Ten good questions about faith based partnerships and welfare reform


Published on

  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Ten good questions about faith based partnerships and welfare reform

  1. 1. Ten Good Questions About Faith‐based Partnerships and Welfare Reform A little-known provision of the 1996 welfare reform law, Charitable Choice allows faith-based organizations, including individual congregations, to provide social services using public funds, while retaining their religious character and practices. States are encouraged to use these organizations, as long as they provide secular alternatives. But how effective are these programs? Can these organizations expand their participation? And if they do, what will happen to the existing, secular-based programs now attempting to deal with the same social problems? These are questions that researchers at The Polis Center pose, not only to policy-makers, but also to faith-based organizations themselves and to those who would enter into partnerships with them or advocate assigning public funds to them.
  2. 2. Ten Good Questions Over the past decade, government and foundation programs have emphasized the development of strong, supportive communities capable of helping all their members achieve self-sufficiency. The federal AFDC program (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) has been replaced by block grants to states called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). That money eventually makes its way to local governments and even to neighborhood or community groups. As part of this shift toward building strong communities and ensuring local control of resources, leaders in government and in secular non-profit organizations are turning to religiously affiliated organizations, including congregations. These organizations, in turn, are reexamining their role in community life. Rhetoric from candidates in both political parties makes it clear that faith-based welfare reform is a significant area for policy discussion. The faith community has always delivered social services. And contrary to what many people believe, it has long worked in partnership with government. Groups such as Catholic Charities and the Jewish Federations work alongside government, sometimes with public subsidies, to provide services to specific constituencies. These “religiously affiliated” organizations allowed the faithful to keep their service activities—especially when subsidized with public money¾separate from their sectarian practices. By receiving federal contracts or by cashing vouchers, religious organizations were restricted from proselytizing and could not discriminate in their hiring based on religious belief. The faith community has always delivered social services. And contrary to what many people believe, it has long worked in partnership with government. Groups such as Catholic Charities and the Jewish Federations work alongside government, sometimes with public subsidies, to provide services to specific constituencies. These “religiously affiliated” organizations allowed the faithful to keep their service activities—especially when subsidized with public money¾separate from their sectarian practices. By receiving federal contracts or by cashing vouchers, religious organizations were restricted from proselytizing and could not discriminate in their hiring based on religious belief. But the 1996 federal legislation outlining welfare reform proposed a new role for faith-based organizations. In a section referred to as Charitable Choice, Congress made clear that government would try to remove barriers that hindered religious congregations or non-profits from using government funds to provide services. Under Charitable Choice, when states allow private groups to bid for contracts or cash vouchers, they must allow religious groups to compete evenly, without restrictions on their religious expression. Although religious groups are not permitted to use the block grant money to proselytize or evangelize, they can offer religious teaching, display symbols of their faith, and hire only those who agree with their doctrinal beliefs, if they wish. When this legislation was passed, both the states and the federal government went to work to increase the faith community’s involvement in welfare reform. In Indianapolis, where The Polis Center studies the role of religion in urban communities, evidence abounds of the new alliances. Former mayor Stephen Goldsmith, now domestic policy adviser to George W. Bush, created the Front Porch Alliance to involve congregations further in The Polis Center at IUPUI 1
  3. 3. Ten Good Questions local community life. At the urging of the juvenile court judge, the county offices that support the court contract with congregations and other faith-based groups to counsel juveniles as an alternative to assigning them to parole officers. The state’s Family and Social Service Administration (FSSA) provides technical assistance to faith-based groups hoping to receive state contracts to deliver social services. Clearly, partnerships between government and the religious community in Indianapolis have moved beyond the hypothetical stage. For some people, whether religious organizations should be eligible for public funds is primarily a legal question. For them, Charitable Choice represents only the right of congregations and other religious organizations to compete for grants or to cash vouchers. But the mayor and the juvenile court judge went beyond a guarantee of equal access to enthusiastic recruitment of religious organizations as preferable service providers. They backed up this preference by shifting funds toward the faith community, especially congregations with an interest in urban ministry. While many congregations have long histories of helping the needy, these new sources of funds have prompted some