Entrenched systems of power, including financial systems, tip the scales in ways that perpetuate inequality and deny many the resources they need to thrive. Many of us know this. We know this is not God’s will for the world. And we want to work on God’s side to bring about change.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not causing inequities in the United States but revealing and exacerbating them. And, in this moment of brokenness, it reveals the urgency and opportunity to redesign economic systems that are more aligned with God’s vision of justice, the value of each person, and hope for the whole creation. It is possible, sometimes, to ignore the power our financial systems play but after crises such as this we rely on the structures of financial intermediaries and the potential of investments to stimulate recovery. In this way, our financial systems have the power to define what our recovery looks like.

There has never been a more critical time for the church to bring its wisdom, its voice, and its influence to ensure that the financing of the recovery tilts the scales toward justice. This is our moment to organize and influence the shape of the economic recovery. The church has power. We need to use our power to disrupt systems of power.

With this in mind, Criterion is bringing together leaders to join us in a series of focused conversations leading to action that will make a difference in how we emerge from this pandemic. We are creating a community of learning, imagination, action and reflection. Together we will find pathways to work together with and as churches around the following commitments:

  • To use our collective voice to shift the narrative about what happens in the recovery:  away from a return to what we thought of as normal and toward a vision that reflects our hope for the future God intends. 
  • To use our collective influence to disrupt systems of power that are destructive and to encourage the transformation of systems to promote greater equity and empowerment.     

We cannot know where God is leading us or what exactly will emerge from these conversations.  But we do know the assumptions we are bringing to the table.   

  • Shifting systems of finance can address systemic inequities. Faith-based investments have often been driven by a narrative of personal morality which resulted in screening for morally objectionable products like alcohol or firearms. That narrative has been radically enlarged to encompass a more nuanced goal of shifting systems of finance to create greater access and opportunity for all, especially those who have been excluded. Some leaders in innovative finance now seek to direct investments in ways that incentivize just practices and correct underlying power disparities. This is just the beginning.  We know more is possible, and there is much work left to be done.  
  • Systems of finance are human creations that can be changed.  The inequalities experienced in our society, which are currently being highlighted and exacerbated by COVID-19, are driven by historical injustices that are ingrained in our financial and economic systems. These systems are governed by rules that were created by humans. We can point to the dates when these rules were created. New financial products and services continue to be designed and innovated every day. We can change the rules and influence what is being created. It is in our power to do so.  
  • Faith-based organizations and financial innovators working together will create better solutionsFaith-based organizations can further their social change objectives by forging new alliances within finance, where they will find some practitioners already thinking about doing things in new and different ways. They can also leverage the resources and expertise within their own faith communities to design new financial and economic models in line with the values of their faith and committed to addressing social injustice and equality.   
  • Together we have the collective power to influence financial systems. Churches and other faith-based organizations can have greater impact together,  through our capital (whether as individuals or institutions) and relationships to finance (for instance, through our bank account or our credit cards) and through our social change assets—our leadership and advocacy skills, our knowledge and expertise of how change happens, our access to data and understanding of the social context in which our financial systems operate. 
  • Change comes about through a compelling vision, bold imagination that sees new possibilities, the capacity to demonstrate what is possible, and the means to amplify what has been discovered and make it accessibleOur faith gives us the vision.  Engagement with financial innovators sparks the financial imagination to see where systems can be changed.  Together we can experiment, learn, refine and demonstrate how a change in the financial system works to improve lives. Through our organizations in collaboration we have a larger impact on the wider society.   

Criterion is engaging a range of faith-based leaders in these conversations, including judicatories, local congregations, faith-based non-profits, educational institutions, and others. Some have capital with which they can make investments, while others can influence the flow of capital through their advocacy, leadership, and voice. These leaders are uniquely poised in community to provide the hope that can lead to avenues of change, justice and empowerment. Our faith-based organizations are there in part to remind us that hope has a future that involves our participation today. 

To learn more about this work, please contact info@criterioninstitute.org 

Criterion Institute, 501(c)(3) 81 Church Hill Rd · Haddam, CT 06438 860-345-3520 (main) · info@criterioninstitute.org ©2020, all rights reserved.

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