Responsibilities and Risks
for Faith-Based Organizations
Ronald Thiemann, Samuel Herring, and Betsy Perabo
Communities of faith function, in part, to provide a view of reality at odds with that of the larger culture, society, or government. They must retain the ability to be communities of dissent, should the historical moment demand opposition to governmental policies or cultural mores.
WITH THE PASSAGE OF WELFARE REFORM LEGISLATION in 1996, the nature of government-sponsored social welfare provision has fundamentally changed. While the federal government will continue to be involved in funding social and human services, it will now do so primarily in partnership with other agencies. Section 104 of the act includes the so-called "charitable choice" provision which allows the granting of government funds to faith-based organizations; thus partnerships between government agencies and religious institutions may grow significantly as we move further into this new era of social provision.
The notion that faith-based social service providers can offer effective and cost efficient solutions to America's social ills has gained widespread support among politicians in both parties. The idea that social service agencies must address the human and spiritual dimensions of poverty has become remarkably nonpartisan. Republican Governor John Engler of Michigan, an early supporter of government support for faith-based agencies, has argued that welfare reform is not "just about reforming broken systems, but about reforming what is broken in the human character." 1 Senator Dan Coats Republican of Indiana, has extolled organizations like the Gospel Mission, a faith-based drug-treatment center for homeless men. "The Gospel Mission succeeds because it provides more than a meal, more than a drug treatment. It is in the business of spreading the grace of God." 2 Vice President Al Gore and Governor George W. Bush of Texas have both voiced strong support for faith-based social service agencies. In endorsing the recent expansion of the charitable choice provision, the vice- president insisted that faith is often "essential to spark a personal transformation and to keep that person from falling back into addiction, delinquency, or