of them to consider partnerships with government to address problems that, for decades, have been associated with secular social work. These new partnerships raise new questions. Having closely followed local trends toward recruiting and promoting faith-based service providers, Polis Center researchers have uncovered a number of recurring themes that deserve attention. And while we have no interest in choosing sides on the issues of welfare reform or Charitable Choice, we have thought seriously about the national and local contexts in which these reforms are unfolding and about the factors likely to influence their success or failure. We believe getting the best information begins with asking the right questions. So rather than suggest what governments, congregations, or local communities should do, we offer 10 questions that they should askwhen looking at any program meant to involve the faith community as active partners with government or secular non-profit groups. 1. Why do the partners believe an expanded role for faith-based providers is better than current practices, and how will it work? This question seems so obvious as not to merit asking, but answering this question can be an invaluable part of the process. Many groups do not clearly state their motives for forming new alliances among government, foundations, and the faith community—even to themselves. In their proposals, potential partners often operate under a set of assumptions that have little basis in fact. Some are suspicious of the motives behind reforms or doubt they will work. So being clear is essential to success. The Polis Center at IUPUI 2
  4. 4. Ten Good Questions When the mayor of Indianapolis or the juvenile court judge actively solicit the faith community, they are acting on three key assumptions about the advantages of expanded faith-based participation: · The ancient principle of subsidiarity. In modern terms, they are claiming that congregations and other local groups are the smallest unit capable of carrying out tasks such as counseling or neighborhood renewal. The congregations will do good works efficiently, so the argument goes, with less bureaucracy than state or federal programs. · Faith-based groups are more attuned to their neighbors’ needs, a familiarity that helps them to make judgments in their clients’ favor. · Faith-based groups can provide moral teachings and spiritual values that the poor are portrayed as lacking. The argument here is that traditional welfare, by providing only material support, has failed to address the core problem of character transformation. According to these reformers, the goal of faith-based services is not only to improve someone’s financial position, but also to make her or him a better person. None of these assumptions is far-fetched and each contains some measure of truth, but each must be supported with evidence. Before raising expectations about faith-based reforms, supporters of reform should think hard about the realities of the local environment in which their assumptions will be tested. 2. Do congregations have the necessary administrative capacity to work in the service or development arenas with public funds? If not, what are the alternatives? Advocates of welfare reform express confidence that faith-based providers will be able to use public funds more efficiently than do government bureaucrats. Yet bureaucracy of some kind is necessary for any provider of social services. Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army—both successful faith-based providers of social services¾are highly bureaucratic. Smaller faith-based groups, especially congregations, seldom write grant proposals or bother to track their services or evaluate their programs effectively—tasks other types of non-profits must do. The question is not whether congregations can develop this capacity, but whether they have sufficient reason to do so. Are these skills important in their other ministries? Many congregations have no computer access or use only rudimentary data processing tools on outdated equipment. They have never had to account for their actions to any external agency other than a denominational office, and that is largely to report membership, baptisms, and offerings. The Polis Center at IUPUI 3
  5. 5. Ten Good Questions These shortcomings may disappear as congregations learn the ropes of bureaucracy, but few can invest in the overhead to do so. Many grant programs pay only limited overhead, sometimes 10 percent or less¾a practice that favors organizations with bureaucracies already in place. Too often the size of grants and scale of programs are determined by the needs and wishes of the funder rather than the capacities of the providers. A congregation that does not have the capacity to administer a $250,000 grant might manage $25,000 effectively. For instance, a congregation might be capable of building two or three houses in a program such as Habitat for Humanity but wholly incapable of administrating an ongoing transitional housing program. Both government and foundations need to ask not only, “What is needed?” but also, “What can be effectively provided?” Some have argued that the work of congregations and other faith-based providers is so beneficial that program sponsors should demand fewer records and forms from them. After all, many faith-based providers deliver valuable services on shoestring budgets. But public funds require accountability, as do most private funds. To date, most new joint programs between a government agency or secular non-profit group and the faith community have discovered that they need to hire a full-time mentor or program officer whose sole job is to help the congregations adapt to administrative demands. In Indianapolis, the Mayor’s Office developed a full-time staff for this task. The state’s Family and Social Service administration hired contractors specifically for this task. While such costs may be justified, they should be considered sooner rather than later. 