The Varieties of Faith-Related Agencies
Smith, Steven Rathgeb, Sosin, Michael R., Public Administration Review
The use of religious agencies in publicly funded social service programs is advocated by politicians, contemporary public policy makers, essayists, ministers, and many lay people. The benefits of religion are touted for dealing with such vexing social problems as poverty, child welfare, juvenile justice, inner city gangs, and drug abuse (Cisneros 1996; Cnaan 1998; Cnaan, Wineburg, and Boddie 2000; DiLulio 1997; Klein 1997; Monsma 1996). The public use of religious agencies is said to maintain pluralism, reinforce the norm of personal responsibility, and limit the size of the welfare state (Berger and Neuhaus 1977; Glazer 1989; Loury and Loury 1997; Meyer 1982; Olasky 1996; Schambra 1999). Evidence of the rising support for religious agencies, Congress passed the so-called "Charitable Choice" amendment in the 1996 welfare reform legislation to allow religious charities to apply for government grants--although the charities are not permitted to discriminate on the basis of religion (Chaves 1999; Demko 1997, 38).
"Faith-based" agencies are attractive to many policy makers, scholars, and lay people because they appear to emphasize thrift, individual responsibility, less government, responsiveness, and flexibility in the provision of services. They also seem to allow clients to be personally invested in their own rehabilitation. Nevertheless, these are hypothesized benefits, and it is not simple to assess the hypotheses. Clearly, the nature of the agencies and their services cannot be understood by merely tallying the level of public funding or the number of ministers on boards of directors. Indeed, agencies interact with secular society in so many ways as to preclude a simple correspondence between any one dimension of religiosity and agency action. Religion can be interpreted in many ways, and thus it can motivate many types of behavior. The joint impact of particular ties to religious and secular institutions may be complex. It is critical to carefully consider the way in which organizations are really tied to faith, and given this tie, how they function in the world.
This article conducts a detailed analysis of a diverse sample of religiously affiliated service agencies. It reveals that agencies have varying ties to religion, and these ties affect the agencies' organization moderately to profoundly. It also suggests there is no easy or simple trade-off between the extent to which an agency expresses faith and its size, use of secular resources, or similar factors. As a result, many of the statements about "faith-based" agencies that are made in the popular press or by politicians are overly simplistic; arguments in favor of faith-based service delivery are mismatched with the true universe of religiously tied agencies and their characteristics. In other words, the vision of agencies that is stated by many contemporary policy makers and presidential candidates represents only a small percentage of the total spectrum of agencies that have an important faith component.
Background and Theory
Some empirical work suggests that a focus on religion is beneficial because faith-based agencies generally deliver services for the public good (Cisneros 1996; Hager, Pins, and Jorgensen 1997; Slessarev 1998; Wolpert 1997), that is, they fully express faith in the way they deliver services (Jeavons 1994, 1997). This implies that these agencies' effectiveness is directly related to their faith connection. But because that work tends to focus on small, informal, unstable (DiLulio 1997; Hager, Pins, and Jorgensen 1997; Wolpert 1997), or otherwise specialized faith-based providers (Jeavons 1994, 1997), its apparent implication or allegation is that larger denominational agencies such as Catholic Charities or Jewish Family Services are not really faith-based, and therefore not as effective or beneficial. Indeed, this seems to confirm a more traditional stream of scholarship that suggests many large, religiously tied agencies are heavily secularized and quite like other non-profit providers. The agencies allegedly rely on professional staff, select clients universally, and refrain from mandating participation in religious activities or otherwise expressing their faith. They are pressured to do so by government and United Way funding sources, by the general secularization of society, and by ideas emanating from the legal rights revolution (Many 1980; Oates 1995). Under managed care and the generally more controlled funding of the newly accountable contemporary welfare state, many have little choice over such matters as the length and type of care (Smith and Lipsky 1993).
If certain religious agencies act on the basis of their faith, but many more do not, one might wonder whether there are sufficient numbers of distinctive agencies that governments might rely on. However, that dichotomy is questionable. Scholarship pointing to the way faith mobilizes resources for the poor counts the contributions of a wide group of agencies, without always documenting that each is faith based (Cnaan 1996, 1998; Wuthnow 1990). Further, there are reasons to believe that organizations with some tie to religion may share certain features, whether they are traditional or not; they are part of the same society and react to many of the same social and cultural forces, some of which are known to support religion and some of which are secularizing (Wuthnow 1980). Indeed, one major study suggests it is difficult and perhaps unusual for an agency to remain fully faith based (Jeavons 1994).
