The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy engages people of faith and goodwill in advocating economic, racial, social and environmental justice in Virginia’s policies and practices through education, prayer and action.
Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP) is a non-partisan coalition of 23,000 members including 700 faith communities and 1,000 clergy of all faiths and people of goodwill, all working for a more just society.
Founded in 1982, VICPP is the largest statewide advocacy voice for the faith community in Virginia. The organization focuses primarily on issues of economic, racial, social and environmental justice. With more than 23,000 activists connected with the organization, VICPP’s grassroots work is organized through local chapters and affiliates, partner congregations and individuals across the Commonwealth.
We work with Virginians of all faiths including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists, people who are “spiritual, not religious” and people of goodwill. We are a racially and ethnically diverse group that includes immigrants from around the world. Our board and staff reflect this diversity. We are committed to making the Commonwealth a more welcoming and just state.
VICPP is an advocacy organization, not a social service one. Although we support and appreciate the great work and ministries provided by social service agencies across the Commonwealth, we complement that work by addressing policy issues. One bill can magnify or negate thousands of hours and millions of dollars’ worth of social service work.
Historically, VICPP has been a leader on poverty issues, working on expanding school breakfast programs, reducing predatory lending, and advocating Medicaid expansion. Today we focus on racial justice, environmental sustainability, immigrant rights, and economic justice issues like requiring employers to offer paid sick days.
To be effective, VICPP must be strategic about the issues on which it focuses. VICPP is “the lead” on some legislation, which means we help draft the legislation, recruit sponsors and build statewide support on the issue. On other issues, we support the work of partner organizations. In large coalition efforts, like Medicaid expansion, our role is primarily to engage the faith community in all aspects of the initiative.
Everyone is encouraged to sign up to receive our weekly email updates to stay informed about our events, activities, and advocacy alerts and join in our work to advocate social justice.
By sharing your email, your voice will be amplified as we advocate public policy.
As a non-profit organization, we depend on donations and grants and we welcome your contributions. Anyone who contributes $30 or more will become a member who is entitled to vote at the annual meeting and on an annual issue survey. If you would like to become a member and the $30 fee is a barrier to participation, please click here and pay what you can on our donation page.
Below are issues in which the Virginia Interfaith Center played a major role in the last three General Assembly sessions:
- Removed many of the racist Jim Crow exemptions from the state Minimum Wage code. (2019)
- Established a requirement that all employers provide a paystub for workers as a way to reduce and deter wage theft. (2019)
- Stopped a bill that would have allowed anyone to bring weapons into houses of worship. (2018 and 2019)
- Expanded Medicaid in Virginia to include 400,000 additional people. This was a coalition effort, but VICPP led the faith engagement statewide. (2018)
- Helped stop the cutting of TANF benefits for low-income families. Proposals would have reduced from 24 to 12 months the length of time a family could receive public assistance and reduced from 60 to 24 months the total amount of support families could receive in their lifetime. This was a mean-spirited bill and we stopped it on the floor. (2017)
- Enabled those who’d lost their driver’s licenses due to unpaid court fines and fees to get on a payment plan or do alternative community service. (2017) By leading the advocacy for restoring driver’s licenses in both the House and Senate. Bills have passed in both houses, so we are hopeful a final bill will emerge and pass.
- Support immigrant rights: For the last few years, VICPP has been a strong advocate to make Virginia more welcoming to immigrants. We opposed mean-spirited anti-immigrant bills. We supported bills to create a Driver’s Privilege Card for immigrants and a bill that would allow immigrant students who meet the residency requirements to receive in-state tuition. These two bills will be reintroduced in 2020 and VICPP will continue standing with our new neighbors, because “welcoming the immigrant” is a clear faith mandate.
VICPP also supported other organizations and legislators in successful efforts to:
- Clean up coal ash (2019)
- Prohibit Virginia from sharing religious data that could be used as a “religion” registry (2019)
- Reduce Virginia’s eviction rates (2019)
- Raise the felony threshold from $200 to $500 (2018)
- Reduce the school to prison pipeline (2018)
- Expand mental health and substance abuse services in Virginia (2017)
Our work is informed by these core values:
- Living our faith commitments through action for justice and public witness
- Upholding the inherent dignity and worth of all people
- Including and honoring diverse voices
- Learning from and acting in solidarity with people who are marginalized
- Participating in justice coalitions
- High-quality work
- Stewardship of resources
- Diversity and inclusion
- Collaboration and cooperation
- Valuing and caring for all
- Respecting individual and family needs
For several years in the late 70’s and early 80’s, a group of religious leaders, including Rev. James Payne (Presbyterian), Rev. Fletcher Lowe (Episcopal), Bishop Walter Sullivan (Catholic) and others began meeting informally to work on human needs public policy. The group saw the critical need for an inclusive, interfaith voice to advocate just public policies in the Virginia General Assembly.
