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´╗┐Title: The Defects of the Negro Church - The American Negro Academy. Occasional Papers No. 10
Author: Faduma, Orishatukeh, 1857-1946
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  The American Negro Academy.


  The Defects of the
  Negro Church.



  Published by the Academy,

The Defects of the Negro Church.

The writer does not undertake to point out all the defects of the Negro
church. He does not lay any claim to omniscience.

The limits of time and the scope of the subject prevent him from
discussing even what he knows in part. It is only some of the leading
defects in the Negro Church which will be presented for discussion. It
may be necessary to state at the onset that the writer is an optimist in
his studies of questions relating to his race. If at any time he is
compelled to use the surgeon's knife he will do so with the utmost
sympathy and with a view to heal. It may also be necessary to state, in
order to allay the fears of our friends and prevent the reckless
criticism of our detractors, that the defects of the Negro church are
found more or less in churches of other races. They are the same in kind
but differ in degree, on account of difference in environment. They are
not inherent in the race, but are found wherever the environments call
for them. It may be laid down as an axiomatic truth that there has never
been and there is not a perfect church. Of the twelve men who formed the
nucleus of the Christian church and who had the advantage of the
personal teaching of the Christ, one was a doubter, another was
worldly-minded, a betrayer, and a son of perdition who sought relief
from the stings of conscience by self-destruction; a third was a
deserter and vacillator, who drew from the great apostle of the Gentiles
a stinging rebuke for stultifying his conscience during that exciting
controversy which was to settle once for all whether Christianity was to
be a racial or a universal religion. But because there never was a
perfect church is no reason why we should speak lightly or condone the
defects of the Negro Church. Our ideal of the Negro Church is one which
will have as few defects as possible. If we expose these defects it is
because our aim is to correct them so as to reach as near as possible
our ideal. We hope we shall not be misunderstood if we submit for
investigation the following defects in the Negro Church.


All life is known by its manifestations. The latter is the outcome, the
effect of the former. The manifestations of life cannot by any means be
more important than the life which makes them possible. Christianity is
a religion of inwardness, it finds its root in the heart and soul of
man, then effects the outward life. Whenever the inner or spiritual life
is renewed, there follows from necessity a renewed exterior. There must
be first life in the soul. Nor can there be any evolution of the soul or
of society without a previous involution in them. The whole nature of
man must be wrapped up in the image of God before any fruits of
Godliness show themselves. The tendency in the Negro Church is to look
for these manifestations rather than to work for the indwelling spirit
who is the cause of such manifestations. Parallel with this tendency in
the church, is the effort which is being made after expression of
religious life when it should be directed along the line of impressing
it. The church is in need of a deep spiritual life, nevertheless it is
impossible to express what is not previously impressed in the mind.

There is a form of oratory prevalent among us, a mere jingle of sounds,
an expression of nothing of much value. Under its spell the man of the
world is caught, received into the church as a convert, but not being
impressed with the divine life and ideal, he soon falls away. The mad
rush after quantity rather than quality of converts is another
indication of the outwardness of religion in the church. One of the most
significant words spoken by Christ was, "Many are called but few
chosen." The church seems to be carried away with the idea of the
extension of God's Kingdom when it does not sufficiently grasp the idea
of its intension. Because there is not depth in spiritual life, not
intensiveness in the culture of souls, the church does not gain much in
expansion. Again, the church is an organization, but an organization
presupposes an organ. It is evident that if the organ--the instrument
upon which all order and arrangement depend--is out of gear, the
organization is valueless. All attempts to organize men without a
spiritual organ must be a failure. The organization of a church is more
than the putting together of bricks and other dead materials, it is the
bringing together, in an orderly manner, of living souls possessed with
spiritual power and renewed in the image of God. There is another form
of outwardness to which the Negro church is tending at oneself and
valuing oneself from appearance. It tends to make religion a puppet
show. The growth of the church is estimated at number of dollars
collected, number of churches built, and number of followers. The Negro
is prone to fall into this error because of the many denials his critics
make of his ability in self-government. It leads him to make a parade of
his religion and a show of his capabilities. The purpose of religion is
to deepen the spiritual life and help men to be in harmony with God and
nature, not to satisfy critics and detractors. The work of the church is
to lead men to have in full measure the life and light of the Spirit. It
is in the nature of life and light whenever and wherever found to be
active. They will assert themselves if they are in the church, not in a
boastful spirit but with Christian modesty. Cause must precede effect.
The foundation of the church must be securely laid before its
superstructure is attempted. There must be a base of supply before the
army marches to battle.

