Faith-Based Aid Groups Face a Hurdle: The Faith that Drives Them

Photo courtesy of Rafael Suanes / Georgetown University / RNS

Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service. Photo courtesy of Rafael Suanes / Georgetown University / RNS

Leaders of Christian and Jewish international aid groups say their efforts are often met with twin suspicions: That the real purpose is to proselytize; and that a religious message is tied to material aid.

Not so, say Pastor Rick Warren, who has led Saddleback Church to donate millions of dollars and hours of labor in Africa, and Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service.

The two were keynote speakers at a discussion on “Proselytism and Development in Pluralistic Societies,” sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, at Georgetown University.

Both acknowledged at the March 4 event that their motives — “living like Jesus,” said Warren, and “pursuing justice,” said Messinger — are questioned.

Good News About Smart Giving

IT’S EASY to lose heart when tackling the painful challenges we live with—poverty, racism, violence, sex trafficking. We volunteer and donate our time and money, but do those efforts really make a difference?

Nicholas D. Kristof, a New York Times columnist, and Sheryl WuDunn, a former Times reporter who works in finance, had the same question; A Path Appears is the result of their investigation. The husband-and-wife team canvassed the giving world, interviewing socially minded people working as individuals or in community with nonprofits, corporations, for-profit organizations, and everything in between. Turns out millions of lives are being transformed next door and across the globe—including our own.

Bernard Glassman, for example, is an aeronautical engineer who wanted to do something about homelessness. After researching the issue for six months, he decided jobs were the most urgent need and started Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, N.Y., a for-profit company whose mission is to employ homeless men and women.

Danone, a large food company that includes brands such as Dannon and Stonyfield, worked with Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus to develop a yogurt that would reduce malnutrition among Bangladeshi children. The endeavor also provided jobs for women who sold the yogurt. The project experienced multiple setbacks but also successes—because all the players sought creative solutions to malnutrition and were willing to test them.

This latter point reflects a growing trend Kristof and WuDunn see among charities and nonprofits—relying on evidence rather than intuition for what works and what doesn’t. “Every aid group in the history of the world has claimed that its interventions are cost effective,” they write, but those evaluations are often “as rigorous as those of grandparents evaluating their grandchildren.”

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Go Long, for Life

As in football, go for the long ball in life. Bikeriderlondon/Shutterstoc

As in football, go for the long ball in life. Bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock

In football, if the defensive players have no fear of your going long, they stack up against you and the shorter plays become incredibly hard and frustrating. It's as if the defense can predict what you're going to do and outnumber you. 
Many people live their lives, and some nonprofits run their organizations, this way —never going for the long ball. 

Holy Angst: Holding Up a Mirror to Ourselves

Where do our policies and practices run counter to our larger humanitarian goals?

Editor’s Note: A national study of women in leadership among evangelical nonprofit organizations has been launched by Gordon College. The advisory board for the study is co-led by Emily Nielsen Jones of the Imago Dei Fund and D. Michael Lindsay, President of Gordon College. This essay is adapted from an interview with Emily Nielsen Jones about why this study matters which can be read in its entirety at

I grew up in an evangelical setting, and have been very familiar with gender role ideology that affirms women’s human equality yet still circumscribes women to a “role” at the margins of decision-making. Nonetheless, I was always inspired by the culturally radical way Christ treated and honored women as well as Paul's proclamation in Galatians that in Christ, there is no distinction between slave and free, male and female, Jew and Gentile. So at this stage in my life, I have become increasingly aware of, and distressed by, how some religious-based ideas are contributing to the dangerous mix of cultural ideas, norms, and humanitarian problems that continue to wreak havoc on the bodies and souls of girls and women around the world. That’s primarily why our foundation, Imago Dei Fund, began using a “gender-lens” to guide our decisions.

'Change the World of Some:' Thoughts from The 2013 Justice Conference

Photo courtesy of The Justice Conference.

This year's Justice Conference was in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of The Justice Conference.

While everyone was blowing up the Twittersphere decrying the injustices of the Oscars, as movies like Argo walked away with Best Picture honors, I was sitting in a Philadelphia hotel lobby trying to chew on everything I’d heard and seen at this year’s Justice Conference.

The two-day event brought together more than 5,000 people to promote dialogue around justice-related issues, like poverty and human trafficking; featured internationally acclaimed speakers such as Gary Haugen, Shane Claiborne, and Eugene Cho; and exhibited hundreds of humanitarian organizations.

While there is certainly more thinking and processing to be done, here are four things that stood out.

Afternoon News Bytes: Feb. 29, 2012

GDP Revised Up To 3 Percent In Fourth-Quarter; Why Foreign Assistance Is Still Important; Syrian Army Assaults Rebel Districts; Public Views Of The Divide Between Religion And Politics; What Did Congress Do To Combat Poverty In 2011? Virtually Nothing (OPINION); Environmental Justice A Form Of Social Justice (OPINION); Occupy LSX May Be Gone, But The Movement Won't Be Forgotten; World’s Extreme Poverty Cut In Half Since 1990; Poverty Resolutions, Microloan Nonprofit, Shows How Far $1 Can Go To Provide Jobs For Poor; Alabama Lawmakers Calls For Immigration Law Repeal.

Nonprofits Oppose Obama's Charitable Deduction Changes

Photo via Getty Images.

Photo via Getty Images.

For the fourth year in a row, President Obama is proposing lower tax deductions for the wealthy on donations to churches and other nonprofit organizations. And for the fourth year in a row, nonprofit groups say the change would lead to a dramatic drop in charitable giving.

The reduction, included in Obama's 2013 budget proposal, rankled the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

"We were hoping this would not come up again this year. We asked that they not renew it, but unfortunately the request was not taken," said Nathan Diament, the group's Washington director. "It's a real concern."

The Works of the Flesh and the Debt Ceiling Deal

In Galatians 5:19-20, Paul lists the "works of the flesh," contrasting them to the "fruit of the Spirit" immediately thereafter (Gal. 5:22-23). Among the works of the flesh are hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, and division. Another translation puts it, "People become enemies and they fight; they become jealous, angry, and ambitious. They separate into parties and groups ... I warn you now as I have before: those who do these things will not possess the kingdom of God."

Three Cups of Truth on the Greg Mortenson Controversy

I just watched a 60 Minutes expose on Greg Mortenson, co-author of Three Cups of Tea and co-founder of the nonprofit the Central Asia Institute. Watching this news story that accused Mortenson of fabricating key stories in his book, lacking organizational/financial transparency and effectiveness, and receiving "excessive" personal benefits from his organization felt like a punch in the gut, even if it's of the too familiar heroes-come-crashing-down variety.

It must have felt like a punch to many. None of us like to give our hard-earned pennies or dollars or peace prize money to someone who betrays our confidence.

I felt it in my gut, too, because Mortenson and I have a lot in common. We've both published two memoirs about our experiences and work for education in the developing world -- he in Afghanistan, and me in Haiti. We both travel to speak about our work -- albeit he on a much grander, best-selling-er scale than me. Once I stood for half an hour in a book line to talk with him for two minutes and he seemed touchingly humble and friendly.