The Alliance of Baptists is experiencing financial “growing pains” in response to becoming an anti-racist organization, Co-Director Elijah Zehyoue said.
“As we have done this work, we have noticed there have been some changes and we invite you to notice that too,” he said during the Alliance’s 2023 virtual business meeting April 1. “And one of the places is that there’s a little bit less money coming in.”
But Zehyoue added the financial hit “is and was to be expected” for an organization aggressively committed since 2021 to exploring and rooting out its involvement in systemic racism and dismantling patriarchy and white supremacy.
According to the financial report unanimously approved during the gathering, the roughly $19,000 shortfall in 2022 resulted from receiving $89,000 less than budgeted from grant sources and about $25,000 less than anticipated from individual giving and contributions.
Alliance Treasurer Jody Joyner explained grant funds remaining from 2021 would help offset the shortfall and that total cash on hand keeps the organization in a stable financial position this year.
Rather than being discouraged, the current fiscal situation should inspire the Alliance to continue on its current path, Zehyoue said.
“It’s also an opportunity for those who are really compelled and inspired by the vision, by the work to recommit, to reengage,” he said. “Given where we are right now and given the work we’re doing, we’re overall excited. We’re overall hopeful. We’re overall optimistic.”
That hope included a report about the “Churches that THRIVE for Racial Justice” initiative. Financed by $1 million from the Lilly Endowment and administered by Davidson College in North Carolina, the five-year project that began in 2021 includes anti-racism training for clergy and lay leaders in 26 churches and surveys of the wider Alliance.
“We began with about 130 interviews from our THRIVE cohort and in the last year we have also done 29 additional interviews with (Black, indigenous and people of color) people who are involved in Alliance congregations — not necessarily part of our THRIVE cohort — to simply be able to understand their experiences,” said project co-leader Gerardo Marti, professor of sociology at Davidson College.
Board members Christine Wiley and Kris Norris reported that committees focused on anti-racism and accountability are exploring ways to learn why small numbers of BIPOC clergy and congregations are present in the Alliance. Waving chaplain endorsement fees for some ministers is being considered as one future proposal.
Reallocating funds for such purposes “is a modest step toward reparations,” Norris added.
The Alliance also is pressing its concern for justice into national and international spaces, Carol Blythe said during her justice and advocacy update.
“There’s a host of issues you can get involved in, so I want to encourage you to be faithfully … involved for justice and love around the world,” said Blythe, a member of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and volunteer co-coordinator of advocacy for the Alliance.
The organization is leveraging its influence by collaborating with groups including the Washington Interfaith Staffing Committee, the National Religious Campaign against Torture, Church World Service and Churches for Middle East Peace, she said.
With those and other partners, the Alliance has signed letters and statements seeking the protection of indigenous rights, supporting land and water advocates in Latin America, demanding reductions in U.S. military spending, promoting international environmental justice and protesting the U.S. listing of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.
The organization also is lobbying for the current U.S. farm bill to ensure it includes strong funding of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. “It used to be called food stamps. So, pay good attention and write letters and call and encourage very generous SNAP benefits,” Blythe said.
The group also has worked on immigration, gun violence, transgender protection, women’s rights, schoolbook banning, LGBTQ rights, criminal justice and farm workers.
Statements condemning the brutality of industrial animal agriculture, opposing U.S. military spending and agreeing to label Israel’s treatment of Palestinian people and territories as a system of apartheid were unanimously approved during the meeting.
Sarah Macias, a member of the Alliance’s Creation Justice Community, pointed out the statement on animal agriculture carefully avoids the term “factory farm.”
“A ‘factory farm’ is an oxymoron. Farms are not factories. They are ecosystems of plants, animals and humans living and working together in community,” she said.
According to the statement, however, the practice of “industrial animal agriculture creates multiple and overlapping problems for God’s beloved: humans, animals and the earth. Christian churches and organizations cannot avoid being caught up in complicity with the sinful systems associated with industrial animal agriculture, but they can confess and repent of this complicity and seek to act more responsibly.”
The statement on defense spending urges “members of Congress to dramatically cut militarized spending in U.S. budgets to facilitate reinvestment in the well-being of our communities and to curtail the harms of our militarized foreign policy” and to seek additional billions “in savings from ending mass incarceration, addressing climate change and meeting other key campaign demands.”
In its statement about Israel and Palestine, the Alliance affirms “our commitment to freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people and all people. We oppose all forms of racism, bigotry, discrimination and oppression, and we declare ourselves an Apartheid-Free Faith Community. To that end, we pledge to join others in working to end all support to Israel’s apartheid regime, settler colonialism and military occupation.”
The Alliance is creating events that reflect its commitment to anti-racism, Zehyoue said.
Those include a November 2022 event at the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration in Birmingham, Ala., and its annual gathering later this month in Atlanta, with the theme “To Set the Captives Free.”