We have been reading, learning, engaging with, and growing in our understanding of Racial Justice over the past two and a half years. One of our parish priorities, adopted from the same Diocesan priorities introduced in 2021 by Bishop Loya, is Justice: Becoming Beloved Community. In prior Finance First Friday posts we have looked at issues around the intersection of justice and finance, justice and banking, and more. This month, our member, Erin Weber-Johnson shares with us from her field of expertise in the work she does with churches and faith based organizations around philanthropy and stewardship. The following is excerpted from her recent book Crisis and Care: Meditations on Faith and Philanthropy from Wipf and Stock Publishers. Erin’s writing stems from a deep dive into understanding why data and research did not exist around the giving, philanthropy, and stewardship practices of faith communities of color. She discovered that far beyond the lack of data, there was a world of difference in the philanthropic realities of BIPOC led faith-based institutions and communities and those led by white leaders. She learned and wrote about it in her chapter Philanthropic Redlining: Working twice as hard for half as much.

A few years ago  I attended a regional church meeting where local faith communities were gathered to discuss the judicatory budget as well as spending allocated to faith communities in need of financial support. A concern was raised about continuing to support churches, specifically churches of color, that were utilizing allocated funds from the judicatory’s budget. Two churches were held up as an example: one was primarily Latinx/a/e/o and the other Vietnamese and Lao.. The church with primarily Vietnamese and Lao constituents was historically noted to have used judicatory funds to support the mission of their congregation but “successfully moved to a place of sustainability.” Given this example, the leadership of the judiciary determined that the Latina/o congregation should surely replicate their experience and determined their continued funding would be based on their ability to meet these benchmarks of sustainability. 

What went unmentioned was that a significant proportion of those in the Latina/o/x faith community were undocumented and migrant workers. Never mind that this conversation occurred in a time of significant fear around immigration and our federal government’s tone and policy with regard to undocumented immigrants. Of course congregation members would hesitate to sign pledge cards or make financial promises. If one congregation could make the benchmarks, then why not another?  I witnessed as judicatory support for this mission became contingent, requiring them to work above and beyond their circumstances, culture, and counterparts. Further insulting, to ensure this congregation didn’t become “too dependent”, funding to the Latina/o/x congregation from the judicatory would taper each year by half. As a colleague shared, they were expected to “work twice as hard and for half as much.”

In the past few years, as the term philanthropic redlining came into common parlance, studies began to examine how philanthropic dollars are distributed and to what end. For instance, a fellowship program designed to provide influential leaders with resources for deepening their engagement in the world, Echoing Green, recently investigated their own granting practices. Echoing Green released results in May of 2020 after analysts examined three years of funding data. They found that white-led groups had budgets that were 24 percent larger than those led by people of color, and they also found that groups led by black women received less money than those led by black men or white women. 

Not surprisingly, in addition to receiving less, groups led by BIPOC leaders were asked to perform significantly and measurably more in order to receive funding. For nonprofits whose mission’s focus on similar issues, these gaps were even larger. Among groups focused on improving life outcomes of black men, revenue at organizations with black leaders is 45% lower than groups led by people who are white. 

Our systems are developed and maintained in ways that continue to mean BIPOC led organizations and faith communities work twice as hard for less resources than their white counterparts. The absence of data for giving characteristics among communities of color is but one way in which this has occurred. In this way, white folks, like me, utilize national data to provide best practices, continuing to reinforce a dominant narrative. Thus, our stewardship resources, how we teach, form, and disciple people and faith communities within the church perpetuate a culture that ensures white resources stay in white institutions.  

I see the irony in producing data to describe how granting organizations and major donors aren’t funding BIPOC at the same levels, with varying rules around approval, and all with an absence of giving data. We need new data, but we also need something more; we need new eyes to see the racialized reality of our institutionalized funding structures.  We need new questions to consider who and what does and doesn’t ‘count’ in decisions about funding. We need new ways of imagining our common life.

Darrel Hammond, Founder of Kaboom! recently noted: “Being brutally honest, my drive towards data, dashboards, and measurement—because ‘data don’t lie’—was wrong, especially if you’re not asking the right questions, drawing the wrong conclusions or insights, or not understanding the nuance of the numbers.” 

Wetikos is an Algonquin word for a cannibalistic spirit that is driven by greed, excess, and selfish consumption (in Ojibwa it is windigo, wintiko in Powhatan).  Interestingly,  in this tradition, the spirit deludes its host into believing that cannibalizing the life-force of others is a logical and morally upright way to live. This holds true for cultures and systems; all can be described as being wetiko if they routinely manifest these traits. This spirit has often been described to explain the impact of white culture on nature and on the bodies of enslaved people of color. 

As a white person, I wonder about the impact of the commodification of bodies and the ways it has led to colonizer-framed measurements of efficiency, success, and profitability. What does it mean to have to persuade others that you/your organization is a good investment, that your dignity, as a child of God, is worth giving to? 

Within the spirit of Wetikos, how have dominant systems devoured the resources of others and, in the process, seen the erosion of life from our churches? The erosion from our own souls?

Ford Foundation President Darren Walker recently noted, “As funders, we need to reject the impulse to put grantmaking rather than change making at the center of our worldview.” Walker describes how listening, learning, and lifting up voices who are most proximate and most essential to unlocking solutions is critical to the type of change making that we seek. This requires examining what gets in the way of trust—including deeply rooted cultural norms and structures, including racial biases.

As I make sense of systems with this newly named lens of philanthropic redlining,  I try to liberate  my imaginations from the spirit of Weitikos–which threatens to devour us all. Together, we work for systems where no one has to work twice as hard to get half as much.

Thank you, Erin, for sharing with us from your experience. As a church that not only raises dollars to support our own mission and ministry, but which also raises dollars to “grant” to other organization, means these insights are deeply relevant to our work as a church. Moreover, we hope they’ll inform you, in whatever ways you support, fund, and advocate for justice in the world through the organizations you give to and participate in.

Discussing money can be triggering, prompting feelings of fear or shame. Maybe that is why Jesus talked about money and possessions more than faith and prayer. Sharing our stories and God’s stories can be liberating and transformative.

As with most spiritual practices, we gain strength when we share with and support each other. To write a post, offer resources, submit an article, or do an interview for Finance First Friday blog, please contact Executive Administrator, Sarah Dull. You never know who needs to hear your story.

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