3. What resources of potential faith-based partners match the needs of the new program? This question is key because the answer depends on who gets to answer. Officials from government and secular non-profits often think congregations have a pool of volunteers and the ability to raise and direct funds. Congregations, on the other hand, believe they provide moral support and spiritual content. Many hope to receive new funds to forward their social ministries. National studies are just beginning to show the available capacity of congregations, but the picture is still very sketchy. One of the more important facts we have learned in Indianapolis is that even good numbers from serious research can be misleading. For instance, the average, or mean, congregation in Indianapolis has about 400 members¾that is, when we added up all the congregational members in Indianapolis and divided by the number of congregations, we got 400 members per congregation. The median number of congregational members, however, is 150—that is, when we lined up every congregation from largest to smallest and found the middle of the list, that congregation had about 150 members. Put another way, half of all congregations in our city have fewer than 150 members. A few large congregations make the “average” congregation seem larger. The Polis Center at IUPUI 4
  6. 6. Ten Good Questions This is especially important when looking at available funds. The mean, or average, budget of congregations in our study is $270,000 per year, but the median, or middle, budget is only $127,000, which does not suggest excess financial capacity. We asked congregations directly how much they spent on social services. Here, the differences between larger and smaller congregations are most apparent. The mean for all congregations was $28,000 spent on social services, or about 10 percent of the mean budget. But the median congregation reported spending only $4,000. In fact, in some poor, inner-city neighborhoods, the single largest congregation with the most programs accounts for about 90 percent of all social service money spent by congregations in the neighborhood. Those who are looking to congregations as partners must realistically assess their resources. Too often people envision the 10 or 12 largest congregations with multiple programs and ask, “What would the world be like if all congregations could do the same thing?” But those 10 or 12 are not the norm, and few congregations could duplicate their efforts. Congregations have resources other than money, however, and many have ministries they hope to expand. If these are worth having, someone else needs to bring the money. To provide services effectively, most congregations will require considerable overhead funding at start-up. Recognizing this at the outset would help all partners immeasurably. Congregations need not start every conversation by disclosing their membership figures or budgets. But they should ask themselves, “What do we offer this partnership that it cannot get elsewhere?” and, “Given our time and talents, what is the best stewardship of our resources?” 4. Do congregations or other faith-based providers really offer a “local” advantage to the new partnership? In one sense, congregations appear to be quintessential “local” organizations. People who are hungry or in trouble frequently knock on the door of the first church building in sight, which makes congregations about as local as an organization could be. In some communities— especially those with large blocs of ethnic or racial minorities—congregations serve as the local touchstones that symbolize common experiences. Despite this de facto local importance, government and foundation leaders should not assume that congregations exist to serve the immediate neighborhood. Some civic leaders imagine congregations to be mighty community-building pots brimming with caring members of the neighborhood, dedicated community leaders, a pool of money and volunteers, and the spirit of compassion. Congregations have many of these resources, to be sure, but research from Indianapolis challenges their image as uniquely local institutions. Typically, fewer than half of the members live in the immediate neighborhood. Church and synagogue buildings may be permanent, but congregations are collections of people who can and do relocate to new facilities. Often when congregations have many members who live nearby, the emphasis on maintaining a “good” The Polis Center at IUPUI 5
  7. 7. Ten Good Questions community is linked to property values and can be exclusionary. Congregations cannot be viewed as fixed resources, as collateral against which distressed communities may borrow. Because African-American churches are in predominantly African-American neighborhoods, many white people believe that the members of those churches live in or are tied to the neighborhood. In fact, African-Americans are no more likely to live near their places of worship than are whites. In modern America, houses of worship are places that people of all races drive to, not places they walk to as they might a community center. Civic leaders are also misguided if they assume that community service is essentially what congregations do. Congregations are communities of worship and moral training grounds, especially for the children of members. Most congregations do significant mission work, but only some of this work is local, and not all is social service. Instead, many congregations view evangelism as social service, and are as likely to support overseas missions as those next door. Congregations are not under any obligation to be neighborhood organizations. Their best stewardship of their resources may well lead them to a less geographic focus. But they should be