Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Systems over Service: Changing Systems of Inequality through Congregational Political Engagement

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Abstract:  The role of religious groups in changing inequality has usually been a bottom up approach. Whether it was serving meals to the needy or sheltering the homeless, the vast majority of religious groups have addressed problems of inequality, not by addressing the causes of hunger and homelessness, but rather by offering assistance to those already in need. Rarely have religious groups become engaged in explicitly political activities that challenge structures that create large scale inequality. In this article, I examine the first state level efforts by LA Voice, a congregation-based community group that has worked to ameliorate inequality through political organizing with churches in largely poor minority communities throughout Los Angeles. Drawing on extensive qualitative data from field research and interviews during their first campaign season in 2012, I examine how these religious groups organized around a controversial political issue—an important move away from their traditional community-based organizing—and how their understandings of faith informed this work. Specifically, LA Voice helped pass a state-level initiative that directly challenged systems of inequality; Proposition 30, which raised taxes on the wealthy to fund public education. This political work highlighted long known internal struggles between congregation members who fought these actions and those who recognized the need in their communities and enthusiastically took up this work. This article ends with a discussion of how these early efforts resulted in further engagement by other member congregations.

Keywords:  congregations; inequality; politics; religion



© Rebecca Sager. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.