Faith Groups Among Those Granted Money From Billionaire Philanthropist Mackenzie Scott

Left, Amazon fulfillment center in Shakopee, Minnesota and right, MacKenzie Scott. Photo by Tony Webster/Creative Commons, and courtesy of Scott’s website

(RNS) — A number of faith-based groups were among the nearly 300 recipients of $2.7 billion in grants announced Tuesday (June 15) by billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott to organizations addressing a range of social issues.

Scott, who was formerly married to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, wrote in a Medium post that she and her husband, Dan Jewett, worked with researchers, administrators and advisers to figure out how to best distribute the money to “high-impact organizations” in areas “that have been historically underfunded and overlooked."

It is the third round of no-strings-attached, major philanthropic gifts Scott has made since 2020. Scott’s wealth, estimated by Forbes at roughly $60 billion, has grown since she divorced from Bezos in 2019 and walked away with a 4% stake in Amazon.

In her post, Scott listed the 286 organizations and institutions that received funding but did not disclose the amount she gave to each group. 

Faith in Action, Faith in Public Life, HIAS, Repair the World, Inner-City Muslim Action Network, Muslim Advocates, Pillars Fund, Homeboy Industries and Repairers of the Breach were faith organizations listed among those receiving funding.

"Discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities has been deepening, so we assessed organizations bridging divides through interfaith support and collaboration,” Scott wrote.

The Rev. Jennifer Butler, chief executive officer of Faith in Public Life, said her organization was first notified about the financial gift by phone about two weeks ago. Initially, Butler said, the money was characterized as coming from an anonymous donor, but it was later disclosed the funding came from Scott and her husband.

Butler told Religion News Service she was floored and in tears by the “amount of trust that they put in the organizations that they’re investing in.” She wouldn’t disclose how much money Faith in Public Life was granted, but she said it was a “significant multimillion-dollar gift."

Butler said Faith in Public Life serves about 50,000 religious leaders, with networks in Florida, Georgia and Ohio. The organization, which has increased in staff and budget in the past few years, has worked to combat Christian nationalism and the religious right, according to a statement.

“We’re working across the Black belt of Georgia. We’re working in communities hit hard by the opioid crisis in Ohio. We will continue to build out in additional space and deepen the networks where we’re already organizing to work for just policies and to challenge racism,” Butler told RNS.

With funding going toward a range of religious groups, Butler said she foresees a “continuing resurgence of a more progressive faith movement that truly represents what our traditions are about."

"Our mission has always been to build a faith movement for justice, compassion and the common good, and so I am ecstatic that other faith groups were part of this gift,” she said.

For Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, an international Jewish humanitarian organization, the money will help in HIAS' transformation from a Jewish refugee resettlement agency to an organization that can further assist refugees wherever they may be.

"Whether it’s helping them be protected from being deported to a place where they would be in danger, whether it’s preventing sexual and gender-based violence among refugee populations, or whether it’s helping to ensure that they can support themselves," Hetfield said. 

"We’ve expanded the scope of our work in recent years and now we hope to really improve our capacity with this transformational grant to respond to refugee crisis on an emergency basis," he added.

Hetfield said the organization wasn't ready yet to disclose the amount it is receiving but said it's significant that HIAS was among other faith groups awarded this funding. 

"HIAS was funded over 100 years ago to help refugees because of their faith, and now we help refugees because of our faith," he said.

Muslim Advocates Executive Director Farhana Khera said in a statement that the money her group is receiving will help in its work “to secure the rights of Muslims and all people."

She said the grant is meaningful because "Muslims often get left out of conversations about civil rights and the future of our democracy." 

The national civil rights organization has advocated for Muslims seeking to build mosques and cemeteries in their communities and has urged federal and state prisons to accommodate the religious needs of incarcerated Muslims during Ramadan. It has also worked to hold tech companies accountable for anti-Muslim hate content online.

In April, Muslim Advocates filed a lawsuit against Facebook, claiming the platform failed to remove anti-Muslim content.

"This gift from Ms. Scott ensures not only that this vital work continues but also that we can do even more to fight anti-Muslim bigotry and ensure freedom, justice and equality for all,” Khera said in the statement.

The Rev. Alvin Herring, executive director of the congregation-based organizing network Faith in Action, told RNS the multimillion-dollar grant it received will allow the organization to invest in its network of member federations.

