Who Will Provide? The Changing Role of Religion in American Social Welfare

By Mary Jo Bane; Brent Coffin et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
Doing Whose Work?
Faith-Based Organizations
And Government Partnerships

Anna Greenberg

It is not the moment to take government out of the business of caring for our nation's social and economic welfare. If there is an economic downturn, it is realistic to assume we can rely on religious organizations to cope with wide scale homelessness, joblessness and poverty?

NONPROFITS HAVE A VENERABLE HISTORY of social service delivery and partnership with government to tackle thorny social and economic problems. Since the 19th century, as Theda Skocpol notes, "Voluntary civic federations have both pressured for the creation of public social programs and worked in partnership with government to administer and expand such programs after they were established." 1 What is new in the current political climate is that policy makers at every level of government are calling congregations and religious groups to take on these responsibilities, privileging religious models and local responses over centralized, bureaucratic solutions. 2 Moreover, religious leaders and communities are increasingly formulating social welfare innovations and policy through formal institutionalized channels, rather than merely pressing authorities for funding or political change.

For many, the most appealing aspect of this trend is the reliance on solutions conceived at the local level by community based groups. These solutions are understood to be more effective and efficient than "top down," government social policy and more responsive to individual needs. The connection of religious values and a faith commitment to service delivery, it is contended, is central to the effectiveness of this community-based model. Legislators and bureaucratic actors have responded in kind, creating special offices, grant programs, and partnerships, as well as initiating legislative challenges to restrictions on public funding of religious organizations.

Yet as commentators champion the efforts of religious communities, little is known about the scale of faith-based public/private partnerships underlying the

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