I have attempted to indicate briefly in what lines the church is exposed
and is tending to outwardness. It lays greater stress on evolution of
life; in eagerness for the expression of its life it neglects its
impression; it emphasizes extensiveness rather than intensiveness,
quantity rather than quality; it runs after the gewgaws of religion and
does not look inward, deep down in the soul; its organization lacks an
organ with a spiritual life deep enough to suppress worldliness.


Another defect of the Negro church is her neglect of rural communities.
From eighty to eighty-five per cent of the race is to be found in our
small towns where ignorance and superstition prevail to an alarming
extent. Among the causes of this neglect are:

(1) The need of adequate funds for the support of churches.

(2) The need of suitable men for these churches.

(3) Discrimination made by church authorities in the sending of their
best men to fill city churches on account of inadequate funds in the
country churches.

(4) The poverty of country churches and their inability to provide for
the support of their pastors, especially those who are needed most in

(5) The repulsiveness of rural districts on account of inadequate
protection and little justice given to the Negro.

Where there are supplementary grants or a reserve fund as aids to
struggling churches, better work is done and suitable men are seen in
the country churches. Suitable men are so rare that the city churches
easily keep them by the offer of larger salaries. Even the city's need
is not yet fully met. The demand is greater than the supply in both
places but still greater in the country. For this neglect of country
churches, a neglect by no means wilful, what are the results? We may
mention a few.

(1) Country pastors are often compelled to take to other callings, their
church work being supplementary and subsidiary. Hence energy needed for
pastoral and pulpit work is dissipated in the effort to make a living.

(2) The paganization of Christianity. One of the saddest things that has
happened to Negroes in our rural districts is the presentation to them
of Christianity in a crude, uncouth, and distorted form. It is a form of
Christianity with the Christ left out. The songs of the church, its
prayers and experiences are there but in a mutilated form, divested of
their spiritual significance. The "Big Meeting," or revival meeting
often gives an opportunity for a revival of the latent paganism in the
Negro. The weird songs, the wild excitement of the people followed by
the unchaste exposures and hysteria of women, the physical agony and
wallowing on the floor, and the violent physical gymnastics among both
sexes is a species of voodooism imported from the religion of heathen
Africa. It is deplorable because its after effects are demoralizing. The
situation is grave and calls for rebuke, because it is deeply entrenched
in our country churches and is encouraged by pastors who ought to point
out a better way. In Africa Christianity is displacing paganism, in
rural America paganism is displacing Christianity. Our rural population
is confronted with a form of Christianity which does not civilize. Since
the corruption of the best thing is the worst thing, it may be fairly
stated that Christianity is receiving an unfair treatment in a
professedly Christian country from a professedly Christian people.

(3) Funds being inadequate to support country churches, and men
qualified to fill them being few even if funds were at hand, there
follows as a necessity the _employment of unqualified men_ to fill
vacancies. So pressing is the need for preachers that in many cases any
kind of men rather than no men at all seems to be the best that can be
done. Hence some men accept appointments for what they can get out of
them. Fitness in any form is out of the question in many of these
appointments. The country churches have therefore become the dumping
ground where pastors sink or swim. There too may be found a host of
immoral preachers. This fact in itself creates a prejudice in the minds
of a class of preachers against accepting country appointments. It is
only the few who are strongly imbued with a missionary spirit that are
willing to labor and lift up the standard in the interest of God and
fallen humanity. One of the surest ways of breaking down this prejudice
is for the churches to send some of their best men to country churches
and provide for their support. Missionary societies aiming at best
results send some of their best men as pioneers and bishops to the
heathen. It is only by a selective method of appointing men to our
country churches that these places can be reclaimed from heathenism and
immorality. It is only then that the "wilderness and the solitary place
shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose."