The role of faith across the wide range of religiously tied agencies is more of an empirical question than a settled issue. Research must specify how religion and faith are really expressed in agencies, to what ends, and in what agencies. This article undertakes such research. It is more analytic than argumentative, but its findings are relevant to considering the various meanings of being a religiously tied agency, the implications of the agencies' service-delivery styles for public management and social policy, and the likely implications of government decisions to fund the larger group of agencies that have some faith connection.
The Faith-Related Agency
Is faith important, and how is it important? These questions are at the heart of the debate on the merits of increasing the role of religiously affiliated agencies in service delivery. Of course, examining them requires analyzing the ways in which religion affects various agencies. However, we believe this analysis should focus on the universe of what might be called faith-related agencies, which is different than the universe of the typically analyzed faith-based agencies.
Faith-related agencies may be defined as social service organizations that have any of the following: a formal funding or administrative arrangement with a religious authority or authorities; a historical tie of this kind; a specific commitment to act within the dictates of a particular established faith; or a commitment to work together that stems from a common religion. These agencies have some link to religion at the institutional level, either directly or because some individuals act on the basis of their relation to a religious institution, not simply on the basis of their personal belief system (Chaves 1994).
Use of the term faith-related is methodologically useful because it points analysis to the broader universe of service organizations that are of interest to policy makers. This includes large traditional providers, mission shelters that do not have formal ties to a denomination, interfaith organizations, and many others. To be more precise, the definition mirrors the set of agencies with which public policy must be concerned. If government were to focus funds on agencies that are linked to religion, most or all faith-related agencies might qualify. If governments were to choose to work with a narrower group, questions would arise concerning this choice.
The faith-related definition has two other intellectual rationales. First, it is inclusive. It reflects the variable nature of ties, recognizing that agencies most closely aligned with faith must act in the secular world, while agencies with a strongly secular orientation might be influenced to some degree by their religious ties. Second, the definition is analytically clear because it distinguishes the tie to faith from the actions that may result from this tie. For example, an agency most closely aligned with a faith may not necessarily fully attain religiously engendered goals; large agencies that are loosely bound to the authority of a given denomination might reach a broader range of clients and thus might more fully express certain service goals of that faith.
The term faith-related intentionally contrasts with faith-based organizations (DiLulio 1997), which, when taken literally, excludes all but the few agencies that fully act on faith (or at least, that come close to this illusive goal). That term also is problematic because it implicitly assumes faith can be represented by a readily identifiable set of practices, which this article disputes. Further, the term faith-based provides few layers for distinguishing the behavior of agencies that rely on faith from the definition of the agencies. Thus, it overlooks the many complex ties between agencies and their societies. Finally, it is used in some works that study an ambiguously defined group of agencies.
The term faith-related is compatible with the work of Netting (1984) and Netting, Thibault, and Ellor (1990), which focuses on church-related or religious institutions that have a formal tie or membership in an "organized faith community." But the new term also encompasses agencies that formerly had ties to a denomination or established faith, as long as they still rely on an organizational constitution that makes reference to faith. It also includes agencies that are oriented toward a given denomination but have no formal administrative connection. It overlaps with Cnaan, Wineburg, and Boddie's (2000) use of the term "religious-based" or even "faith-based service agency," but that work is particularly interested in organizations "that overtly express their religious origins and affiliation" (27) and does not conceptualize them as varying in their actions in complex ways, as suggested here. Jeavons' (1994, 1997) view also is relevant. He uses the term "religious organization" to refer to organizations that act on a particular system of faith and worship that is connected to a religion. "Religiosity" varies along seven dimensions, ranging from the mobilization of resources to goals. Jeavons' perspective overcomes some of the problems of the term faith-based by suggesting that the tie to religion is a matter of degree as determined by a multidimensional analysis, but he calls for assessing this in behavioral terms. For example, he argues that an agency is more closely tied to religion when its resources are offered and used for moral purposes, and it is closer to religion in services when it includes "spiritual technologies". (1) The current definition enables us to include many more agencies and to consider the ways in which variations in institutional ties to faith act as "independent" variables that result in different actions that are not delineated by definition.
