Charitable Choices

Charitable Choices: Religion, Race, and Poverty in the Post-Welfare Era

John P. Bartkowski
Helen A. Regis
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 214
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  • Book Info
    Charitable Choices
    Book Description:

    Congregations and faith-based organizations have become key participants in America's welfare revolution. Recent legislation has expanded the social welfare role of religious communities, thus revealing a pervasive lack of faith in purely economic responses to poverty.Charitable Choices is an ethnographic study of faith-based poverty relief in 30 congregations in the rural south. Drawing on in-depth interviews and fieldwork in Mississippi faith communities, it examines how religious conviction and racial dynamics shape congregational benevolence. Mississippi has long had the nation's highest poverty rate and was the first state to implement a faith-based welfare reform initiative. The book provides a grounded and even-handed treatment of congregational poverty relief rather than abstract theory on faith-based initiatives. The volume examines how congregations are coping with national developments in social welfare policy and reveals the strategies that religious communities utilize to fight poverty in their local communities. By giving particular attention to the influence of theological convictions and organizational dynamics on religious service provision, it identifies both the prospects and pitfalls likely to result from the expansion of charitable choice.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2309-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. 1 The Welfare Revolution and Charitable Choice
    (pp. 1-26)

    America has recently witnessed a revolution. No weapons were fired. No blood was shed. But this revolution has already influenced the lives of citizens by the millions. And it will undoubtedly shape every major social institution well into our nation’s twenty–first century. The architects of America’s welfare revolution promised, in prophetic words first uttered by then presidential candidate Bill Clinton, to “end welfare as we know it.” And with the passage of welfare reform legislation in 1996, they delivered on this promise. It is not an overstatement to say that we have entered a new phase in our nation’s...

  5. 2 Social Welfare and Faith–Based Benevolence in Historical Perspective
    (pp. 27-59)

    The revolutionary policy developments ushered in during the post–welfare era are best scrutinized in light of social welfare history. In this chapter, we examine the contours of American social welfare as it evolved during the past four centuries. In surveying this historical terrain,¹ we pay special attention to the place of religious benevolence in poverty relief. To be sure, our one–chapter treatment of such an expansive period does not enable us to render as detailed an account as that provided by excellent volumes and essays² devoted exclusively to the history of American social welfare and religious benevolence. Nevertheless,...

  6. 3 Faith–Based Poverty Relief: Congregational Strategies
    (pp. 60-85)

    Having provided a broad historical overview of American social welfare and religious benevolence, we now turn our attention to local narratives and practices of faith–based poverty relief in Mississippi congregations. In many respects, Mississippi is the ideal state in which to study faith–based poverty relief. Despite recent reductions in welfare caseloads, Mississippi has long been marked by high rates of poverty and public assistance use. The state also has a distinctive history of racial struggle. And like many of its neighboring states in the South, Mississippi features a highly churched population that is dominated by Southern Baptists, Black...

  7. 4 A Tale of Two Churches: United Methodists in Black and White
    (pp. 86-100)

    Our first comparative case study highlights key points of divergence between two churches that share the same denomination—the United Methodist Church (UMC).¹ Given their common denominational affiliation, both River Road UMC and Green Prairie UMC are situated near the cultural mainstream of Southern religious life. Methodists in Mississippi and throughout the South cannot boast the market share enjoyed by Baptists. Yet, with approximately 15 to 20 percent of Mississippi’s churchgoing population reporting a Methodist affiliation (Bradley et al. 1992), the United Methodist Church is clearly a prominent force on the local religious scene. Apart from their shared denominational affiliation,...

  8. 5 Debating Devolution: Pentecostal and Southern Baptist Perspectives
    (pp. 101-120)

    In the previous chapter, we contrasted narratives of congregational poverty relief articulated by pastors from two small Methodist churches in rural Mississippi. We examined how aid provision practices are connected to notions of congregational identity (“Who we are”). Narratives of identity, in turn, yielded divergent visions of these churches’ respective destinies (“Where we are going”) with regard to forging charitable choice partnerships on the heels of welfare reform. In this chapter, we continue to examine the ways in which narratives of congregational identity influence pastoral perceptions of poverty relief and orientations toward charitable choice. And we again undertake a comparative...

  9. 6 Invisible Minorities: Transnational Migrants in Mississippi
    (pp. 121-141)

    Our final comparative case study pairs together two religious communities composed of groups who are ethnic and religious minorities in east central Mississippi. The first case examines a local Catholic ministry to disadvantaged Hispanics dispersed over several churches. These Hispanic communities in rural Mississippi are served by the same pastor—an itinerant priest. The second case investigates an Islamic association composed primarily of students and established university professors. The Islamic Center, based in a small city proximate to several local universities, is run by a local president.

    We focus on these communities for several reasons. To begin, religious life and...

  10. 7 Street–Level Benevolence at the March for Jesus
    (pp. 142-159)

    In this chapter, we step outside the confines of Mississippi congregations to join in a performance of street–level benevolence at the 1999 Golden Triangle Region March for Jesus. The March for Jesus is an international event celebrated annually in late spring. In recent years, event organizers have dramatically changed the March for Jesus to center on benevolence and outreach within local communities sponsoring a march. In what follows, we explore the planning and execution of this one–day event in the Golden Triangle Region. We draw on first–hand observations of the march, as well as the reflections of...

  11. 8 Charitable Choice: Promise and Peril in the Post–Welfare Era
    (pp. 160-178)

    Our volume has scrutinized the prospects for charitable choice through the lens of faith–based poverty relief in east central Mississippi. The substantive portion of our volume drew on in–depth interviews collected from a diverse sample of local pastors, as well as ethnographic data culled from five area congregations with active social service programs. We also explored street–level benevolence undertaken collaboratively by local Christian churches at the Golden Triangle Region March for Jesus. Throughout, we have been especially attentive to the influence of racial asymmetries, denominational cleavages, and regional culture on religious benevolence. Readers might justifiably ask what...

  12. Appendix: Milieu and Method
    (pp. 179-187)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 188-191)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 192-203)
  15. Index
    (pp. 204-213)
  16. About the Authors
    (pp. 214-214)