Religion in the Fabric of American Society
In the 1990’s, it was widely acknowledged that congregations historically provide an essential supportive role within the fabric of U.S. society – from assistance for immigrants to engagement in people’s ongoing lives.
Wide-ranging contemporary efforts to benefit from their integral role have lacked a framework which enabled this effort to achieve validation as appropriate and efficient.
An appropriate framework would reflect the unique status and functions of religion institutions and accordingly, set clear policies determining the relationship and practices between religion sector institutions and the institutions of the civic sectors: government, education, human services and business.
Efficient strategies would recognize the need for an infrastructure to garner the vast Congregation Based Resources (CBR) from the full magnitude and faith diversity within the totality of congregations in every region.
At the beginning of the 21st Century, the unique insight of one community foundation brought about this framework. The Peninsula Community Foundation (PCF) served San Mateo County and northern Santa Clara County. They embarked on a venture which initiated the role of the Religion Sector Specialist (RSS) and resulted in the first infrastructure design of the landscape of the Religion Sector. The Religion Sector design was launched through the process of the formulation of Regional Clergy Engagement (RCE).
The Foundation recognized that the religion realm was the only sector in the community which lacked a structure with the capacity to engage all the lead professionals of its core institution, in this case the congregational clergy. The Foundation speculated that if there was a structure by which all clergy could be collectively engaged, this would serve as the central element to produce (a) a structure within the Religion Sector encompassing all congregations, and (b) a framework for an alignment that was appropriate and efficient to support initiatives between the institutions of the civic sectors and the congregations.
Furthermore, the Foundation leadership anticipated that the wider impact of this structure of the Religion Sector would be to delineate the contemporary place of religion within American society. The historic fragmentation among the diversity of faiths perpetuated misperceptions and antipathy. They speculated that if all clergy in a region were mutually engaged, this would bring about mutual engagement among people of all faiths, as well as a broad exploration of religion in the national discourse.
Initiating the methodology for Regional Clergy Engagement, resulted in (1) a system of mutual engagement within the Religion Sector – clergy and congregations, and (2) the successful realization of the long sought effort to achieve a productive alignment for the “appropriate and efficient” Religion Sector and civic sectors relationship. Thus Regional Clergy Engagement achieves an “alignment” which reverses of what had been thwarted by the misalignment perpetuated by the erroneously declared “wall” between religion and “state.”
As the Foundation’s initial Religion Sector Specialist, I led (a) the formation of the design elements of the Religion Sector, (b) the specifics of the alignment’s concept and applications, and (c) the cataloging of the knowledge and functions of a Religion Sector Specialist.
Regional Clergy Engagement of all clergy, encompassing each region’s diversity of denominations, demographics and geography. It also engages the full diversity of clergy affinity groups in each region. A key benefit of RCE is a variety of innovative modes of clergy collective discourse: (a) clergy with clergy and clergy with civic leaders, by region and by area (b) by city, with city manager sessions and by school district, with superintendent and principal sessions, (c) state assembly member and state senator sessions.
The design framework of the Religion Sector serves to advance the nature of multi-faith relations and religion in society, impacting individual lives and the institutions in society.
The Foundation initiative and resulting framework for Religion Sector 3.0 aligns religion within a 21st century society. In reducing misperceptions and achieving unprecedented vital levels of community, it advances the pursuit of fully achieving an inclusive, pluralistic democratic society.
Rabbi Jay Miller RELIGION SECTOR 3.0
1.0 On the Town Square 2.0 Walls of Separation
3.0 Alignment: Among Congregations – Within Society