Short answer: Yes.
Longer answer: Yes, but only with strong oversight.
Samuel G. Freedman at the New York Times has an article in today’s paper about how a group of evangelical Christians are helping revitalize Roosevelt High School, a public school serving a lot of low-income families. They paint walls, repair bleachers, offer tutoring, help coach the football team, etc.
Normally, that’s not a good match… but it seems to have worked out fairly well for this school and many others in the area:
In all the years the program has operated, [principal] Ms. [Charlene] Williams had not heard a single complaint that the evangelicals were evangelizing. After church volunteers wrote personal welcome notes to every incoming ninth grader, SouthLake’s pastor, the Rev. Kip Jacob, read through them all, making sure nobody had signed off with “Praise the Lord” or “God bless.”
The Portland model, as it might be called, has brought its two founders inquiries from about 50 other cities and hundreds of churches across the country. While avoiding the tripwire of church-state separation, the program here has addressed two needs: that of urban mayors coping with static or falling budgets for public services, and that of a young generation of evangelical Christians drawn to the cause of social justice.
It’s a risk on the part of the school districts involved but this is the sort of cooperation that could work as long as Christians abide by the non-proselytizing rules and the school administrators continue to provide oversight for the whole process. Hats off to the young evangelicals volunteering for this, but one overzealous Christian could ruin this entire partnership.
The article doesn’t mention whether non-Christian groups are allowed to help out as well and I’d love to know the answer to that. I don’t know that another group would have the manpower that the local churches can provide, but I wonder whether, say, young atheists or Muslims would be allowed to join the group.
As this project grows, so does the opportunity for abuse. I would love for it to work out — the students at these schools could sure use the help — but I wouldn’t place blind trust in the workers just yet.