aware that others assume they are community centers, and they must decide for themselves how closely they fit that model. Any emerging partnership should discover how local its various partners are or intend to be. 5. Will congregations change individuals’ values—maybe even transform lives—and are all the partners comfortable with that? The assumption that religious service providers can transform the character of welfare recipients is based on the belief that recipients have character faults. Doubtless this assumption is sometimes true, and some welfare recipients need to accept personal responsibility. Many congregations offer the caring community and strong role models that those people need. But in other cases, people with strong work habits and high morals find themselves in a tight spot. What they might need most are decent housing and stable childcare. Some welfare reformers assume that poor people need to be embedded in a caring community more than they need direct financial assistance. Most of us, so the logic goes, have family, friends, and neighbors we can turn to in a pinch. People who cannot get the help they need are assumed to lack this community. Once they are part of a caring congregation, the logic continues, the caring atmosphere of the congregation will nurture in them the qualities necessary to become independent. But there is little indication that the faith-based providers now participating in Charitable Choice intend to enlist their new clients as members. Although the fear of proselytizing concerns civil libertarians most about faith-based providers, the evidence suggests that most clients are not becoming members of the family, so to speak. The Polis Center at IUPUI 6
  8. 8. Ten Good Questions Congregations have always been segregated by race, and by class within race. This new relationship is unlikely to change that. The poor may get a surrogate community, but joining a congregation after receiving aid from it is rare for welfare recipients. The biggest question about values has to do with theological expectations. Many Christians want to change the values of those they serve by leading them to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. To them, transforming someone’s values requires converting them. They consider sobriety or hard work or parental instincts worthwhile qualities, but their larger goal is to build committed Christians, good disciples who exhibit these qualities as effects of their conversion. While supporters of faith-based social services hope that people’s characters will be transformed so that they display the habits of self-sufficiency, these supporters must recognize that many religious groups link that transformation to a particular set of religious beliefs—beliefs that might include a denunciation of others’ beliefs. Critics of faith-based services use such issues to challenge the motives behind the reforms. Those from the left of the political spectrum fear that government is trying to foist responsibility for welfare into the private sector and that the faith community is the path of least resistance. Civil libertarians fear that churches hope to break down the walls between church and state to get their hands on government money for their own purposes. Without question, this is one of the most sensitive areas to consider in forming faith-based partnerships. When potential partners in faith-based reforms say they hope to change people’s lives, it is important that they also say how they expect this to be accomplished. Because many faith-based reforms have moved from proposal to institutional policy, it is important to ask not only about assumptions, but also about practices. The remaining questions deal with strategy and with reasonable expectations about the outcomes of these reforms. 6. How can the faith community best learn how government and civic groups operate, and how can government and civic groups best learn about the faith community? Civic leaders often know little about religious beliefs or practices beyond their own faith, and people in the religious world know little about government or non-profit service groups. Although new partnerships among these groups emerge daily, schools of government or public policy still teach nothing about religion, and seminaries teach next to nothing about government or community life. The question for potential partners is not whether each knows enough about the other’s work: they do not. The question is, who can teach them? Who can bridge the worlds of government, secular non-profits, and the faith community? In most places, a combination of teachers must serve this function. Few people have expertise that spans all three. All partners must recognize how little their organizations are likely to know about others, and they must seek to correct that deficiency. Sponsors from government or The Polis Center at IUPUI 7
  9. 9. Ten Good Questions foundations must seek to build collaboration among universities, seminaries, non-profit organizations, and religious organizations to develop materials that bridge the knowledge gaps among potential partners. 