Saving America?

Saving America?: Faith-Based Services and the Future of Civil Society

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    Saving America?
    Book Description:

    On January 29, 2001, President George W. Bush signed an executive order creating the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. This action marked a key step toward institutionalizing an idea that emerged in the mid-1990s under the Clinton administration--the transfer of some social programs from government control to religious organizations. However, despite an increasingly vocal, ideologically charged national debate--a debate centered on such questions as: What are these organizations doing? How well are they doing it? Should they be supported with tax dollars?--solid answers have been few.

    In Saving America?Robert Wuthnow provides a wealth of up-to-date information whose absence, until now, has hindered the pursuit of answers. Assembling and analyzing new evidence from research he and others have conducted, he reveals what social support faith-based agencies are capable of providing. Among the many questions he addresses: Are congregations effective vehicles for providing broad-based social programs, or are they best at supporting their own members? How many local congregations have formal programs to assist needy families? How much money do such programs represent? How many specialized faith-based service agencies are there, and which are most effective? Are religious organizations promoting trust, love, and compassion?

    The answers that emerge demonstrate that American religion is helping needy families and that it is, more broadly, fostering civil society. Yet religion alone cannot save America from the broad problems it faces in providing social services to those who need them most.

    Elegantly written,Saving America?represents an authoritative and evenhanded benchmark of information for the current--and the coming--debate.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3206-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Population Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  5. 1 Why “Faith-Based”? Why Now?
    (pp. 1-24)

    The question of faith-based social services emerged as a major policy debate in the waning months of the twentieth century. The debate started in the mid-1990s as part of the Clinton administration’s efforts to reform the social welfare system. The resulting 1996 welfare reform legislation included a provision known as Charitable Choice. This provision made it possible for churches and other religiously oriented service organizations to receive government funds more easily. As a result of this provision, service agencies and government officials started paying more attention to the possible contribution that religious organizations could make to the needs of lower-income...

  6. 2 Congregation-Based Social Services
    (pp. 25-63)

    During the debate about welfare reform and Charitable Choice in the 1990s, President Clinton suggested that organized religion would be able to make a significant contribution to eliminating the need for public welfare if each congregation in the United States simply hired an indigent person.¹ Other leaders argued that congregations could at least do more to feed the hungry and house the homeless. These leaders implicitly shared the view that faith-based social service is best provided by congregations.

    It has made sense to public officials to think of congregations as a potentially valuable front line in the provision of social...

  7. 3 Congregations as Caring Communities
    (pp. 64-98)

    The ideal of a “caring community” that many clergy and church leaders try to encourage among their adherents is rather different from the service model we examined in the last chapter. In the service model, congregations devote resources to service programs that are formal, specific, and often somewhat separate from the rest of the congregation. But, as many clergy see it, a congregation should be different from a service organization. In a service organization, people with resources help people who lack resources. Resources consist of professional training, organizational skills, being able to raise and channel charitable donations or government funds...

  8. 4 Religion and Volunteering
    (pp. 99-137)

    Gwen Marshall is a thirty-six-year-old Episcopalian who lives in an uppermiddle-class suburb of Knoxville, Tennessee. Several times a year she volunteers for Habitat for Humanity. Habitat recruits volunteers who work with low-income families to construct homes which these families can then purchase at affordable prices. In the Knoxville area, Habitat-built homes would typically cost fifty thousand dollars if sold on the open market, but eligible families purchase them for approximately thirty thousand dollars. Volunteers such as Mrs. Marshall show up for an hour or two on a given Saturday morning if they happen to have time. Students can also fulfill...

  9. 5 Faith-Based Service Organizations
    (pp. 138-175)

    The fact that congregations perform most of their service work either informally or in cooperation with other community organizations means that we cannot fully understand the social role of faith-based services by looking only at congregations. Nor can we understand the relationship between religion and volunteering if we consider only the volunteering that occurs within congregations or in response to appeals from congregations but fail to take account of the many other community organizations through which this volunteering is performed. We need to look beyond congregations to the wider variety of organizations and agencies that provide social services.

    Many service...

  10. 6 The Recipients of Social Services
    (pp. 176-216)

    Despite all the interest that has been shown in welfare needs and social services over the years, it is surprising how little we know about the recipients of these services. We do have some information about the demographics of low-income families and an occasional study of low-income neighborhoods. But we know little about how people go about seeking social services, why they choose some service organizations rather than others, what they understand the motives of those from whom they seek assistance to be, and whether they regard these caregivers as trustworthy and effective. These are the topics I consider in...

  11. 7 Promoting Social Trust
    (pp. 217-255)

    Most of the discussion of faith-based social services has focused on questions about the actual supply of services. But the way in which services are provided can also make a broader impact on the well-being of communities. Service provision can build trust in communities. It can restore people’s faith in their fellow human beings and in themselves. Or it can undermine that faith, resulting in broken relationships, failure to seek the assistance one’s family needs, or even a desire for revenge.¹ The usual way in which trust enters discussions of service provision concerns the possible untrustworthiness of recipients: are they...

  12. 8 Experiencing Unlimited Love?
    (pp. 256-285)

    The one thing that religious organizations claim to be doing that truly makes a difference in the world is communicating love—unconditional love, the kind that comes from God and has been exemplified by great people of faith throughout the centuries. By serving the needy, religious organizations put into practice their traditions’ teachings about love. Faithbased social services are surely one of the ways in which religious organizations demonstrate the value of love. Even if faith-based services had no special purchase on being effective or in solving the problems of lowincome families, we would need to consider the possibility that...

  13. 9 Public Policy and Civil Society
    (pp. 286-310)

    When social scientists write about the relationship between public policy and civil society, they usually emphasize how civil society can shape public policy. A vibrant civil society in which citizens trust one another and are interested in the good of their communities is one in which people can be mobilized to shape public policy. They learn civic skills in their churches and social clubs, get out to vote, and write letters to their elected officials about issues they care about. It is less common for social scientists to ask questions about how public policy shapes civil society. Yet we know...

    (pp. 311-314)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 315-332)
    (pp. 333-348)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 349-354)