Promoting the General Welfare:
Lutheran Social Ministry
Susan Kosche Vallem
Lutheranism, through its social ministry endeavors, exemplifies a long history of response to God's call for service. Lutheran churches have often cooperated with government—and government with churches—in addressing human need and promoting the general welfare. Today in the United States the responsibilities of church and government and their relationship are in a state of flux. The passage of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act, more commonly referred to as federal welfare reform, marks a dramatic change in how government responds to human need. Lutheran social ministry organizations along with other faith-based organizations are finding their way in this new situation.
The welfare reform legislation offers increased opportunity for faith-based service organizations to receive government Binding. This policy poses important constitutional issues related to religious freedom and the non-establishment of religion. It also compels Lutheran social ministry organizations to consider anew whether we can retain our Christian identity and integrity while meeting federal requirements for funding. It calls citizens to evaluate the effects of the legislation on poor people and to ask whether the federal government is abdicating its unique role and responsibility to provide for the general welfare of all of its citizens.
The work of Lutheran social ministry organizations is both sacred and secular; that is, it is embedded in Christian faith, and it addresses social needs that are also the responsibility of government and others in society. It is an area of “functional interaction” between church and state. How the church will respond today is influenced by welfare reform, but it is finally rooted in who we