Faith-Based Social Services: An Essential Part of American Civil Society

Did faith-based social service provision begin when George W. Bush started the office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives in 2002? No. Did it begin with Charitable Choice provision in 1996 Welfare Reform legislation? No. Despite all the media attention to those initiatives, most research shows that these initiatives did little to change the size or focus on faith-based social services. Why? Because most of these faith-based social services existed long before recent federal programs, and because some of what religious organizations do best in social services focuses on deep personal transformations, goals best pursued without government support.

In his book Saving America, the eminent sociologist of religion Robert Wuthnow argues that debates about faith-based social services are often polarized around deeply-held opinions about what the relationship should be between the state and faith-based social services rather than facts. How prevalent are faith-based social services? How does their service delivery or client satisfaction differ from secular social services?

Wuthnow agrees with other prominent scholars of U.S. religion like Mark Chaves and Robert Putnam that, on the whole, most religious congregations do not directly provide social services, but that religious congregations are one of the most prevalent motivators for people to volunteer their time and money for social causes.

The most successful and notable faith-based social services, Wuthnow interestingly points out, are unique not for the type of service they provide but for their approach. Because religious communities generally are [Read more...]

Are Atheists More Generous? QRS #1

For various reasons, public discussion of religion tends to attract (and create) a lot of inaccurate statistical information. This was a theme of my first book, Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites… and Other Lies You’ve Been Told, but there’s plenty more to write about.  So, I thought that I would start a periodic feature where I examine some of the questionable information making the rounds on-line.  I call it Questionable Religious Statistics (QRS).  Examining these claims not only clarifies what’s happening in the world of religion, but it also gives us practice in evaluating such information.

I start with an article written last week by Hank Pellissier at ieet.org. In it he claims that atheists are more generous financially than are religious people. He summarizes: “Atheists, non-believers, secular humanists, skeptics—the whole gamut of the godless have emerged in recent years as inarguably the most generous benefactors on the globe.”

Mr. Pellissier bases his claim on two pieces of evidence.  One, the magazine Business Week lists the billionaires who have donated or pledged the most money to charity, and this list is headed by Warren Buffett and Bill & Melinda Gate who have given 41 and 28 billion dollars respectively to worthy causes. Mr. Pellissier refers to both of them as “atheists.” (George Soros is a distant third, having given 7 billion).

The second piece of evidence comes from Mr. Pellissier’s own [Read more...]

Lost (and Found) in Translation

Yesterday was an unusual Sunday for American Catholics, and reinforces the distinctive nature of worship in Catholic and Protestant Christianity. It was the long-anticipated introduction of the “new” Mass translation. It is, of course, a bit humorous to talk about “new” anything when referring to Catholic worship forms, but yesterday was a bona fide beginning as the 3rd edition of the Mass translation into English rolled out for mandatory use. Since the worldwide official language of the Mass is written down, in Latin, this is a big deal—bigger for priests than for parishioners, because the former have more speaking parts than the latter.

Many American Catholics have long ago memorized their lines, and even in one year’s time I pretty much had mine down. Except for the Nicene Creed, which—although I occasionally recited it in the Presbyterian and Reformed circles in which I ran—is sufficiently longer and more complicated than the Apostle’s Creed. My memorization skills, at age 40, are not what they were in college. If I’m remotely normal, then plenty of people will be using the pew cards for a long time to come.

I suspect memorized worship lines are a curiosity to evangelicals, among whom spontaneity retains not only psychological appeal but also religious appeal. [Read more...]

Protestant Mission Stations in 1925

I really like maps, and several weeks ago I posted a figure that illustrates the spread of world religions over history.  One of the themes of that figure is the relatively late expansion of Christianity throughout the world–mainly in the last several hundred years.

Here’s a map by sociologist Robert Woodberry, at the University of Texas, that pinpoints Protestant mission stations throughout the world in 1925.  (His website has the same map for other years as well).  They are concentrated in South America, Sub-Saharan Africa, India, Eastern China, and Japan.  Clearly they were more successful in some areas than others, but this map illustrates the wide influence of these missionaries.

 

Faith, Race and Gender: An Historical Look at The Bowery Mission in New York City

New York is the largest city in the United States, so it should not be surprising that there’s plenty of religious organizations that do all manner of charitable work for the downtrodden. Much of this goes unnoticed (charitable organizations often don’t have advertising put in their budgets). However the folks over at “A Journey Through NYC Religions” have included an online photobook of the Bowery Mission (“mission” is one word used by Christians to describe some of their charitable work and organizations).

http://www.placematters.net/node/1046

I’m always keeping an eye out for material related to the Asian American religious experience and I was pleased to see that page 12 includes a short description of the charitable work among some Chinese immigrants back in 1909 (it’s a little blurry but the date is at the top; minor aside: my wife informs me that her great-grandfather was in this part of the country around the time that this story was reported-amazing what things I learn from editing a blog post!). [Read more...]


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