Academic journal article Social Work

Is Christian Religious Conservatism Compatible with the Liberal Social Welfare State?

Academic journal article Social Work

Is Christian Religious Conservatism Compatible with the Liberal Social Welfare State?

Article excerpt

The pros and cons of welfare reform are hotly debated (Aber, 2000; Bloom, 1997; Hagen, 1999; Seipel, 2000) with results appearing mixed (Acs, Coe, Watson, & Lerman, 1998; Center for Law and Social Policy, 1999; Zedlewski, 1999). Many women have escaped welfare, but often find themselves in dead-end jobs in which they are locked in a struggle over how to pay for increasing necessities (Pavetti, 1998). Some scholars have predicted "dire consequences" for social welfare because of the change to private market solutions (Briar-Lawson, 1998). There is growing evidence that low-income Americans are struggling (Edelman, 2001; Polakow, Kahn, & Martin, 1998; Scherer, 2001).

There is little doubt that passage of the l996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) (P.L. 104-193) changed the face of welfare. The PRWORA set term limits and ended welfare as an individual entitlement. Although these changes were significant, they have been overshadowed by a growing movement among people who argue for the total devolution of the welfare state in favor of faith-based organizations replacing government as the provider of social welfare. Social work has long advocated against disparities in the economy that create poverty (Dolgoff, Feldstein, & Skolnik, 1993). Despite the many calls for reform of the social welfare state by progressive voices (Abramovitz, 1998), the social welfare state seems poised to move in the direction of private rather than public initiatives (DiIulio, 2001).

The "faith-based initiative," as it has come to be called, is often viewed as a major threat to social welfare. NASW has taken a "cautious" view of President Bush's faith-based initiative (NASW, 2001b; NASW, 2002). The association has noted that a complementary relationship between public and private resources is needed to maintain a comprehensive network of services (NASW, 2001a, 2002). Moreover, the association has argued that a public-private affiliation must uphold fundamental principles of social services delivery, such as access to services, accountability, separation of church and state, appropriate staffing, and maintenance of government responsibility (NASW, 2001a, 2001b, 2002). Most important, NASW (2002) has supported the government's role of serving as the social safety net and now holds the position that "the faith-based initiative should not create the expectation that private charity will substitute for public service funding" (p. 2).

This article focuses on Christian groups and the faith-based initiative, although the faith-based initiative is not specifically directed toward Christian groups--it can also apply to any other religious group. Supporters of faith-based initiatives point out that the initiatives make a contribution to recipients (Raines, 2001). Detractors are concerned that there have been no formal evaluations of these initiatives. How can the church provide assistance to the many needy individuals and families who are now served and may be served by the social welfare state? More important, critics are correct to point out that the faith-based initiative mores the concept of social welfare historically backward.

The contours of the liberal social welfare state were laid out during the formative years of the New Deal and augmented during the 1960s War on Poverty and the Great Society. As Brinkley (1998) observed, "a solution of the nation's greatest problems required the federal government to step into the marketplace to protect the interests of the public" (p. 41). Many liberals were convinced during the Kennedy administration that the United States could solve its social problems (Burns, 1990).

The sponsors of the faith-based initiative are not so sanguine about the ability of government to solve social problems. Supporters of these initiatives rely heavily for support from the Christian conservative movement (Hopkins & Cupaiuolo, 2001). We examine the rise of Christian religious conservatism and whether the theological views of the conservative Christian movement are compatible with the liberal social welfare state. …

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