Elusive Togetherness

Elusive Togetherness: Church Groups Trying to Bridge America's Divisions

Paul Lichterman
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 384
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7sd92
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  • Book Info
    Elusive Togetherness
    Book Description:

    Many scholars and citizens alike have counted on civic groups to create broad ties that bind society. Some hope that faith-based civic groups will spread their reach as government retreats. Yet few studies ask how, if at all, civic groups reach out to their wider community. Can religious groups--long central in civic America--create broad, empowering social ties in an unequal, diverse society?

    Over three years, Paul Lichterman studied nine liberal and conservative Protestant-based volunteering and advocacy projects in a mid-sized American city. He listened as these groups tried to create bridges with other community groups, social service agencies, and low-income people, just as the 1996 welfare reforms were taking effect. Counter to long-standing arguments, Lichterman discovered that powerful customs of interaction inside the groups often stunted external ties and even shaped religion's impact on the groups. Comparing groups, he found that successful bridges outward depend on group customs which invite reflective, critical discussion about a group's place amid surrounding groups and institutions.

    Combining insights from Alexis de Tocqueville, John Dewey, and Jane Addams with contemporary sociology,Elusive Togethernessaddresses enduring questions about civic and religious life that elude the popular "social capital" concept. To create broad civic relationships, groups need more than the right religious values, political beliefs, or resources. They must learn new ways of being groups.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4295-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)

    It would have been hard to guess from the beige linoleum tile floor, the white cinderblock basement walls, or the big aluminum coffee pots labeled “regular” and “decaf” standing at attention near the doorway.You would not know it from scanning the people in the room, either. Here were late middle-aged, white church volunteers in cotton shirts and tan slacks.Neither the scene nor the people would look very remarkable to many middle-class people in the American midwest. But soon after the director of the Urban Religious Coalition opened this meeting in the basement of Lakeburg Presbyterian Church, on September 18, 1996,...

  6. Chapter One IN SEARCH OF THE SOCIAL SPIRAL
    (pp. 7-41)

    “Feelings and ideas are renewed, the heart enlarged, and the understanding developed only by the reciprocal action of men one upon another.”¹ Social observers quote few sentences more frequently than this one, written by the famous nineteenth-century observer of American life, Alexis de Tocqueville. He was describing what could happen when people participate in civic groups. Many theorists and commentators cite Tocqueville’s paean when they argue that civic groups help people spiral outward: By participating in civic groups, people’s horizons expand so that they come to care more about people not only in the group, but in the wider community....

  7. Chapter Two STUDYING THE SOCIAL SPIRAL
    (pp. 42-59)

    On Tocqueville’s trail, I set out in pursuit of the social spiral. Tocqueville supposed that something about interaction in local groups would promote broad ties to the world beyond the group. Increasingly, sociologists are coming to appreciate a similar insight: People create social tiesin interaction.

    It may seem like an odd thing to say—to emphasize that peoplecreatesocial ties.At first blush, it seems just obvious. On the other hand, haven’t sociologists produced generations of studies teaching us that social ties constrain what individuals say and do together? The constraining and enabling force of social ties is a...

  8. Chapter Three NETWORKERS AND VOLUNTEERS REACHING OUT
    (pp. 60-98)

    “Pray for this city,” the executive administrator of Lakeburg County had told a special meeting of Lakeburg religious leaders in 1995. He was worried about what would happen when the county’s social welfare programs got cut. Longtime volunteers in the Urban Religious Coalition (URC), along with a few pastors, took up the executive’s call—and that, in short, was the origin story of the Humane Response Alliance (HRA).URC director Donald would repeat it many times. He said often, too, that they were going to rebuild the caring structures of Lakeburg, weaving together churches, community service associations, and county agencies into...

  9. Chapter Four CRYING OUT: SOCIAL CRITICS
    (pp. 99-132)

    Justice Task Force members were insurgents. In the year before Lakeburg Presbyterian’s kickoff meeting, the URC held meetings to plan the Humane Response Alliance. Catherine attended them and challenged the HRA’s whole approach, calling it more social-service directed than systematic-change directed. “I got up and did my spiel:‘We’ve got to change these structures, this whole thing of welfare reform is stupid, it’s not fair, it’s unjust.’ Surprisingly enough, a bunch of people were interested.”¹ Those people began to meet as an HRA project, the Justice Task Force.

    Every Task Force meeting rang with social criticism. I picked up on the...

  10. Chapter Five CHRIST-LIKE CARE: SOCIAL SERVANTS
    (pp. 133-170)

    “This is a great day for your churches, and for the city of Lakeburg,” Evan announced. For weeks leading up to this hot July evening, Evan had been working with county social service people, identifying families that were losing their welfare benefits. Evan’s Adopt-a-Family program would match up these families with local church groups of six or eight volunteers each. Volunteers would learn how to support the family while the breadwinner cast about for paid work. This evening, fifty churchgoers, most from theologically conservative, evangelical Protestant churches and all white, had come to Adopt-a-Family’s orientation meeting in an airy church...

  11. Chapter Six A SOCIAL SPIRAL WINDS OUTWARD: PARTNERS
    (pp. 171-215)

    On the second Wednesday of every month, the deceptively quiet street outside of Park Neighborhood Center becomes busier, parking space becomes tighter, and white faces become more common than usual. It is Park Cluster’s monthly meeting. A dozen church people, mostly in their sixties and seventies, meander into the small neighborhood center packed into a former apartment building. A food pantry inhabits a former bedroom; loaves of white balloon bread huddle together on wooden shelves crafted by a Cluster member. Upstairs, the new public health nurse shares a former bedroom with the office of the Moving Girls teen club. Cluster...

  12. Chapter Seven DOING THINGS WITH RELIGION IN LOCAL CIVIC LIFE
    (pp. 216-246)

    When I started going to Park Cluster meetings, I thought the volunteers would talk about their civic duties in Christian terms, at least once in a while. Park Cluster was trying to build a relationship with a neighborhood whose most vocal leader promoted black separatism and scorned white outsiders. Wouldn’t they invoke religious symbolism at some point, if for no other reason than to steel their own commitment to a difficult cause? Cluster brochures called the group “faith in action.” I assumed that I would hear about that faith if I waited long enough.

    I listened and waited. I imagined...

  13. Chapter Eight DOING THINGS TOGETHER: LESSONS FROM RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY SERVICE GROUPS
    (pp. 247-263)

    By the time I started studying the Lakeburg groups, the URC’s Donald and Adopt-a-Family’s Evan already had heard about the decline in Americans’ civic involvement. But both wanted to do more than get people to join groups. Donald talked about reconnecting the caring community. Evan talked about getting to know our neighbors again. Each set out to do something Americans talk a lot about doing: strengthening community, bridging diversity. Three years later I had discovered how hard it was for most of the Lakeburg groups to create new bridging relationships. What do the Lakeburg groups teach us about the conditions...

  14. Appendix I THEORY AND EVIDENCE IN A STUDY OF RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY SERVICE GROUPS
    (pp. 264-273)
  15. Appendix II STUDYING CUSTOMS
    (pp. 274-280)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 281-302)
  17. REFERENCES
    (pp. 303-324)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 325-332)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 333-333)