”
The phrase “grounded in the life of churches and communities” reflects the community organizing that lies at the heart of CRS. Our authenticity comes from the voices of those most affected by the poverty and racism we seek to rectify.
Finally, the term “social sins” helps us to avoid the misguided view that our faith is a matter only of private spirituality. The “witness of the Hebrew prophets” cries out to the contrary. Indeed, it is by fighting collective injustices — fundamentally those of class and race — that we work most meaningfully toward the redemption of God’s creation. It is to this purpose that the Declaration of Faith directs us.
May this new Declaration of Faith inform our mission and inspire our deeds.