Faith-Based Organizations and Houses of Worship Virtual Listening Session

Wednesday, December 8, 2021, 12:00pm-1:30pm ET

Brief Overview

The purposes of the listening session were to listen and learn about perspectives and experiences related to racial and ethnic equity in the biomedical research enterprise among  individuals who lead, work within, attend, or are otherwise connected to U.S. faith-based organizations and houses of worship. The listening session, facilitated by an outside contractor, was attended by more than 40 participants. Dr. Helene Langevin, Director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, welcomed attendees and summarized the mission and goals of the UNITE initiative.  

Summary of Discussion

  • Topic 1: Interests, needs, and issues regarding racial and ethnic equity in healthcare and biomedical sciences
    Participants recognized the lack of racial diversity within many faith-based organizations and houses of worship, and some discussed a desire to increase diversity. They also discussed historical factors that have led to the relative racial and ethnic segregation in houses of worship, as well as the needed investments to address social needs and the effects of structural racism within their communities. The geographic areas of houses of worship, coupled with the persistent segregation in the U.S., often lead organizations to focus on community-centered needs and priorities. Participants recognized that houses of worship often play important roles in addressing community health and translating science into lay language.

    Participants recognized faith-based organizations and houses of worship as links to biomedical science and healthcare. The discussion included the suggestion that hosting NIH events in these venues would encourage congregants to learn about scientific efforts and to consider careers in science. Participants suggested that research forums could highlight successful underrepresented minority (URM) scientists, and by doing so promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), encourage research engagement, and minimize distrust. The rapid scientific efforts to develop COVID-19 vaccines was cited as an example (and underscored by others), specifically noting that a Black woman was a lead scientist on a now Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. In addition, participants discussed the importance of enhancing the training of current and future scientists on the ethical conduct of community engaged research and the facilitation of inclusive participation in research.

    Participants highlighted the opportunity for faith-based organizations to support efforts to improve community health. Specific needs in some communities include programs to reduce the burden of COVID-19 and Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS), which disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minority groups and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) individuals, respectively. Important in the discussion were potential challenges with the integration of such programming in houses of worship due to misinformation, stigma, and conflicting religious and cultural values.

  • Topic 2: The roles of faith-based organizations and houses of worship in addressing racial and ethnic equity in healthcare and biomedical research
    Participants emphasized the unique role that faith-based organizations and houses of worship serve in addressing social determinants of health by bringing healthcare services such as vaccinations, cancer screenings, blood drives, and other health-related services out of hospitals and clinics and into neighborhoods. Moreover, the reach and access to both virtual worship services and meetings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic could offer a promising opportunity to expand the support offered by faith-baed organizations services to communities outside of their immediate geographic area, including health-related educational sessions and community discussions. Participants emphasized that strategic partnerships with faith-based organizations and houses of worship have the potential to improve community health outcomes and that researchers and advocates should engage organizations to solicit their advice and concerns.
  • Topic 3: Needs of and challenges to participation by racial and ethnic minorities in biomedical research
    Participants noted several challenges in increasing the participation of racial and ethnic minority persons in biomedical research. They discussed the historical factors related to the elevated distrust in science and healthcare among racial and ethnic minority groups, including the well-known research abuses that occurred in the name of science. Some participants also noted the complexity of these issues, given that houses of worship had been involved in recruiting racial minorities to participate in the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male. Others discussed their experiences recruiting racial and ethnic minority participants and the important role that houses of worship can play.Participants discussed how faith-based organizations and houses of worship have the potential to address the need for inclusive research participation. Participants noted the importance of gaining the buy-in of community and faith leaders, as trusted figures to disperse the necessary information to engage community members in the research process. They suggested that research institutions and communit-engaged researchers should partner with faith leaders to explain the objectives of biomedical research being conducted in their communities. Doing so may help ease the significant distrust of biomedical research; yet sustained efforts will be needed, and faith leaders are key stakeholders in addressing health inequities and reframing views of the healthcare system to contribute to lasting change through research.
  • Topic 4: Proposed solutions – How NIH and faith-based organizations and houses of worship can partner more effectively for racial and ethnic equity in biomedical research

    Participants offered several solutions for NIH partnerships with faith-based organizations and houses of worship. They included hosting NIH events at faith-based organizations and houses of worship, such as events designed to bolster the biomedical science pipeline among URM students who are members of faith communities. Participants suggested that NIH leverage the established relationships that colleges and universities have with faith-based organizations across the United States. Doing so will facilitate the understanding of medical and socioeconomic needs and opportunities, as well as connect researchers with community leaders and organizations to conduct meaningful research and enhance healthcare access.

    Participants made several suggestions to improve equity, diversity, and inclusion in research participation. Among them was clear communication with stakeholders at the outset regarding how the science reflects community health needs and specific ways in which the community will benefit. Clinical trial procedures should accommodate the lifestyles and needs of community participants, including flexible scheduling and fair compensation. However, research should also add lasting value to the community and not rely solely on individual financial incentives. Participants recommended that all NIH studies disseminate a full research report to the clinical trial participants, community leaders and representatives, and overall community, outlining the findings and including corresponding feasible and actionable solutions in accessible language.

NIH is grateful for the participation and perspectives provided by the wide variety of stakeholders in these listening sessions. For more information about past listening sessions, and to follow the efforts of the UNITE initiative, please view the UNITE events webpage at

This page last reviewed on April 11, 2022