Stephen V. Monsma
Putting Faith in Partnerships: Welfare-to-Work in Four Cities
University of Michigan Press, 268 pages, $35.
Dave Donaldson and Stanley Carlson-Thies
A Revolution of Compassion: Faith-Based Groups as Full Partners in Fighting America's Social Problems
Baker Books, 201 pages, $14.99.
The recent presidential campaign season included some pretty negative coverage of its religious dimension. There was talk about the so-called "God gap," "values voters," and the four million evangelicals Karl Rove said did not vote in 2000. After the election, there was plenty of hand-wringing about the end of the Enlightenment and the "theocracy" of the Bush Administration. One source of particular worry to Bush Administration critics is an expansion of the so-called "faith based initiative" which allows government money to go to faith based groups to promote secular social improvements. After the election, one columnist went so far as to suggest, the expansion of this program would usher in a new era of intolerance and theocracy.
As usual, the reality is much more complicated—and more reassuring to friends of religious liberty—than the superheated rhetoric of the campaign season suggests. The Stephen V. Monsma's Putting Faith in Partnerships seeks to explain the role of faith-based organizations in the universe of public and private, for-profit and non-profit welfare-to-work programs. Donaldson and Carlson-Thies address A Revolution of Compassion to evangelical leaders with a heart for service, encouraging them to think carefully and creatively about how their missions can be promoted or diverted by partnerships, not only with government, but also with foundations and other social service agencies. Taken together, the two books provide a richly-textured picture of the motives that animate social service providers, the programs they offer, and the complicated relationships they have with government, with philanthropic donors, and with one another.
Monsma's survey covers welfare-to-work programs in four cities—Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles—and represents information gleaned from questionnaires and two-day site visits. He examines government programs, those offered by corporations, large secular non-profits, small community-based non-profits, and faith-based organizations. Monsma breaks down the faithbased organizations into two types: "faithbased/segmented" where the religious elements are separated from the secular programs and "faith-based/integrated" in which secular and religious elements are seamlessly interwoven.
In terms of size and professionalism, Monsma found a clear divide between the governmental, secular non-profit, and forprofit programs on the one hand, and the faith-based and community-based programs, on the other. The former tended to be larger, more professionalized, and better-funded, the latter smaller and more reliant on volunteer
assistance. In 2002, when the survey was taken, over 80% of full-time employees in the welfare-to-work field could be found in either government agencies or large secular nonprofit organizations. Barely 10% worked for community-based or faith-based organizations.
Although the current capacity of the faith-based and community-based sector is small, Monsma found great willingness to expand and, more importantly,"the capacity to handle the paperwork and other demands put on organizations receiving government funding." He concludes that "[i]f policymakers should decide to move in the direction of relying more heavily on community-based and
faith-based providers, they would find providers who are eager to expand and to serve their communities more fully."
Monsma also noted significant differences between the faith-based programs and the others. The former tended to offer a higher proportion of "life-oriented services," like work preparedness training and mentoring, than did the other organizations, which tended to offer more "job-oriented services," like ESL classes, job search services, and client assessment. Put another way, the smaller community-and faithbased organizations tried harder to focus on the root causes of an individual's specific problems and offer solutions where appropriate. The different mix of services provided may bespeak a difference in orientation, captured in this comment by a formerly homeless client of a Los Angeles faith-based program, who said that "at the welfare office, they just try to get you in and get you out, while at the faithbased
program, they really try to help. She said that if the welfare office finds you a job, there is no follow-up, but the people of the faithbased program are still there for you." Still, Monsma also observed that "welfare-to-work
service providers tend to attract staff members who have a sense of personal commitment, often even rooted in religious values, no matter in what setting that person works" (emphasis mine).
In short, Monsma describes a diverse "ecology" of service providers, offering varying mixes of programs, with substantial potential for expansion, especially in areas and with respect to needs that are relatively underserved.
Among the principal barriers to expansion are those erected by opponents of the faith-based initiative, who fear government support for proselytization and religious discrimination in hiring.
Monsma's research suggests that this fear is misplaced.The following statements by program administrators are, Monsma argues, representative of the attitudes of those working in
Our call is for life transformation; we do not proselytize, do not say if you get saved everything will be OK. But we say you are precious—you reflect God's image andâ€¦you need to find the good work that God created for you to do.
What we have here is an extension of our individual faith. We as a group do not feel we need to go evangelize or proselytize. If someone asks questions, we will talk to them about faith matters. We do not hide it. But neither do we lead with it. That is not our purpose. When we take this approach, there is no hidden agenda to shove your beliefs onto others.
Even in the "faith-based/integrated" programs, the religious content is not,strictly speaking "sectarian." The religious content of most faith-based programs usually
deals "with attitudes toward work, personal responsibility, individual hope, and self-esteem. "Where secular programs might use trite motivational plaques and posters to inspire success in their program, faith-based
programs use Scripture and speak of being created in God's image. While some, Monsma concedes, might regard such
appeals as sectarian proselytization undeserving of government support, that understanding—I would argue—requires exceedingly expansive definitions of both sectarianism and proselytization. Such definitions
might be embraced by a judge here or there, but they are
unlikely to win in the court of public opinion. In short, if we can get beyond the inside-the-beltway rhetoric and look at what actually is happening in America's communities, the public would likely embrace the programs and support further government funding for them.