One of the defects of the Negro Church is the defect in the culture of
its ministry. In spite of all that has been said and done to create
prejudice against the higher education of the Negro, statistics have
failed everywhere to show that our schools have turned out a large
percentage of College or University graduates. There are a few College
or University graduates in the ranks of our ministry. A larger
percentage has failed even to get through a High School course. The
defect in scholarship and culture constitutes a grave problem in our
church life. The leader of a people must be a man of broad culture, wide
sympathies, and in touch with all the varied interests of the people. It
is not enough to be able to read the Bible or pass an examination in
denominational theology. The modern teacher and preacher of today must
be acquainted with the humanities. If not a scientist he must know the
trend of scientific thought and its relation to the Bible. The best
poetry of nations should be at his command on account of the refining
influence which it has always exercised on mankind in all ages. The
masterpieces of the world's best prose writers, the history of art, the
study of the philosophy of history, and the too neglected study of the
history of ethnic religions must be in his possession, not simply in the
library of his home but in the library of his mind. Most if not all of
these studies may be prosecuted outside the college, but the college
curriculum has the advantage of system which the average preacher does
not have. College and University courses are excellent, not so much for
what one can remember out of the many things studied in them, but for
the system and mental discipline as well as the social culture through
which one passes. The interests of the church demand that the pulpit
shall lead the pew. Considering the influence which the Negro ministry
has over its laity, the demand becomes more and more imperative. It is
not a learned ministry but a cultured ministry, a ministry with higher
tastes and aspirations, a ministry which in spite of the materialism of
the times will make the time to study and see the beautiful, the good,
and the true, in God's handiwork. It is this lack of culture which makes
many a preacher narrow-minded. To them the beauties of nature are dead.
To their barren minds nature is a barren wilderness.

(2) From being uncultured the Negro ministry finds it an easy descent to
being immoral. It must be borne in mind that all the defects enumerated
of the ministry or laity are defects not of the whole ministry or laity,
but are defects found among them to a large extent. The salvation of the
church and the race is due to the faithful few, pure and noble men and
women among us. They are the salt of the race and are growing in numbers
as years increase. The future is full of hope. It is painful nevertheless
to know that there is still a large number of immoral preachers, though
not as large as there used to be. Churches and church authorities, and
the educated sentiment of the race are on the alert and are quickly
displacing these men whenever they are found. In the conflict of the
church with the Titan of immorality, the church needs as helpers, men
with a hundred hands like Briareus to hold down this elusive monster.
The term immorality may include all kinds of conduct which the custom of
our times supported by enlightened sentiment disapproves. But the object
of the writer is not to charge the Negro ministry with all kinds of
misdemeanors. There is only one kind of conduct which is so far-reaching
in its results because it is fundamentally subversive of and destructive
to the best interests of society, that the writer wishes to bring up as
a defect of our ministry. It is sexual unchastity. There are causes for
this depravity among a certain class of Negro ministers. It is not a
constitutional disease in the Negro as many of the detractors of the
race have affirmed. Acquaintance with the ancestral life of the African
shows without the shadow of a doubt that the morality of the heathen as
relates to sexes is part of the religion of most African tribes before
they are brought into contact with a foreign civilization. Plantation
life in American society where illicit sexual intercourse was the rule
and not the exception, fostered and encouraged by white masters of the
past, and still practised though less extensively by white men, is a
product of Anglo-Saxon civilization. The environments of country life
encourage illicit living, and to men already reared among them are a
snare. Some of these environments are found in the log-cabin in which
families are crowded together like cattle, and sexual privacy and
decorum are impossible. The plantation log-cabin finds its counterpart
in the slums of cities with their crowded alleys. The landlord in both
cases is at the bottom of these evils. It is but fair to state that
these environments when found in the cities or among the peasantry of
Europe, as in France and Russia, reveal social evils even worse than
those found among Negroes in the United States. But the point we wish to
emphasize is this, that environments help to make the man, and the man
helps to make his environments. There is a class of men among Negro
preachers whose environments have not been other than those in the
plantations, these are the men who are unfit to be the leaders of the
people. When on account of their natural ability and gift of speech they
are set aside as preachers, it only gives them a larger opportunity to
demoralize themselves and those with whom they come into contact. It
will always take men of the strongest moral fibre in any race to elevate
those who live either in the slums of cities or in the cabin life of
plantations, otherwise the gain to Christian missions will be in
quantity rather than quality. Hence the need of specific training of the
best kind in schools where students of the race will find healthy
environments to inspire them to higher and nobler living. Hence the need
of higher education for the race because it subjects the recipient to an
atmosphere of healthy environments long enough to saturate his life. For
his own interest the Negro preacher should do his utmost to improve the
social condition of his people in city or farm, since that condition
reflects for good or evil upon his own character.

