Faith in Texas

Faith in Texas: The Power of Faithful PeopleWebsite: https://faithintx.org/

“Faith in Texas is a nonpartisan, multi-racial, multi-faith grassroots movement of people united in values working together to achieve economic, racial, and social justice for all people."

At the height of the demonstrations against anti-Black police violence in the summer of 2020, Faith in Texas’ Luke 4:18 Bail Fund was one of the most widely circulated funds in North Texas. [1] Faith in Texas is an interfaith organization, but the New Testament namesake of the bail fund beautifully captures their mission. Luke 4:18 reads:

 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

      because he has anointed me

      to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

    and recovery of sight to the blind,

    to let the oppressed go free... [2]

Founded in 2015, Faith in Texas is a Dallas-based multifaith grassroots movement aimed at empowering those who are exploited and neglected. Reverend L. Robin Murray, an Organizer with Faith in Texas and ministerial staff at the Abundant Life African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Dallas, explains that the members of the organization are united by a determined recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of all people. Rev. Murray personally grounds this conviction in the Christian belief that all are created in the image of God. Though the impoverished are often systematically stigmatized and dehumanized, Rev. Murray explains that “God is with those in need,” and that she “sees the activity of God in South Dallas,” a predominantly minority area with high levels of poverty and policing. [3] Although the details may differ for non-Christian members of Faith in Texas, there is a shared commitment to the idea that every individual, in virtue of their humanity, deserves respect and a chance to flourish. As Rev. Murray puts it, Faith in Texas works to ensure that each individual has “the ability to live in complete liberation to pursue their divine purpose and participate fully in the systems and processes that govern their lives.”

In accordance with this guiding moral vision, Faith in Texas works to address the needs of vulnerable communities in North Texas, and prides itself upon centering the voices of those communities in its work. Organizers like Rev. Murray put in time and effort to familiarize themselves with affiliated community organizations and congregations, often hosting house meetings where those in need can speak directly to organizers about what changes they would like to see in their communities. When Faith in Texas leaders meet with elected officials to advocate for policy changes, they ensure that those who are directly affected by a given policy don’t just have a seat at the table, but that they are a part of the entire process from brainstorming to decision making. For example, when lobbying for reform of the system of mass incarceration, Faith in Texas invites formerly-incarcerated individuals to build the agenda for topics of discussion for their  meetings with lawmakers and other civic leaders. 

Although Faith in Texas invites new congregations to participate in its work, Rev. Murray says the group is committed to ensuring that their affiliates are “co-creators of the organizing space,” not just participants. This means that, oftentimes, the religious congregations that join already have some history of organizing and activism. Similarly, Faith in Texas avoids inviting congregants from non-Christian faith traditions simply for the purpose of creating diversity within the group; instead, they select new partner congregations based on their commitment to liberation for all and working for the needs of their most vulnerable community members. Faith in Texas’ partner congregations are mostly Christian but also include a local masjid, synagogue, Unitarian Universalists, and secular groups. 

Faith in Texas is clearly premised upon the idea that organizing work should be guided by the needs of society’s most vulnerable, and its history reflects this. In its first few years of operation, Faith in Texas focused on four key issues: mass incarceration and policing, immigration, “moral economy” (concerning predatory lending, income inequality, and poverty), and education, with the first two garnering the most attention and momentum. At the end of 2019, leaders of Faith in Texas began to consider how they could coalesce these separate campaigns into a single movement. The conclusion was to develop a strategy for infusing money back into the Dallas communities that are plagued by unemployment or low paying jobs, unaffordable or limited access to safe housing, and mass incarceration. Ultimately, this led to the adoption of a divest/invest strategy in which public funds would be reallocated away from policing toward social, health, and housing services. 

But as Faith in Texas strategized this new campaign at the start of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic, murder of George Floyd, and subsequent uprisings demanded the organization’s attention. They had recently launched their Luke 4:18 bail fund, which they normally use to help release those who cannot afford bail as they await trial. As local organizations mobilized in the weeks after George Floyd’s death, Faith in Texas pivoted their bail fund to help protestors who were arrested in Dallas.

As the summer progressed, Rev. Murray and other Faith in Texas Organizers realized that heightened public attention to structural racism, the inequalities laid blatantly bare by the pandemic, and the contentious election season made the summer of 2020 the perfect time to launch their new campaign. The Road to Liberation is a movement to “divest from white supremacy” and “invest in true liberation,” calling for the reallocation of funds used in policing and the jail system towards the creation of new “housing and job opportunities, especially for people who have been formerly incarcerated.” [4] Central to the Road to Liberation is the aforementioned belief that the current economic system and model of policing do not enable individuals—especially Black and poor people—to live dignified lives. Since the launch of the campaign, Faith in Texas has hosted educational events, mobilized voters, and provided avenues for Dallas residents to call on local elected officials to change the city budget. When the time to pass the 2021 budget came, the City of Dallas allocated $5 million towards non-law enforcement methods of crisis response. Although this modest investment was a step in the right direction, Rev. Murray says, the county failed to divest from any of the $430 million that it annually, on average, dedicates to incarcerating residents. [5]

Having helped mobilize voters for the 2020 presidential election, Faith in Texas is looking ahead now to next year’s budget discussion. Though the decision on the 2021 budget was admittedly disappointing, the Organizers of Faith in Texas stay motivated by reminding themselves of what is at stake, and draw upon their faith traditions to ground the work to which they are called. Their vision for a North Texas that affirms the dignity of each and every one of its residents propels them forward. 

[1] “ Faith in Texas, a Grassroots Group for Racial and Social Justice Reform, is Having a Massive Summer.” Paper City Magazine. Caitlin Clark. 14 August 2020. https://www.papercitymag.com/culture/dallas-faith-in-texas-racial-social-justice-reform-black-lives-matter/. Accessed October 2020.

[2] Book of Luke, New Revised Standard Version.

[3] Reverend L. Robin Murray. Interview conducted by Bilal Rehman. 24 September 2020.

[4] “The Road to Liberation Partner Toolkit.” Faith in Texas. https://sites.google.com/faithintx.org/roadtoliberationtoolkit/home?authuser=0. Accessed October 2020.

[5] “Dallas County Budget Teach-In: ‘5 Mil, Deal or No Deal?’” Faith in Texas. https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=242004417197209. Accessed September 2020.