Faith–Based Poverty Relief
Coauthored with Louis Bluhm, Neil White, and Melinda Chow
Having provided a broad historical overview of American social welfare and religious benevolence, we now turn our attention to local narratives and practices of faith–based poverty relief in Mississippi congregations. In many respects, Mississippi is the ideal state in which to study faith–based poverty relief. Despite recent reductions in welfare caseloads, Mississippi has long been marked by high rates of poverty and public assistance use. The state also has a distinctive history of racial struggle. And like many of its neighboring states in the South, Mississippi features a highly churched population that is dominated by Southern Baptists, Black Baptists, and United Methodists. (The social and religious ecology of Mississippi is discussed more extensively in the appendix to this volume.) In this chapter, we explore the origins of faith–based welfare reform in Mississippi and the organizational strategies that local religious congregations have developed to minister to the poor in their communities. We outline four key strategies that local congregations utilize to provide poverty relief—intensive benevolence, intermittent relief, parachurch collaboration, and distant missions. We also carefully assess the motivations and implications associated with each of these aid–provision strategies.