3. One of the best results of the Protestant reformation is the
diffusion of God's word among the people. Through the reformation the
Bible ceased to be tongue-tied. Its history, poetry of war and love, its
tragedy, its simple gospel stories of the Christ comprise a literature
that is unsurpassed, and a revelation of God that is unique. But the
Bible can only be intelligently understood by the people when the mind
of the people is prepared to receive it. One of the worst results
growing indirectly out of the Protestant reformation, is the creation of
an ignorant priesthood and the reducing of the Bible to a fetich. It
follows as a matter of course that where the ministry is uncultured, the
interpretation of the word of God suffers. The spirit of God can not do
what man is intended to do. He can only illumine where the mind is
prepared to pass through the process. Revelation requires a medium,
otherwise it is powerless. To understand the mind of God in the Bible
presupposes a mind to comprehend His mind. With the Negro's deficient
ministry, religion becomes irreligion. He believes too much in the
non-essentials of religion, his heaven and hell are too much in the
distant future, he prays that after death he may go to heaven but sees
no heaven on earth. The new heaven and the new earth which John saw and
the new Jerusalem coming down from God to man are antipodal to his
conceptions. His God is seen going up to some cloudless region instead
of coming down to tabernacle with men. His sermons feed the feelings but
neglect the intellect and will, they tickle the ear and subordinate
truth to eloquence. The greater emphasis he puts on churchianity is a
loss to Christianity. The contribution which modern thought is making to
Biblical interpretation is sealed to him. He pursues his beaten path
along the old ruts of ecclesiasticism. He believes in a revelation which
is non-progressive and whose distinctive feature is sameness for all
times. He is painfully liberal in the construction of the Bible. He
thinks he is a curse himself according to the prophet Noah, for he has
not yet discovered the distinctive and conditional element in prophecy.
His theology is in the main denominational and is like the laws of the
Medes and Persians which admit of no change. His mind does not
discriminate between the _ipse dixit_ of the Almighty and external
authority in matters relating to dogma. In the pulpit he lacks decorum,
deep spirituality, and contemplation. His oratory is thunderous, too
physical, and lacks grace and beauty.

Much praise is due to those denominations whose forethought has led them
to spend considerable time and pains to prepare men for the gospel
ministry. In quality of preaching and teaching, and in results already
achieved, the race owes much to this as yet small band of workers. Like
the leaven hidden in the meal its influence is being felt in the church,
in the farm, and in the firesides of the people, and is destined to
overthrow ignorance, immorality, and superstition. With the continued
aid of well-equipped mission schools which must be the base of supply
for our churches, and the training of a new type of men such as the
modern church demands, the moral change so much hoped for will be

4. The world-spirit is in the churches and has taken hold of our
ministry. A large part of church duties which should be performed by
laymen is shirked and placed upon the minister's shoulders. The result
is that the minister is often overburdened with secular matters, is
forced to leave the word and serve tables and loses much spirituality.
When a minister's success depends largely and primarily upon amount of
dollars raised by him his spiritual decline is rapid. Worldliness
follows when desire for position or recognition in the church overcomes
the desire to save men, and when the ordinary tricks of politics are
resorted to in order to gain church distinctions. It is a reversal of
Christ's order, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and
all these things shall be added unto you." These other things are
eagerly desired in place of the "first" things. The more elaborate the
organization of a church is, the larger is the number of preferments to
offices, and greater the opportunity given to office seekers to make
these the first things. The best men in any church are not always those
who hold its highest offices. Too much organization in the church leads
to too much officialism and worldliness, for "where the carcass is,
there will the vultures be gathered together."


