Promise and Peril in the Post–Welfare Era
Our volume has scrutinized the prospects for charitable choice through the lens of faith–based poverty relief in east central Mississippi. The substantive portion of our volume drew on in–depth interviews collected from a diverse sample of local pastors, as well as ethnographic data culled from five area congregations with active social service programs. We also explored street–level benevolence undertaken collaboratively by local Christian churches at the Golden Triangle Region March for Jesus. Throughout, we have been especially attentive to the influence of racial asymmetries, denominational cleavages, and regional culture on religious benevolence. Readers might justifiably ask what meaningful insights about faith–based poverty relief and charitable choice can be gleaned from an intensive examination of religious benevolence in small–town Mississippi. What, in general, do we learn about faith–based initiatives from a study with such a pointed focus? In our view, we learn plenty.
We have argued that Mississippi is the ideal locale in which to study religion, race, and poverty. Mississippi led the nation in forming church–state partnerships through its Faith & Families program two years prior to the passage of federal welfare reform in 1996. There is also entrenched poverty and a profound commitment to religion in the state. Mississippi is by most measures the nation’s poorest state, and is arguably the buckle of the Bible Belt. A state known for its history of racialized oppression and violence, Mississippi is widely considered the “most Southern place on earth” (Cobb 1992). At the same time, Mississippi was also the site of important civil rights activism during the 1960s. Many of the lesser–known grassroots organizers who made the movement possible were local Mississippians who first cultivated traditions of resistance in their homes, churches, and local communities