Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World, By Rev. Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel

Faith-Rooted Organizing

Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World

by Rev. Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel

Faith-Rooted Organizing
  • Length: 208 pages
  • Dimensions: 5.5 × 8.25 in
  • Published: December 06, 2013
  • Imprint: IVP
  • Item Code: 3661
  • ISBN: 9780830836611

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With so many injustices, small and great, across the world and right at our doorstep, what are people of faith to do?

Since the 1930s, organizing movements for social justice in the U.S. have largely been built on assumptions that are secular origin—such as reliance on self-interest and having a common enemy as a motivator for change. But what if Christians were to shape their organizing around the implications of the truth that God is real and Jesus is risen?

Alexia Salvatierra has developed a model of social action that is rooted in the values and convictions born of faith. Together with theologian Peter Heltzel, this model of "faith-rooted organizing" offers a path to meaningful social change that takes seriously the command to love God and to love our neighbor as ourself.

"This isn't a book about food pantries, soup kitchens and clothing drives. Rather, the authors show how the call of the prophets is still among us and how the teachings of Jesus can impact the whole of society. . . . [H]elps us see the power of hospitality and the need for congregations to work in their communities toward hope, wholeness and justice."

Todd Outcalt, YouthWorker Journal, March/April 2014

"Organizing is an old tradition, but for years there was a mindset that it is all about self-interest and manipulating power, whatever the collateral damage. Peter and Alexia bring us to a new/ancient place, social justice with sleeves rolled up, grounded in organizing for good as the deepest expression of faith. Faith-Rooted Organizing weaves Scripture with practice and the prophetic voice with practical steps, presenting organizing as a spiritual act of partnering with God in repairing the world."

David M. Elcott, Taub Professor of Practice in Public Service and Leadership, Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, New York University

"Too much theology today is written in words rather than deeds. But God sent his Word as a doing verb, and Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel teach and show what it means to share in the doing."

Peter Ochs, Edgar Bronfman Professor of Modern Judaic Studies, University of Virginia

"Inspired by Gandhi, King, Chavez and the work of past and present-day faith-rooted organizers, Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel have taken their visions and written them down. Salvatierra illuminates the spiritual principles that guided the civil rights and farmworkers movements. Heltzel helps us understand how this work is not only about justice in this world, it is the work of the gospel itself. This book is a gift to the church and the world. Definitely required reading for any congregation that wants to put their faith into action in today's world."

Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing, Sojourners, and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican . . . or Democrat and Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics

"Faith-rooted organizing is big on faithfulness, hanging in there, building relationships, training leaders, changing social structures and asking what it means to follow Jesus in today's world. It thus combines the best aspects of resource mobilization theory with what is now ubiquitously called 'framing,' and in this superb book by Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel, two leading Christian organizers give us a compelling account of what works and what doesn't."

Gary Dorrien, author of Economy, Difference, Empire: Social Ethics for Social Justice

"On a cold February night some years ago I experienced a rite of passage in my understanding of mission. Two thousand followers of Jesus created a table in the midst of creation. They met with the mayor of New York City to negotiate issues like crime, drugs, jobs and affordable housing as they struggled to reroot the life and mission of their congregations in their communities. I saw the power and effectiveness of community organizing come alive. I saw the Nehemiah Project literally rebuild burned-out neighborhoods around our congregations with thousands of units of affordable housing. "The arts of community organizing have come a long way since the scuffling days of Saul Alinsky and the Back of the Yards organization in Chicago. For me, over the years, connecting with organizing networks has been life giving and game changing. The arts of listening, power analysis and leadership development have undergirded my ministry as parish pastor, bishop and now denominational executive. "In writing Faith-Rooted Organizing Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel have made an immense contribution to the maturing of the community-organizing tradition in relationship to the mission of the Christian gospel. They begin where people of faith live: in the biblical drama, their local faith communities, their daily walk with Jesus. This book makes organizing accessible to evangelical Christians, and provides renewal and deep grounding for all spiritual journeys. "For example, sometimes Christians encounter community organizing through the lens of power, and they struggle to see its resonance with Christian ethics. The chapter on 'serpent power' and 'dove power,' speaking of power from within the depths of the Christian narrative, is both realistic and hopeful. All through the book I got the sense of an attempt not to make organizing palatable to evangelical Christians but instead to help bring out the great gifts that Christians contribute to any effort to rebuild a just world. The perspective of 'the least of these' always keeps faith-rooted organizing rooted in the perspective of Jesus. "Faith-Rooted Organizing is steeped in real-life experience. Many stories make the concepts come alive. And the book is a love letter from Alexia and Peter to an emerging generation seeking to follow Jesus in lives that matter."