The laity lack much consecration. The things of this world and the
desire for them press more heavily upon their minds than the extension
of God's cause. Their Christian consciousness is not trained, hence
their sense of duty is not high. They depend too much on spasms of
effort and frequent appeals to the emotions in the performance of duty.
Their idea of the gospel is too confined to hearing sermons on Sunday.
Their gospel does not touch the many interests of life. Their virtues
are not concrete. Holiness, purity, love, truth, beauty, justice,
goodness are metaphysical abstractions. Too much self-centred and
self-seeking, they make little or no sacrifice for others. Many
self-supporting churches do not shelter weaker ones and have no thought
for the heathen. There are churches that are fortunate in having in
their official boards men of culture, piety, and business experience,
but these are virtues very rarely found in the same men. Business
methods are often low in churches because of the difficulty of finding
strictly business men among the laity. In the erection of churches the
spirit of ostentation rather than worship is dominant. The immorality of
debt not being known, churches are very often built without regard to
the financial inability of the people, and deceive by suggesting rich
parishioners when the people are very poor and live from hand to mouth.
Many disruptions between pastors and churches could have been avoided
were church finances not kept in a confused state. Pastor's salaries and
other church obligations are not raised and met in a systematic way, but
are left to appeals to the feelings of the people whose ethical sense
has not been cultivated. We have thus enumerated among the defects of
the laity, worldliness, untrained Christian consciousness, restricted
meaning of the gospel, the non-concreteness of the Christian virtues,
and the lack of a missionary spirit and of business methods.


Paradoxical as it may seem, in religion the Negro's emotions constitute
his strongest as well as his weakest point. The fact that he is largely
developed in the emotional side of his nature would, other things being
equal, give him a vantage ground in matters of religion. His defect is
not that he is emotional, but that he is excessively so. Like other
races in their childhood, he is a bundle of feelings. He does not think
after God, he does not will after God, but he feels after God. He is not
driven to action because he is impelled by a moral imperative, the law
of duty, but he is controlled by his nerves which are his thermometer.
With the nerves as his guide it is impossible to tell where he stands on
many moral questions. Neurotic environments appeal quickly to him, and
are fostered by the church in sermons which appeal largely to the
imagination, in weird pictures of the unseen, in apocalyptic sermons,
and by mystic preachers known as mourners, shouters and visioners. As a
subject of experimentation in physco-physics, the most fitting time is
in seasons of revival in religion when his emotion is keyed to the
highest point.

The following stages may be noticed:

(1) Violent physical commotion followed by physical exhaustion.

(2) Loss of physical control.

(3) Loss of moral control. At this stage there is a feeling of abandon
leading often to unchaste exposure of the person, wild cries as if
demented, and all kinds of extravagances.

(4) Mental infection as well as emotional panic. At this stage there is
pandemonium. Many obtain religion by the process of infection.

(5) A lowered physical as well as moral vitality. At the last meeting of
the British Association for the Advancement of Science, a thoughtful
paper by Dr. Graham of Ireland showed that there was less insanity among
Roman Catholics than Protestants in Ireland, due to difference in type
of religion, Protestants of Ireland being intensely morbid and ascetic
in their Calvinism. (Congregationalist, Nov. 29, 1902, p. 781.) I
should not be surprised, if investigation was made, that similar results
would be seen in America not only between Protestants and Roman
Catholics, but among Protestants themselves. I should not be surprised
that there were fewer maniacs among Presbyterians and Congregationalists
than among Baptists and Methodists. May not students of physco-physics
make this a study for the benefit of religion? To the use of emotions in
religion the writer has no objections, he is heartily in favor, but he
seriously objects to excessive emotionalism for the following reasons:

(1) It fails to recognize the moral and ethical judgment.

