Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Visions of Charity: Volunteer Workers and Moral Community

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Visions of Charity: Volunteer Workers and Moral Community

Article excerpt

Visions of Charity: Volunteer Workers and Moral Community. By Rebecca Anne Allahyari. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. xiv + 285 pp. $45.00 (cloth); $17.95 (paper).

Since spending many nights proctoring at a homeless shelter in the 1980s, I have been fascinated by the variety of theological assumptions underlying ministries with the poor. Rebecca Anne Allahyari compares two distinct approaches in her study of the Salvation Army and Loaves and Fishes, a Catholic Worker offshoot, in Sacramento. Moving fluidly from sociological analysis to simple narrative, she brings both academic insight and personal realism to her study of volunteerism and homelessness.

Allahyari begins with brief sketches of the organizations' historical roots. The anarchist and "feminine" Catholic Worker movement makes no distinctions between worthy and unworthy poor, treating guests as ambassadors of God (p. 211). It contrasts markedly with the hierarchical, masculine, and militaristic model of the Salvation Army that stresses "social control and behavior modification" to encourage self-respect and a work ethic (p. 31). In an intriguing aside, she shows how Salvation Army practices can conflict with Alcoholics Anonymous principles even as the two work together (pp. 84-91).

Next Allahyari moves from visions of charity to its practice. The almost uniformly white, middle-class volunteers find their charitable values stretched by the radical vision of Loaves and Fishes. Most Salvation Army volunteers are draftees doing court-ordered service or clients starting a long climb toward respectability.

In the final section, Allahyari examines the organizations' relationships with government. The Salvation Army eagerly uses public funds; Loaves and Fishes never even seeks them. …

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