7. Who might best mediate and coordinate the interests of the partners and their community? Beyond this need for education, there is a need to coordinate strengths and interests. But community leaders don’t always know one another or maintain good lines of communication. Even in small areas, clergy from different congregations may not know one another. As often, they don’t know their local political or non-profit service leaders. Although everyone can agree to be helpful, cordial, and mutually supportive, any plan or project requires someone to do the laborious job of making sure everyone communicates with each other and coordinates efforts. Who can best do this? Being neighborhood coordinator is often difficult for the clergy, who have other demands on their time. Congregational issues will almost always come first. This varies from tradition to tradition, to be sure, but there is widespread sentiment that pastors had better do a good job preaching, counseling, and visiting, after which they are free to attend other needs. Having a local professional civic leader—such as the head of a neighborhood association, community development corporation, or community center¾do this job often works best. In Indianapolis, community center directors have effectively bridged gaps among community organizations if they were familiar enough with the disparate goals of the groups. Such community leaders are rare, however, because they must know something about the religious community and be capable of building relationships within it. A number of neighborhood organizers are former clergy members themselves, but too few development people know much about religious organizations. Given the historical separation of these organizations that are now being asked to cooperate, the success of any venture hinges on the ability of managers to understand and coordinate very different sets of interests. When a central organization such as the mayor’s office gets involved, as it has in Indianapolis, it can use its connections to smooth the bumps. But unless care is taken that the agenda appear both non-partisan and neighborhood-led, it is unlikely to succeed. The more city government or local foundations can disseminate information and promote programs that facilitate the efforts of existing community leaders with strong neighborhood ties, the better. 8. What is the religious and political context in which this new partnership will operate? The “religious” part of this crucial question is almost never asked. For people in government or in the secular non-profit world, religion is religion. But the role of religious organizations varies considerably from community to community. The Polis Center at IUPUI 8
  10. 10. Ten Good Questions If you were planning a citywide program in Providence, Rhode Island, you would need to start with the Catholic diocese. More than two-thirds of all religious adherents in Providence are Catholics. In many ways, other forms of religious life are influenced by their dominant presence. But in Salt Lake City, Utah, the dominant tradition is Mormon, and other religious groups there position themselves in relationship to the majority. These two cities are anomalous in that one tradition dominates each. But they point to the importance of religious context. It is crucial to know the religious landscape at the macro level of the city and at the micro level of neighborhood or community. For most Americans, the differences between Catholics and Mormons, or between Protestants and Jews, are thought of as primarily theological. But for social service and community development, the differences are organizational, as well. In religious groups with strong denominational hierarchies¾say, Methodists¾tasks can be channeled through central offices and descending management. But in traditions dominated by independent congregations—say, Baptists—the approach to organizations and the services they will provide is much different. Even in the same city, a program sponsor hoping to build faith-based partnerships must consider multiple organizational approaches. It is appropriate to schedule a business meeting with the bishop or executive officer in some denominations, but it makes no sense to try to locate the same “higher level” players among independent congregations because they do not exist. Working only with the pastors of the larger independent churches will surely alienate the pastors from smaller ones. Better to begin with a multi-level approach that recognizes the great variety among religious organizations. At the local level, the differences can be even more striking. The most overlooked organizational distinction among Christians is the one between Catholic parishes and Protestant congregations. Most Catholic parishes are still arranged geographically; they have actual boundaries. Catholics living within those boundaries are expected to worship at the parish church. More important, they feel a direct sense of mission responsibility for everyone who lives within those boundaries, whether Catholic or not. That is why urban parochial schools are often full of non-Catholic children. In Indianapolis, for example, more than 75 percent of students in some inner-city parochial schools are non-Catholics. While it is true that these boundaries are observed less rigorously than they once were, Catholics still think geographically in ways that many Protestants do not. Protestant congregations are much more likely to link people with similar ethnicity, social class, or other interests. Geography matters, but less so. Given that welfare reform is attempting to strengthen communities by involving local institutions, this difference is compelling. The second half of the question, concerning the political context, is also crucial. Is state or local government taking an active role in soliciting faith-based participation, is it discouraging religious groups, or is it committed only to equal access for all groups? States and cities that change their contracting procedures to accommodate Charitable Choice will likely produce outcomes much different from those that resist or, as is more likely, make little acknowledgement at all. The Polis Center at IUPUI 9