Stephen Paul Bouman, executive director, Congregational and Synodical Mission, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

"A superb integration of biblical faith and community organizing. This book is both an excellent manual and a vast feast of delightful, empowering stories. A must-read for anyone interested in empowering people to work for justice."

Ronald J. Sider, founder of Evangelicals for Social Action

"Martin Buber said that the opposite of slavery is not freedom, but community. Such a beloved community is grounded in justice and radical hospitality. Now how do we engage the powers in the struggle for community? Many thanks to Alexia, Peter and InterVarsity Press for gifting the organizing community with this book."

Phillip Lawson, pastor emeritus, Easter Hill United Methodist Church

"It's tempting to look at all the problems in the world, throw our hands up at God and say, 'Why don't you do something?' When we ask that, we often hear God say back, 'I did something. I made you.' Throughout history, the movements that have changed the world for good have been divine conspiracies, holy collaborations between God and people. For some reason, God doesn't want to change the world without us. Sometimes we are waiting on God, and God is waiting on us. When we ask God to move a mountain, God might give us a shovel. In this book, Peter and Alexia remind us that faith has to have feet--the good news needs to become flesh. The gospel is not just about ideas, it's about action--Jesus does not just offer us a presentation of ideas but an invitation to join a movement. As you read it, keep your eyes open for ways you might be called to become a part of the change we all want to see in the world."

Shane Claiborne, activist and author,

"As a growing segment of the church reawakens to its calling to 'do justice' in our world, Faith-Rooted Organizing will be an indispensable manual for the justice movement. Implementing a beautiful blend of holistic theology, relevant stories and practical wisdom, Alexia and Peter's book clearly illustrates the unique role that Christians have in strategically, prophetically and collaboratively challenging unjust systems and pursuing the common good."

Josh Harper, national director of Urban Projects, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

"Faith-Rooted Organizing helpfully reimagines theological education through the lens of movements for social change. The worship services all over the world each Sunday morning are also opportunities for both church members and nonmembers alike to work together for a more just, equitable and sustainable world. Salvatierra and Heltzel persuasively, provocatively show how organizing can strengthen both Christian churches and the wider communities they are called to serve."

Matthew Myer Boulton, president and professor of theology, Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, Indiana

"Alexia and Peter are friends, and together they've developed a needed resource for the church today. In my lifetime organizing has never been more important and more effective than it is right now. But it's not enough to base our organizing in faith, it needs to be rooted deep down, and that's exactly what Alexia and Peter do. They take the reader step by step through how to effectively discern, recruit and follow through when organizing. They're pioneers! This book is a must-read for all in the church today who are concerned about their schools, towns, states and nation--and want to do something about it!"

Tony Campolo, founder of Red Letter Christians and professor emeritus, Eastern University

"Proof-texters beware: this book won't bless your biases with conveniently misquoted Bible verses. This book insists that the Calvary-shaped power that raised Christ from the grave enables us all to see through the eyes of the last, the lost and the least. Faith-Rooted Organizing is strictly for those who long to organize in ways that witness to God's new world of love."

Jarrod McKenna, Australian Peace Award recipient, First Home Project cofounder and World Vision Australia's Advisor on Faith Activism

"Through the prophet Micah, God calls us to both 'act justly and love mercy.' These are more than personal admonishments. They often require addressing the structures and corrupt systems that oppress the poor, the marginalized and the hidden. I'm grateful that Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel have given us a way forward, rooted in Scripture, to help us act justly to 'proclaim freedom for the captives and . . . release the oppressed.'"

Richard Stearns, president of World Vision US and author of Unfinished: Believing Is Only the Beginning

"As one whose life and faith was greatly influenced by farmworker struggles and community organizing in the Central Valley of California, I found Faith-Rooted Organizing a thought-provoking and inspiring read. Not for the casual reader, the book provides a comprehensive and in-depth survey of community organizing in the faith-based context. By deftly weaving together compelling personal stories, solid theological interpretation and practical organizational expressions, Alexia and Peter have written what could very well become the go-to resource for any leader or organization hoping to faithfully and effectively answer the call to faith-based organizing."