(2) It fails to recognize the volitional side of human nature. "With a
man's will-power dormant, undeveloped, unknown, all attempt at really
training and moulding the character is foolish because impossible. Man
sometimes attempts it; God never does. He calls into activity first of
all a man's will. He seeks to know what a man's own free choice is. Then
he knows what course to follow in his schooling of the soul."[1]

(3) It fails to recognize the rational side of human nature.

(4) It is at variance with our concrete experience of life. In our daily
experience we think, feel and will for action.

(5) It is sickly feminine and appeals to neurotics.

There are some general facts in connection with the philosophy of
religion which are often overlooked in the study of the Negro religion.
Two stages may be noticed in the history of the religious development of
peoples, the primitive and the rational. The primitive stage is poetical
and imaginative, in fact religion is then in its barbaric state. In its
rational stage we see the religious man under a developed rule of
conduct. He still feels but his feelings are controlled by reason. There
is nothing new in the religion of the Negro. He is by no means a
peculiar man from a religious standpoint. The physical contortions and
gyrations noticed in his Christian worship are as old as the history of
religion itself, if not older than it. In his worship we may see things
which are found in the heathen rites of the native African, in the
Bacchanalia of the Greeks, among the Sali or dancing priests of the
Romans, and among the Corybantes. The same effect which is produced on
the feelings of the Negro has been produced on the feelings of the
American Indian, as well as on the ancient bards of Scotland, Ireland,
Wales, and Germany. Lord Macaulay, describing the Puritan, says: "In his
devotional retirement he prayed with convulsions, and groans, and tears.
He was half maddened by glorious or terrible illusions. He heard the
lyres of angels or the tempting whispers of friends. He caught a gleam
of the Beautific Vision, or woke screaming from dreams of everlasting
fire." In the girlhood days of the late Elizabeth Cady Stanton her
sensitive mind was nearly overbalanced, and she suffered terribly from
the too vivid description of future punishment by the emotional Finney.
The imagery of the Book of Revelation has a peculiar effect on the
feelings of the Negro. Its mysticism acts like a spell over him. Says
Macaulay, "The Greek Rhapsodists, according to Plato, could not recite
Homer without almost falling into convulsions." The Mohawk hardly feels
the scalping knife while he shouts his death song. The Dijazerti in the
region of the Sahara believe that communication with Allah is only
possible in a state of trance, and accordingly they work themselves into
a religious frenzy, while the ignorant among them repeat the name of
Allah many thousand times till they fall into a state of unconsciousness.

We do not wonder, considering the primitive state of religion, why men
were spell-bound under its influence. It is all the more conspicuous in
tropical natures, for there youth is exuberant. In all primitive states
of religion we notice the same abandonment, the same illusions produced
on the imagination, the contortions of the body, the child-like
credulity, the superstition, the depression, and exaltations of the
feelings, "the agony, the ecstasy, the plentitude of belief." They are
the complement of barbaric faith, and not a peculiarity of the Negro. If
in these primitive conditions we see the Negro tickled by a straw, or
frightened by a ghost, or in moments of ecstasy spreading out his hands
in an attempt to fly up to heaven without dying, these are the natural
concomitants of such conditions. We pity, rather than censure him, more
especially when we remember that for two hundred years in the house of
bondage, his wild, primitive nature was left untrained.

What is needed for the proper religious development of the Negro is
education, not repression or subjugation of his feelings. We cannot
emphasize this fact too much. There is the danger, in the zeal of
preserving the holy ark, of defiling it by unholy contact. The Negro
needs more thought in his religion, but religion is not all thought. To
have a proper balance in religion as in every-day life, the faculties of
thought, feeling, and volition must be present, distributed in fair
proportions. When reason is overfed in the exercise of religion, the
result is a dry and barren rationalism. When the emotions are overfed
the result is a wild and sickly sentimentalism, a neurotic religion.


[1] The divine method of Inquiry. Biblical World. Dec. 1902, p. 450.

Transcriber's Notes:

Passages in italics are indicated by _underscore_.

The  misprint "soons" has been corrected to "soon" (page 4).

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we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.