Conceptually, the current view suggests three research tasks: laying out various ways that organizations are institutionally linked to religion; relating the nature of this link to the social-service-delivery patterns, structure, and social organization of agencies; and assessing the impact of the social organization on clients. This article tackles the first two of these tasks. It is meant to unravel the issues that other perspectives tend to bunch together and to help inform policy debates about the use of the agencies.
Dimensions of the Faith Relation
As Jeavons (1997) suggests, an agency's link to faith at the institutional level is multidimensional. We posit that the key to determining those dimensions is to consider that the agencies are heavily influenced by their institutional environment, that is, by the norms, beliefs, and cognitions apparent in other organizations. This is not to deny that service agencies exist within a "market," where they must respond to funding agencies, religious congregations, and (to some degree) client demands. Rather, it implies that agencies do not always respond literally to pressures for narrowly defined, specific program ends. These ends tend to be socially and politically constructed, inherently controversial, and difficult to assess. Thus, services providers are frequently assessed in terms of their structures, procedures, and mission. For example, child welfare providers are partly evaluated by whether agency investigations are conducted by professionals who use agreed-upon approaches (such as family visits), and perhaps by agency compliance with a small number of placement-rate indicators.
It follows that our analysis of faith-related agencies requires considering the norms, beliefs, and cognitions stemming from the culture that define acceptable organizational structures and activities (Scott 1995). Indeed, so-called "institutional" theory has made many advances in undertaking such analyses. For example, one version of this theory suggests there are three distinct institutional mechanisms: agencies may adopt a given set of institutional arrangements because of coercive, normative, or mimetic (that is, mimicry of common approaches) pressures (DiMaggio and Powell 1983). Some analysts also suggest that agencies may have a choice of which set of cultural arrangements to pursue--for example, whether to adopt grassroots or centralized forms of democracy (Colignon 1997), both of which are viable in U.S. society.
Based on the literature on organizational theory, it is helpful to identify the sources of constraints that help dictate organizational action. We argue that three are most central: the sources of resources, such as public and private funders and donors; the use of authority, generally exercised through the hierarchical control of denominations; and the sources of what we call "culture," which includes groups that agencies or their staff and volunteers interact with (DiMaggio and Powell 1983; Katz and Kahn 1966; Oliver 1991; Scott 1987; Wamsley and Zald 1973). These roughly reflect coercive, normative, (2) and mimetic pressures, respectively, although matters are not so simple in practice.
In the 1960s, theorists argued that organizations can be conceptualized as part of an "open system." Organizations accept input from the outside world, produce a product or service, and export it in order to receive more resources. As it was originally formulated, this theory suggested that organizational behavior is best explained by the interaction between the demands of outsiders and the desires of organizational members, particularly with respect to the pursuit of organizational effectiveness and efficiency. Open-systems theory has more recently been viewed in broader terms, suggesting that an agency is tied to the external world in many ways (Jeavons 1994; Scott 1987). The theory forms a general framework within which scholars select more particular views of causality in analyzing such issues as how the local community affects religious congregations (Roozen, McKinney, and Carroll 1984).
The resource-dependency theory, as developed by Pfeffer and Salancik (1978) and Thompson (1967) and used by authors like Gronjberg (1993), has become a readily accepted application of open-systems theory that offers more specific hypotheses. Simply put, this theory argues that organizations can act only if they have a stable flow of resources from the environment. These resources are necessary to provide organizations sufficient "certainty" about the external world to enable them to produce a product or service. It follows that a focal organization can be dominated by outsiders who provide resources that cannot be easily obtained elsewhere, if the outsiders do not need the focal organization as fully--that is, if there are …
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Publication information: Article title: The Varieties of Faith-Related Agencies. Contributors: Smith, Steven Rathgeb - Author, Sosin, Michael R. - Author. Journal title: Public Administration Review. Volume: 61. Issue: 6 Publication date: November-December 2001. Page number: 651+. © 1994 American Society for Public Administration. COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group.
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