The Sacred Sector: A Lens to View America’s Spiritual Infrastructure
By Chelsea Langston Bombino
We are living in a unique political and cultural moment–one where discussions are taking place about the need to strengthen communities. Notably, the vision to strengthen communities would be impossible without the civil society institutions that not only provide material and social resources, but also shape and nourish the soul. Faith-based organizations from diverse faiths and all spheres of service share in common goal of living out their sacred missions in their communities. We refer to these diverse faith-based organizations collectively as the sacred sector.
Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, has stated on social media: “We have much work to do in strengthening every aspect of our nation and ensuring that both our physical infrastructure and our spiritual infrastructure is solid.” How should we define spiritual infrastructure in America and what would it take to keep it strong?
The faith-based nonprofit sector – the sacred sector community – is precisely what makes up America’s spiritual infrastructure. America’s spiritual nonprofit sector includes the hundreds of thousands of congregations and faith-based nonprofits across the country that provide not just material goods and services, but transcendent, spiritual nourishment to those in need.
What the Sacred Sector Offers
America’s spiritual infrastructure is remarkably strong and diverse. Faith-based organizations reflecting a wide spectrum of spiritual paradigms offer our increasingly pluralistic society an array of options for healthcare, counseling, vocational training, early childhood education, advocacy engagement, and so much more. These social services and faith-centered opportunities for engagement often boast outcomes that rival those of their secular peer organizations, with an added dimension: faith-based organizations operate out of their faith-shaped sacred calling to serve..
Who Makes Up the Sacred Sector
The sacred sector includes faith-based groups that look familiar to many of us: congregations, religious schools, and outreach ministries. But is also extends to more surprising groups and associations, such as the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, Adventist Healthcare and the Christian Business Network. One example of an unexpected spiritual infrastructure group was the Defenders of Water School, a homeschool group launched in August 2016 during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. This homeschool resource center helped Lakota Sioux Tribe parents educate a group of nearly 40 children starting in according to the Bismarck Tribune. This unique school served the dual purpose of providing basic education and lessons on the sacred practices, culture and Native American culture. Religion, for many Native Americans, is not something that can be compartmentalized, but is fully integrated in all areas of life. For the Lakota Sioux, religion is steeped in their very way of life: how they relate to one another and interact with their natural world. As one Lakota song states: “From the earth, something sacred is coming… There is nothing not sacred.”
Religious Freedom and the Sacred Sector
Religious freedom is the ability to engage in acts of sacred significance. In order for sacred sector organizations to thrive, they need to be able to distinctively impact their communities based on their spiritual and religious identities.
Sacred acts, done individually or organizationally, may indeed look quite mundane or seem to carry no obvious religious significance to others. Consider Jesus washing his disciples’ feet: to those who didn’t know him or understand the greater meaning of this gesture, it appears he was doing a rather lowly task reserved for a servant. Yet, for Jesus and those who follow Him, this act is embodied with all the sacred significance of the Gospel itself.
Humans are inherently relational beings. Essential to being human is finding shared identity and purpose with others… Some of these groups have, at their core, religious or other animating identities and missions. Forming relationships, and, by extension, groups and institutions, is an integral component of many different religions. In the Christian tradition, the inherent nature of the Triune God is that of a relational being: Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a constant, mutually strengthening relationship with one another. To continue with the Lakota spiritual tradition, people are called to acknowledge and live out their lives in continual awareness of their relationships and connections to all other beings. Their prayer for one another — Mitakuye Oyasin — translates to “All My Relations.” In the Buddhist tradition, as the Dalai Lama has stated that interdependence, the capacity to form cooperative partnerships and associations, is essential.
In today’s diverse society, religious freedom is not fully encompassed without the recognition that groups and organizations must also be able to fully live out their sacred missions in public life.
Organizations with sacred missions should be committed to advancing religious freedom for all in a pluralist civil society. There has not been a community for faith-based organizations and emerging leaders of different faiths and mission focus areas to equip, engage and empower each other, until now. Organizations with sacred missions vary greatly in their faith identities and service areas. Yet these organizations all share the common goal of being able to fully incarnate their sacred missions in everything they do.
That is why IRFA is excited to announce a new program, called the Sacred Sector. With the support of the Templeton Religion Trust, the Sacred Sector empowers organizations with diverse sacred missions to come together to fully incarnate their faith-based identities in how they advance organizational practices, engage in public policy, and shape public perception.The Sacred Sector provides a community for diverse faith-based organizations and emerging leaders to advance the common goal of fully incarnating and integrating their sacred missions in the public square: in organizational practices, in public policy engagement and in cultivating positive public positioning.
We invite you to learn more here.