Initially, there were conversations about creating a public policy arm within the Virginia Council of Churches, but it was decided to set up a separate interfaith organization that could focus on social justice issues with a united voice representing all faith traditions.
The Center’s first meeting took place in October 1982 in the Franklin Street headquarters of the Greater Richmond YWCA. That occasion was the culminating milestone of a year of planning by a group of Virginia Christians, Jews and Muslims.
Presbyterian pastor the Rev. James A. Payne was the founding director of the Center. Upon his retirement in 1990, the Center underwent a time of transition with executive leadership from several directors, including the Rev. Dr. C. Dow Chamberlain, a United Methodist minister and the Rev. Canon J. Fletcher Lowe, an Episcopal priest who had been an active member of the VICPP organizing body. Rev. Lowe provided strong leadership on behalf of the interfaith community, serving from 1997-2004. In 2004 the Rev. C. Douglas Smith took over as director, serving for eight years.
Under Smith’s leadership, VICPP purchased and undertook a green renovation of a historic 19th century building in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom that now serves as VICPP’s home. Mr. Marco Grimaldo served as director from February 2012 to April 2015 and strengthened VICPP’s work on immigrant rights. Before and after Grimaldo, the Rev. Charles Swadley led the Center during two stints as interim director.
Ms. Kim Bobo was hired as Executive Director in February 2016. Reverend Rodney Hunter was hired as a Co-Executive Director in May 2018.
On December 17, 2018, Virginia Interfaith Power & Light merged with VICPP. This merger added talented and passionate environmentalists to VICPP’s staff and board and is enabling new work to emerge to fight climate change and environmental racism in Virginia.
Over the years, VICPP has been blessed with phenomenal staff and board members and the same is true today. The Center has a wonderful and committed Board of Directors and a talented and hardworking staff.
Join us and amplify your voice for justice!
Q: Who determines the position Virginia Interfaith Center will take on legislative issues?
A: The Center’s Board of Directors determines priority issues.
Q: How does the Virginia Interfaith Center promote its legislative agenda?
A: When the priorities have been determined, resources such as facts and “talking points” are developed and shared with our supporters to assist in advocacy efforts with their legislators.
Q: How does the Virginia Interfaith Center develop specific legislation to be introduced at the legislature?
A: Virginia Interfaith Center staff, in consultation and collaboration with faith and advocacy groups, assist in the selection of specific issues for which legislation is written, introduced, and promoted. We do not merely react to legislation – we also help create and support legislation.
Q: Are there public policy issues that the Virginia Interfaith Center does not address?
A: The Interfaith Center follows legislative issues set by its Board, which directs staff on policies and issues. Typically, issues where there is no clear agreement between religious traditions are not tracked closely.
Q: How is the Virginia Interfaith Center governed?
A: The Virginia Interfaith Center is governed by a Board of Directors. Some directors are elected at the Annual Meeting by those in attendance and by proxy ballots. The Board hires the Executive Director, sets the budget priorities, and approves the legislative agenda.
Q: Is the Virginia Interfaith Center tax-exempt?
A: Yes. The Interfaith Center is a non-profit, tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) organization, therefore all contributions are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowable by law.
Q: What is the difference between lobbying and advocacy?
A: IRS regulations permit the participation of tax-exempt, faith-based organizations in limited, defined lobbying efforts. Most of our activities, such as our flagship educational program, Social Justice University, and our research, are not considered “lobbying” by the IRS. Advocacy trainings and issue-oriented forums are actually educational events, not lobbying. Examples of lobbying are meeting with a legislator to discuss specific legislation and distributing action alerts to our grassroots network regarding specific legislation. Simply put, lobbying is trying to influence a legislator to vote a particular way on a specific bill.
Q: Do you endorse political candidates?
A: As a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, the Virginia Interfaith Center is prohibited from endorsing candidates for any political office. We may and do engage in issue-oriented discussions with candidates, but never endorse any candidate or political party.