The multifaith, multiracial group boasts 45 member organizations spread across 200 cities and towns in 25 states. Each organization claims the membership of multiple worship communities of various sizes dedicated to advocating for certain policies and legislation.

The organization, previously known as PICO National Network, will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year, Herring said. Faith in Action has rallied behind prison reform in California and equitable funding for public education in Pennsylvania.

"We're probably one of the best-kept secrets in this country, although millions of people every day organize their faith and their voice through our organization," Herring said.

"We often encounter folks who may not have heard of us or who may not be aware of our work even in their own communities. This will give us an opportunity to share more broadly about the amazing people who make up this network," he added.

Herring said these financial gifts "clearly signal that there's a recognition that faith and people of faith have a role to play in this democracy."

Religion News Service reporter Jack Jenkins and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

Thirty-two percent of vaccinated Americans reported in June that a faith-based approach made them more likely to get vaccinated, according to the survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC).   
As the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. echoed Theodore Parker, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ Let’s bend it together.
In both my work as an interfaith leader and a dancer, rethinking is all about opening our minds, asking questions, and having conversations.
Some U.S. churches have been reckoning with this activity for years through ceremonies, apologies and archival investigations, while others are just getting started.
A global study of the communication patterns of 1.3 million workers during the global lockdown showed the average workday increased by 8.2% during the pandemic, and the average number of virtual meetings per person expanded by almost 13%.
Across Missouri, hundreds of pastors, priests and other church leaders are reaching out to urge vaccinations in a state under siege from the delta variant. Health experts say the spread is due largely to low vaccination rates — Missouri lags about 10 percentage points behind the national average for people who have initiated shots.
The solution, said Chris Palusky, president and CEO of Bethany Christian Services, is “the loving care of a family, not another orphanage.” He pointed to Scripture passages that say God sets the lonely in families and call on Christians to care for those who have been orphaned.
The following interview features Debra Fraser-Howze, founder and president of Choose Healthy Life, an initiative that fortifies community infrastructure to better address the pandemic in Black communities. The interview was conducted by Shauna Morin for IFYC; it has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The seven monks have been clearing brush from around the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center and running a sprinkler system dubbed “Dharma rain,” which helps keep a layer of moister around the buildings.
Over 800 Muslim Americans are expected to attend the family-focused event at the Green Meadows Petting Farm in Ijamsville, Maryland, making it one of the larger such gatherings around the country in the era of COVID-19.
Besides demanding equitable distribution of vaccines, the Interfaith Vigil for Global COVID-19 Vaccine Access called on the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property rights for vaccine manufacturing in order to enable more countries to produce COVID-19 vaccines domestically.
Eid al-Adha, or the “Feast of Sacrifice,” is typically marked by communal prayers, large social gatherings, slaughtering of livestock and giving meat to the needy.
Our Lady of La Vang is said to have appeared in a remote rainforest in the late 1700s to a group of Catholics fleeing persecution in Vietnam.
This article is part of a series called Faith in the Field that explores responses to Covid-19—including vaccination efforts—within different faith communities. 
Yet the debate about the vaccine in Tennessee is not solely a debate about science. Rather, I believe the vaccine debate is also a referendum on our public capacity to embrace vulnerability.
The study found that while there are many promising signs that students perceive support for their RSSIs on campus, there is also considerable room for improving welcome, particularly for students whose RSSIs are a minority.
Coronavirus deaths among clergy are not just a Catholic problem, said Andrew Chesnut, chair of Catholic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, with faith leaders across denominations having elevated exposure rates as “spiritual front-line workers” ministering to the sick and dying in hospitals and nursing homes.
Legislation legalizing human composting has encountered religious resistance from the Catholic Church.
From the 26th of November, 2020, a farmers protest has been in existence on the outskirts of Delhi, India’s capital city. For the past eight months, farmers in the tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, have been fighting three laws that threaten the future of agriculture in the country.
Sivan and I feel that it is crucial to work for increased vaccination rates, particularly with more transmissible and potentially more deadly variants emerging across the country and throughout the world.
We made calls to friends, disseminated flyers, engaged in social media marketing, partnered with faith-based communities, and engaged the local health department to encourage members of our community to come to our upcoming clinic and get vaccinated.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.