Monsma also provides ammunition for those who would defend the rights of organization to hire only those who support their mission. Beyond effectively marshalling the relevant
legal precedents, he offers the following observations:
It is not a matter of churches or denominational groups wanting to hire persons from their own specific church or denominationâ€¦. Instead, it is usually a matter of such groups wishing to hire persons whose religious values and commitments fit within their religious commitments, broadly conceivedâ€¦. In the real world the issue is not whether a particular religious tradition may only hire from within its own narrowly
defined tradition. Rather, the issue is, for example, whether or not a Christian agency must hire a total non-believerâ€¦.
If faith-based organizations have a role to play in addressing America's social needs they should be entitled to hire employees who support their mission as secular agencies are. We should think of religious hiring preferences not as government-funded job discrimination, but rather as government accommodation of religious freedom.
Writing in full awareness of how contentious the faith-based initiative has become, Monsma concludes by offering a series of recommendations calculated to turn down the heat. Two in particular are worth highlighting. First, where possible, government assistance should be offered in the form of vouchers to individuals, rather than grants or contracts to organizations. This maximizes individual choice, weakens the perception of direct government support for religious entities, and leaves organizations free to do what they will to assist their clients. Of course, because they provide income rather than "seed capital," vouchers can't readily be used to start new programs.
Monsma suggests that faithbased organizations look to
philanthropic sources for startup funding, adding yet another element to the rich mosaic of partnerships.
His second suggestion is that government only provide
funding to free-standing nonprofit organizations, not
directly to churches. Once again, this weakens perceptions
of church-state entanglement and protects churches from inappropriate governmental scrutiny. And since he finds
ample evidence to suggest that faith-based non-profits are no less faithful than actual congregations, clients lose none of the benefits faith can provide.
While Monsma's work will no doubt be interesting to those working in the trenches of faith-based service providers, the Donaldson/Carlson-Thies volume may be of more direct use to this audience. Addressed to evangelicals—a group that, according to Monsma, is increasingly prominent in the landscape of faith-based social service providers the Donaldson/Carlson-Thies book accessibly summarizes the case for President Bush's faithbased initiative and addresses many of the practical concerns new entrants into the field might have. There is good reason for this. Donaldson is the founder and CEO of We Care America,
an organization that assists social service ministries,
and Carlson-Thies worked in the Bush Administration and currently works for the Center for Public Justice, a prominent evangelical think tank. The authors seek to encourage and reassure evangelicals that they do not need
to sell their souls to serve their communities. Likewise, non-evangelical readers ought to come away from this book reassured that there is no hidden "theocratic" agenda, that evangelicals are genuinely looking to help heal the
wounds in the society in which they live, and that that they do not practice only "faith healing."
The most interesting and illuminating sections of the book deal with the complex web of relationships necessary to provide effective service. It is easy, for example, for those in the nonprofit world to forget the centrality of business to their endeavors. Businesspeople are not enemies
or even rivals, but partners, providing, among many things, the very work toward which welfare recipients are supposed to move. The authors urge "kingdom diplomacy"—an evangelical catch phrase for advancing cooperation over confrontation—upon their readers, demonstrating that miscommunication and misunderstanding on both sides have hindered effective partnerships. They offer as one example of fruitful collaboration that faith-based organizations can provide life skills and a network of mentors and supporters that will contribute to the success and productivity of the employees a business hires.
Donaldson and Carlson-Thies also discuss the challenges of remaining true to your evangelical mission, using the struggles of the Salvation Army as a case study. They note that while some secularizing pressure comes from government funding, there is perhaps even greater pressure from the norms of the social service professions.And the temptation to compromise one's mission comes not only from
these sources, but also from a too-heavy reliance on any single source of support, private or public.
Of course, their focus here is revealing. They and their audience have a genuinely defensive concern about losing their way, about abandoning their faith for merely worldly
effectiveness and success, which is an acknowledgement
of the power of a secular society. They do not propose to transform that society fundamentally—the city of man will always be the city of man—but rather to find a way of working with secular partners on behalf of genuinely common purposes. Hence no one should feel threatened by the willingness of evangelicals to bring their substantial resources and energies to bear on pressing social problems. If there is any danger of "contamination" here, the risk weighs heavier with the faith-based group in its confrontation with the secular than with the confrontation of the secular with religion.
The mission here, the authors make clear, is, above all,"to help neighbors and neighborhoods in need." Yes, some flexibility will be required. Yes, evangelicals might occasionally find that their neighbor-love is more effectively expressed not by founding new organizations
but by working within old ones. "The key," they remind us,"is help that really helps, and not the growth and glory of the faithbased group."
From the evidence that these two books provide, that sentence could serve as the watchword of the Bush Administration's faithbased initiative. In a pluralistic society such as ours, everyone has at least the opportunity to learn the lesson of mutually respectful cooperation. If states and localities are better able to
respond in innovative ways to particular local needs, then leaders everywhere should be open to the various kinds of partners our authors describe. Members of faith-based
organizations are willing and able to learn how to navigate the shoals of genuinely loving and faithful service to a diverse community. People in the public and secular arenas can learn that their religious neighbors desperately want to pitch in and that they're not just
trolling for proselytes. All these two groups have to do is to find one another and to begin the conversation, preferably without the a priori interference of organizations like the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the Interfaith Alliance, all of whom seem devoted to throwing up barriers to genuine interfaith and public-private alliances.
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