  11. 11. Ten Good Questions The best available data says that most religious groups know little about Charitable Choice and are not inclined to apply for public funds. If they are discouraged, and even if they are treated neutrally, few groups are likely to come forward to build partnerships. Moreover, inadequate administrative skills will hamper their efforts to compete for grants and contracts against traditional providers. But if government and foundations encourage faith-based participation, many more religious groups will respond. The faith-based partners now participating are, by and large, those that have been actively recruited and offered new sources of funds for their ministries. Of course, the decision to offer faith-based providers preferential treatment is a serious one likely to raise a host of other questions. Program sponsors should face this issue squarely and state clearly their intention to encourage faith-based partnerships, to discourage them, or to seek neutrality. 9. What will happen to the current organizational roles as these new partnerships develop? As congregations provide welfare service and aid community development, many people applaud what they see as a shrinking role for government. But not enough people—and certainly not enough people outside churches, synagogues and mosques¾have asked what will happen to religious organizations in this process. A consultant once asked a group of pastors, “Can you remember when your study became an office?” Most pastors cringe at the thought that they have become managers of organizations rather than counselors or preachers. It is now easy to imagine congregation members being asked one day, “Can you remember when your mission became a program?” There is no way for congregations to build the administrative capacity necessary to write grants, administer programs, and evaluate services without changing some of their internal dynamics. Congregations engaged in new partnerships are typically optimistic about this. They insist that they will hew to their original mission and cooperate with government only as long as government does not cause them to lose their religious focus. But if a congregation subsequently decides to drop a program the members feel is compromising their faith commitment, will they be willing also to put people out of work and cut clients’ services? Organizations that compete in the same environment gradually come to look like other successful organizations in that environment. That is, after all, why people in civic life tout “model programs.” The implication is that if you want to do the best job, and want to secure future government or foundation funding, you should follow these “best practices.” The recent trend toward emphasizing program evaluation with measurable outcomes is a very good example. Even small organizations that had never quantified their output now routinely propose evaluative measures by which they can be judged because both governments and foundations have adopted this management practice. Will congregations come to look like secular service groups? The Polis Center analyzed more than 120 applications from faith-based groups to government and foundation programs intended to build new partnerships. In these applications, most congregations tried to prove they could be The Polis Center at IUPUI 10
  12. 12. Ten Good Questions as open and unbiased in their approach as any secular provider, perhaps for fear of being perceived as sectarian. This led a local civic leader to ask at a forum: “If churches do social services, who will do what congregations used to do?” A corollary to the principle that groups come to resemble successful groups in their field is that gradually they embody the values and tenets of their funders. If an organization’s goal is to secure funding to do its work, it will eventually espouse more and more of the values of those who provide funds. Would it be detrimental for congregations to take on the values of government or foundations? Will efficiency or fairness become more important values than love or self-sacrifice? Put most bluntly, are the outcomes desired by secular sponsors the same outcomes the faithful most desire? Of course, the changes congregations face might be beneficial. The challenge of moving beyond charity to mentoring, beyond a food pantry to welcoming the needy as part of the family, is daunting, but many within the faith community welcome the prospect. Many pastors and lay leaders see this as an opportunity to move their congregations beyond “check-book charity” into hands-on community service. The risk of becoming dependent on public funds and bound by legal restrictions is real, but so is the possibility of learning to see mission and ministry in a different way. Congregations and those who would work with them must think ahead to the risks and rewards. The fact that no partners can say with certainty what the outcomes will be does not mean that they can avoid the question. Because government is so much bigger than congregations, and support for it is compulsory, it is easier to duck the question of what will happen to government in this new arrangement. But it is possible to imagine a time when government is primarily a resource broker choosing openly among proposals from various faith-communities. It is also possible to imagine large shifts in what has become a substantial service bureaucracy. It is easy to tout the responsibilities government will devolve, but too few have noted the new, or at least different, responsibilities it may acquire as a result of these partnerships. If government is to choose among and between faith-based proposals, for instance, it may find itself policing evangelism or proselytization and judging the relative merits of various spiritual or moral values. Secular non-profit groups could also change significantly. Contemporary social work professionals, MSW’s in hand, are aware that a move toward service provision by the faith community has meant their credentials have been devalued in favor of other values and beliefs considered constructive or appropriate by some funding sponsors. In the juvenile court, there was suspicion at first between the traditional counselors and the new faith-based counselors. Both sides are adjusting, but the tension is understandable. The question is not ultimately whether the groups can get along, but which kinds of values and skills will be rewarded with contracts? As program sponsors promote the advantages of faith-based providers, will they dismiss a generation of trained professionals as an unneeded bureaucracy? The Polis Center at IUPUI 11