Bruce Reyes-Chow, author of But I Don't See You as Asian: Curating Conversations About Race

"I have been a coconspirator with both Alexia and Peter for a number of years. The two of them embody justice and activism in Christ akin to a superhero dynamic duo! The depth of knowledge and scholarship this volume brings to our awareness, combined with both authors' lifetimes of grass-rooted involvement, means Faith-Rooted Organizing will likely become the handbook for those who want to actually do faith-based action. Peter and Alexia's firmly grounded scholarship and the important background information given in plain language is simply value added. This book is written by doers for doers. If you wish to make a change, there is no higher praise!"

Randy Woodley, Distinguished Associate Professor of Faith and Culture, Director of Intercultural and Indigenous Studies, George Fox University and Seminary

"Although Jesus was both preacher and organizer, only recently have Christians begun to reclaim the task of organizing. As movements for justice engage the vast injustices of our time, it is refreshing to see people of faith reclaiming their traditions in order to see more clearly and act more courageously. These two authors take us through a range of traditions and models, with an eye toward the liberating work of God."

Joerg Rieger, Wendland-Cook Professor of Constructive Theology, Perkins School of Theology

"Alexia and Peter's timely book not only demystifies faith-rooted advocacy and activism but centers it squarely in deep theology, the nature of the local church and the call of Christian discipleship. This will serve as an important guide for everyone seeking to translate compassion and conviction into effective community organizing and servant justice."

Ken Wytsma, president of Kilns College and author of Pursuing Justice

"Faith-Rooted Organizing blends the voice of an evangelical-activist theologian in Heltzel with the homespun profundity of a seasoned pastor and campaign organizer in Salvatierra. The authors delight readers with complementary writing styles: Heltzel speaks through theological propositions, interpolated intermittently with jazz references and theological punch lines; Salvatierra communicates through proverbs, organizing anecdotes, poignant biblical passages, and narrative side notes. "The result is a well-argued and accessible text that should resonate from the seminary to the sanctuary."

Andrew Wilkes, Sojourners, August 2014



1 The Roots of Faith-Rooted Organizing
2 Dreaming God?s Dream Together: The Goals of Faith-Rooted Organizing
3 Our Starting Place, the Call of the Poor
4 Discerning the Kairos
5 Questions of Power and Hope
6 The Gift of Christ-Centered Community
7 Individual Gifts
8 Prophetic Advocacy and Public Witness
9 Recruitment: God?s Pitchfork
10 Developing the Body of Christ
11 Prophetic Spirituality: Sustaining the Struggle
Appendix: Faith-Rooted Serpent Power
For Further Reading
Index of Names and Subjects
Scripture Index
About Red Letter Christians


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Rev. Alexia Salvatierra

Rev. Alexia Salvatierra is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the coauthor of Faith-Rooted Organizing. She also serves as a consultant for a variety of organizations, including World Vision USA/World Vision International/Women of Vision, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, the Christian Community Development Association the Womens’ Donor Network, Auburn Theological Seminary, Interfaith Worker Justice, PICO, and Sojourners. Alexia is adjunct faculty at the New York Theological Seminary and Biola University, and she was the executive director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) for over ten years.

Peter Heltzel

Peter Heltzel (PhD, Boston University) is Associate Professor of Theology and Director of the Micah Institute at New York Theological Seminary. He is the author of Resurrection City: A Theology of Improvisation and Jesus and Justice: Evangelicals, Race and American Politics. In addition to writing for USA Today, Books & Culture, and Sojourners, Heltzel has published numerous articles in journals, such as Political Theology, Princeton Theological Review, and Scottish Journal of Theology. An ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), he serves as Assistant Pastor of Evangelism at Park Avenue Christian Church. Heltzel has a deep commitment to the power of words and music, to social justice, and to a global movement of radical change and collective activism. This passion was honored when he was awarded the 2014 Nelson Mandela Community Activist Award for his ongoing work to make a difference in New York City. Heltzel serves as director of the Micah Institute, which seeks to educate New York City faith leaders on issues of social and economic justice, to equip leaders to serve as change agents for social transformation and movement-building, and to act as a powerful coalition of organizers and advocates transforming New York City. He also serves on the Metro Commission on the Ministry and the Anti-Racism/Pro-Reconciliation Team of the Northeastern Region, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Heltzel lives in Harlem with his wife, mezzo-soprano Sarah Heltzel.