On Living out of a Faith Basis

By Ruth Rosenbaum, TC, PhD

In the weeks and months following the events of September 11th ...and even before... we at CREA discussed the idea of setting forth the basic principles that form the faith basis for our work. Given the recent media attention to "faith-based" organizations, the importance of this clarification is increasingly evident. When CREA uses the phrase "faith-based," we are not talking about one specific religious tradition over another, but rather our faith as the foundation for what we do and how we do it. The principles that comprise this faith-basis are articulated below.

One: The first part of CREA's faith-based foundation is our belief that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. This means that there is an inherent dignity to the human person and to the communities that human beings form. This dignity does not come from the work that the person does. Nor does it come from the financial value of the person. These do not determine the dignity or the value of persons before God. Our on-going life-work is to learn to see with the eye of God, to recognize the dignity and value of all persons.

Two: The second part of our faith basis might seem the same as the first: Each human being is made in the image and likeness of God. Grammatically, all is the sum of each. However, we have found that in talking about these two parts of our faith basis, people have heard them differently. It is easy to talk about ALL people, lumping everyone in together so that we do not have to recognize how we are alike and how we are different, how we are similar and how we are unique. As soon as we talk about EACH person made in the image and likeness of God, the questions arise: What about those who look different? Or talk differently? Or have different customs than we do? When such questions are raised, they bring to light, both for the questioner and the listeners, the unspoken conviction that how the questioner looks, lives, believes, etc. is serving as the norm for evaluating how other people look, live or believe.

Let us be clear, all persons are made in the image and likeness of God, and each person is made in the image and likeness of God. In anger, some may demonize other human beings, or label them as less than human. We all are familiar with words that have been used to do this. On a large scale, demonizing or labeling usually has ulterior motives, as history has witnessed. Slavery, persecutions, war, and genocide are tragic examples of this fact.

Three: The human condition, most especially the human condition of individuals, groups, communities, is not pre-ordained by God. God does not decide which communities should be poor and which should be rich. God does not pre-ordain who should be healthy and who should be sick. We need to be careful that we do not fall into the following "reasoning trap":

I am blessed by God. How do I know that I am blessed?

I have all these blessings: health, wealth, assets, etc.

Oh! You don't have these things? God must not be blessing you.

Hmmm. What did YOU do that God is not blessing you?

This is another version of blaming the victim rather than understanding the element of chance in where one is born, and the economic, political, and social systems that affect who has what.

Four: The fourth faith basis is that time is linear. There are essentially two ways to look at time: cyclical or linear. In the cyclical understanding of time, time repeats itself in a never-ending pattern. This cyclical understanding of time means that things do not change, in fact are not supposed to change. Associated sayings include "The way things are is the way things are supposed to be" or "It has always been this way". The second concept of time as linear implies that time moves forward, not so much in a straight line as in a line moving forward, coming from somewhere and progressing towards somewhere.

We spend our lives in a mixture of cyclical and linear time events. Summer-fall-winter-spring, the seasons come and go with the garden not planted this year still possible next year. The days of the week repeat as do the hours of the day. Yet our lives move forward in time, and the years of our lives gone by will not be repeated.

The Judeo-Christian understanding of time is that God has acted "in time:" the Mount Sinai event and the Incarnation are the two most significant God-insertions into our time. God gave us, as individuals and as community, a deepened sense of past, of present and of future. The way we live our lives in time can be, is supposed to be, different. By understanding our time as linear, we grow in our awareness that by what we do and how we do it, the future can and will be different. Even more important, the future needs to be different, so that those who suffer can know that their burden of enduring can, and should be lifted.

Five: Our analysis, in order to be valid, must start from how any program, policy or practice affects those persons and communities who are economically poor . This is not because we believe that the poor people are better or more important than others. Rather it is simply that our analysis includes the majority of the world's peoples. At the present time, more that 50% of the world's population lives below the poverty lines of their respective countries…and that percentage rises every year.

The past 25 years have proven that benefits do not "trickle down" within any economic policy. Rather, benefits need to be built in as the foundation upon which a society, any society, constructs itself. This is the Common Good. The option for the poor means that the power, authority, or influence we have needs to be used to balance the imbalance between the "haves" and the "have-nots."

Six: Charity is not enough. Advocacy and Work for Systemic Justice are needed. There are three modes for responding to need. They are each necessary, although one without the other is not enough. They are based on what we have, and how we see persons and situations.

The first is charity. Charity is responding to need. We give of our financial or personal resources to aid persons who do not have enough of these resources. We are all familiar with this, especially at holiday time. We are able to respond because we have the means to do so. It is important to recognize that charity is a necessary "stop-gap" measure, and that further work is needed to address the causes of human deprivation and misery.

The second is Advocacy. This is the exercise of power, authority or influence on behalf of others when they are without the power or the opportunity to do it themselves. Advocacy is often exercised in the legislative arena, although it is also done in our inter-personal family, community, church, or business relationships.

The third mode of response is work for Justice. This is work to redress what is unjust in the present forms of our social and economic systems. Work for justice requires perseverance and study of issues. It also requires a willingness to endure misunderstanding and hostility from those who don't want to hear about realities that, if accepted, would call for change in their lives or their financial arrangements. It requires opening up to an alternative way of thinking and acting. It is basically a conversion event that begins with ourselves, and is on-going throughout our lives. It calls us to move beyond individualism to concern for the Common Good.

We at CREA are trying to live our faith-basis with integrity, perseverance, and openness to truth. It is not easy. We are as fallible and prone to error as any other human beings are. Our hope is that we may honor the dignity of all persons and communities as we struggle together for a more just world.