  13. 13. Ten Good Questions 10. Who will benefit and who stands to lose? Many people see only benefits from congregational involvement in providing social services— not only in reducing government welfare, but also in improving the lives of former welfare recipients. It is also common, however, to hear religious providers assess their contributions using intangible measures. “Maybe we can help only two people a year,” they might say, “but if we make a permanent change in the lives of those two people, isn’t that what it is really all about?” The question is well put. But it also brings to mind another question: “What about the rest of the people?” Resources are limited, and many people need help. If the argument is that the government’s approach is superficial but the faith community treats the whole person, does it follow that the faith community can treat the whole person for the same amount of money per capita the government now spends? And if not, where will the additional resources come from? Any governmental or secular provider could show an improvement for 50 percent of its clients if it simply doubled the money for that half and gave none to the other half. But surely this is not the prescribed action. And what about the clients who might not want faith-based social service? Not everyone will. Current legislation requires that they have a choice between secular and religious service, but surely their rights go beyond mere selection; they should have an equal right to quality of service. Will the quality of secular social service be affected if funders prefer faith-based providers? Will faith-based groups discriminate in the clients they wish to help, thereby leaving other clients in less favorable circumstances? If they do, service recipients who reject faith-based providers or who are themselves rejected could be put at risk. The differences needn’t be stark, but a matter of degree: Christian providers are not apt to reject Muslim or Jewish clients out of hand, but they may be less able to serve them effectively. Moreover, those clients may not wish to receive services from Christian providers. In Indianapolis, virtually all the current religious partners in welfare reform are Christian. If funders favor Christian services, and secular services suffer as a result, where will non-Christians turn? This risk is especially great if, as some supporters hope, service from the government and secular nonprofits is scaled back as faith-based service is increased. Every contract that goes from the Juvenile Court to a religious provider is one that does not go to a secular provider. Only time will tell whether the religious provider is more effective, though common sense indicates that they will be better in some cases and not in others. The Polis Center at IUPUI 12
  14. 14. Ten Good Questions BETTER INFORMATION, BETTER ANSWERS The world is glutted with information, and we are all swamped with statistics, model programs, and best practices. No one could possibly organize all the available information and use it effectively. Despite this, policies and programs are designed every day without the most rudimentary information necessary to the task. Partially this is because we are entering new territory. Sometimes it is that people do not know where to look for answers. In considering the possibility of new programs, potential partners sometimes bring bad attitudes: government officials who do not understand or appreciate the contributions faith-based groups can make, or religious leaders who think government caused the problems in the first place. In attempting to answer the questions we have posed, potential partners can face up to their own prejudices and clearly state their expectations. Given the publicity and enthusiasm surrounding the groundbreaking programs under Charitable Choice, it is likely that religious groups will continue to form new alliances with governmental and nonprofit agencies. Yet the available facts are sketchy and should not be used to make sweeping changes in public policy. Indeed, most congregations know nothing about Charitable Choice and express no interest in applying for public funds, even if they are available. At the least, everyone should be clear about the true size of the pool of potential partners. Some religious organizations can do a better job than some secular agencies in some circumstances. Some religious organizations require less overhead than secular groups and can handle administrative tasks at lower expense. Some congregations truly know their clients and can transform the lives of some of those clients in ways that secular or governmental providers never could. But there is a great difference between recognizing that some religious programs are excellent and deserve more support and declaring that, in general, religious options are preferable to secular ones and therefore deserve substantial public or foundation support. The first claim is true; the second has not been demonstrated. Strategies differ according to context, but the relevant questions usually don’t. It may seem time-consuming, even a little academic, to begin with questions that appear abstract at first glance. But groups who ask one another these questions about both motive and method, and who do the hard work of finding answers, will discover that whatever partnerships they eventually develop will be stronger for having done so. When everyone is clear about their own—and others’ expectations, everyone benefits. Author: Arthur Farnsley The Polis Center at IUPUI 13