Status report: 10 years of faith-based initiatives

By Michelle Boorstein It’s been about a decade since the White House started inviting faith-based groups to bid for government … Continued

By Michelle Boorstein

It’s been about a decade since the White House started inviting faith-based groups to bid for government social services contracts (first under Clinton, then in a much more expansive way under Bush, and now continuing under Obama). It’s time for the reports and conferences and opining!

Today, experts, government officials (including Joshua DuBois, head of the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships) and other interested folks met at the Brookings Institution think tank to look assess the program:

_ Since Bush launched the faith-based initiative, saying it was necessary in part to empower an army of churchgoers to do more social service work, there has been no change whatsoever in the behavior of congregations. That’s what the current research shows, according to Mark Chaves, Duke University sociologist and director of the National Congregations Study, which has been done since 1998. Chaves says the Bush office boosted congregations’ interest in social service work, but that hasn’t translated into more congregations doing social service work, hiring staff to do social service work, etc. Keep in mind congregations are not the primary faith-based body doing such work, faith-based social service groups are.

_ The experts who spoke at Brookings say new research is producing some consensus: faith-based social service providers aren’t clearly better (or worse) than their secular counterparts. This question heated up as the Bush initiative brought more attention (and promises of money and access) to the work of faith-based groups, which meant more lobbying, more litigation. Stephen Monsma, a research fellow at the Paul Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics, said there is evidence that people who come out of faith-based programs have somewhat better outcomes, but that current research concludes that it’s difficult or impossible to answer this question of which is better.

_ Rebecca Sager, a young sociologist who just came out with a book on the faith-based initiative (“Faith, Politics and Power: The Politics of Faith-Based Initiatives“), said in the past decade every single state has implemented some aspect of the Bush initiative. The vast majority, she said, adopted a focus not unlike Bush’s – changing the culture so government is more friendly to faith-based groups by loosening rules that might hinder partnerships, trying to help people apply for government money, etc. However, she said many people in these state offices became disillusioned because there was no money. Of the 30 people she interviewed who ran these state faith-based offices (she called them “liaisons”), since 1996 there are only three left, she says.

_ Not surprisingly, there was a bit of discussion about how the Obama administration will ultimately come down on the question of whether faith-based groups that get public money can discriminate in hiring (i.e., only hire people of their own faith). This has been the most controversial aspect thus far of his office. A bunch of legal experts today disagreed about whether such discrimination is legal, and there was some evident frustration with Obama for promising as a candidate to end it and then back-peddling to say he needs time to think about it.

DuBois spoke this morning on the subject, saying: “We know that there is a tremendous desire for finality on this topic, but we also know that due to its importance, decisions must be made carefully and with all due diligence. That’s a process we are in, and one we take very seriously.”

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  • cecil3

    Every day there is a new “church” somewhere, but what makes it sad is the non-profit status they are granded with no credentials other than “god”. They all claim missionary work but not before they get paid very well. Pat Robertson and the latest missionaries in Haiti. God is Good but God should not post profits as The 700 club does. The same bible he preaches also tells about Jesus destroing the shops set up in the church in His time. You want to have a religion you may. However pay taxes like everyone else. Also all the renegate churches are not afiliated with any recognized religion around the world [Catholicism, Orthodox etc.] So again STOP using god for profit. The IRS should get involved and after that you will see a reduction of all the missionaries and churches around the Great U.S.A

  • FamilyPromiseofLasVegas

    Very interesting comments related to this article. I would refer all readers to view the Family Promise website at http://www.familypromise.org. A non-profit and faith based connected organization that has operated in the U.S. for over 20 years and assists homeless families return to sustainable lives with employment and housing. We have been an affiliate for 14 years and I can state that this program works and achieves incredible goals. We do not proseltyze and we colloborate with people of all faiths. In Las Vegas, we partner with Catholic,Jewish, Muslim, Protestant congregations in an organized and well directed program. Family Promise should definately be on the short list of faith based non-profits that serve as a best practice model for our nation.

  • HermanKrieger

    Faith an Charity: see photo, T.G.I.F.”, From the series, “Churches ad hoc”.

  • edallan

    There should have been a LOT of frustration with President Obama for continuing this grotesquely unAmerican and unconstitutional initiative. This is even apart from the use that George W. Bush and Karl Rove made of the faith-based money as a political slush fund.The idea that there is a Baptist way of accounting or a Presbyterian way of driving school buses is staggering.

  • Utahreb

    As an “equal opportunity heathen”, I volunteer at the Salvation Army thrift store in the book section a couple of days a week and also at the St. Vincent de Paul “help” office where we do basic social services such as food vouchers and bags of food for families, utility help, medication payments and more.At neither place am I the victim of proselytizing and appreciate that. At neither place am I required to be a member of a church or religious group. They appreciate my help and don’t care if I am Presbyterian (baptized many years ago), Catholic, Baptist or whatever.These are the types of groups that, in my opinion, are the ones most worthy of help since they help all who are in need no matter what their religious affiliation. If helping at a religious organization depends on being a member of that certain church, then count me out! And I, too, object to the non-profit status of any religious group or sect that pokes its nose into government issues. You want to lobby? Then lose your non-profit status and be honest about it.

  • detroitblkmale30

    kudos to Obama for continuing a much needed program. its a bipartisan initiative(Clinton, Bush, Obama) that aids are communities. A couple of corrections though to the story..the purpose wasnt to expand services by churches that werent currently providing these services but to allow those faith-based organizations that were providing them to better partner with government. Also there are still about 30 liasions or offices at the state level.

  • imZandor

    THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT DOES NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO WASTE OUR TAX MONEY ON ANYTHING FAITH BASED…IT’S A LIE!!!KEEP THE PHONY RELIGIOUS RIGHT OUT OF OUR GOVERNMENT!!!I DON’T WANT MY TAX DOLLARS TO BE GIVEN TO ANY CHURCH THAT FORCES PEOPLE TO BELIEVE IN THEIR GOD BEFORE THEY GET ANY HELP!!! FACT!!ALL CHURCHES SHOULD HAVE THEIR TAX EXEMPT STATUS REVOKED…YOU RUN YOUR CHURCHES LIKE BUSINESS…YOU LOBBY GOVERNMENTS ON YOUR BEHALF AND YOU SPEND MONEY TO SUPPORT POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS SO YOU DO NOT DESERVE ANY TAX FREE STATUS!!!PAY YOUR FAIR SHARE OF TAXES YOU CROOKS AND EVERYBODY WILL BE BETTER OFF BECAUSE OF IT…NOW THAT WOULD BE A TRUE MIRACLE!!!

  • cprferry

    Many faith-based programs would seem to be somewhat immune off many of the failings of NFP service programs.