Too Religious

My name is Todd, and I work for Kingdom Causes Bellflower. Part of my job is to write grants. If you aren’t familiar with grants, they are typically long, carefully written documents that are sent to foundations and corporations asking for money. Unlike a loan, a grant is typically money that is not intended to be paid back. While we are grateful for the support of donors and churches in the area, we also write grants because the true cost of transforming the city is never covered by donations. We wish it were. There are certainly expectations when grant money is awarded, and oftentimes tedious reports of progress have to be submitted. However, if you are doing the work that you indicated in your proposal, reports are an opportunity to celebrate.

Writing grants is a lot like applying for jobs. You work hard, check for typos, follow the instructions and send out a lot of inquiries. Many grant proposals get denied. Many refusal letters have similar language. The letters tell you how wonderful you are, but due to competition and other factors there will be no money flowing your way. We recently received a denial for one of the grants that I wrote. Denial is rarely a happy moment, but that is part of life. Whenever we receive such a denial, I will do my best to find a contact person and ask them for feedback on how we can improve. In this case, I received a response and the person who handled our application agreed to give me a call.

Our conversation was pleasant, and rather than talking in vague generalities he laid out our shortcomings. In essence, our organization is too religious.

We could get into a long, philosophical discussion about what the word religion means. There are so-called organized religions. There are also contexts where people say phrases like, “I’m not very religious.” However, we might also say that a person is religious about going to the gym. Or watching their favorite college football team. James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

I asked him to clarify our religiosity. He pointed to our website, which includes words like God, prayer, and church. He talked about the Bellflower Ministerial Association (BMA), and how we facilitate regular opportunities for local pastors to gather and pray for the city.

Yep, that is us. And yes, we do those things. And no, we aren’t ashamed.

Have you ever felt two completely opposing feelings? I did. On the one hand, I felt frustration. After all, I worked hard on that application, so how about a little support? I am frustrated because we do real, tangible work here at Kingdom Causes Bellflower. By the grace of God and with the help of the community and partner agencies, we get people off the street. We help hard-to-hire people work their way out of poverty. We find ways to restore lives and connect broken people to supportive communities. This is the work of the kingdom. It is hard, hard work but we love what we do. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a life transformed.   

Are we faith-based? Yes. Do we love Jesus? Absolutely. Do we force the gospel down people’s throats? Actually, no. Our faith is not our methodology, it is our fuel. We believe that the Bible is very clear, and that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. None of our ideology is hidden, but it doesn’t change the fact that our goal is to seek the peace and prosperity of the city. The whole city, not just those who profess to love Jesus.

When you go on foundation websites to start working on a grant application, there is typically a screener question. The question asks whether you discriminate in any way when providing your programs and services. Every time we get that question, we can in good conscience say no, because we do not discriminate. When someone gets referred to our organization or simply walks in the door, we are going to do our best to help them. If we can’t help them, it isn’t because we don’t have compassion for their plight. Our limitations have to do with resources, or limits from external systems. It breaks our heart when we cannot solve every problem that comes into our office. Trust me on that. It pains us to see heartache and not be able to fix it. Do we want people to love Jesus? For sure. Do we make it a condition of helping someone access service? Jesus didn’t, so neither do we.

Let me get to the other feeling. My other feeling in getting denied is pure joy. That may seem counterintuitive, but in this case, it is exhilarating because it means we are being faithful to our call. The interesting thing about our work is that secular society has always been skeptical that a faith-based organization can get stuff done without hurling Bibles at our homeless neighbors. If anything, this critique makes us more motivated to be professional. At the same time, we have sometimes received critique from the church that we are enabling people and helping them too much. We understand that as well, but Jesus did not tell us to love only the neighbors that are deserving. 

Mark 13:13 says, “Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” I won’t say that I felt hated, as the person I talked to was very polite. However, I get where the verse is going. In this case, the world has a hard time reconciling their views on the church and the outcomes we accomplish at KCB. What it means is that we still have a lot of work to do. We do a lot of talking about love in the church, but it is clear that we have to keep showing it.  

John 13:34-35 says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” It may seem like a sacrilegious adaptation, but I can’t help but think about the famous lyrics sung by the 60s band, The Youngbloods:

Come on people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another
Right now

At Kingdom Causes Bellflower, we unapologetically love Jesus and we aren’t changing our website. We seek to help our brothers and sisters in need because the Bible tells us so. We look for housing, jobs, and supportive relationships. So, I guess we are too religious. And that is okay. We don’t intend to stop. Everybody get together, and let’s keep bringing the kingdom to Bellflower.  

Chrissy Birkey