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Article Offers Comprehensive Review of Research Through 2000; Proposes Next Steps

            February 8, 2001, NEW YORK CITY – In a long-planned essay that turns out to be even more timely than originally anticipated, the 2001 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches urges faith-based organizations and government alike to base their decisions about Charitable Choice on sound research, not on guesswork.

            “In our national debate about the pros, cons and practicalities of government funding for faith-based organizations’ social service programs, there is some dramatic rhetoric about the capacity and willingness of congregations to undertake social service,” said the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, the Yearbook’s editor and author of the essay “Considering Charitable Choice.”

            “The present discussion isn’t based on hard data generated from field research,” Dr. Lindner said.  “Rather, the data that exists suggests that a distinct minority of pastors and congregations are aware of the Charitable Choice provisions of the law, and even fewer are willing and able to labor under its strictures.  Anyone engaged in our national debate needs to look into this,” she said.   “No one should be generalizing about what’s out there.  We should find out what’s out there.”

The article “Considering Charitable Choice” offers a comprehensive review of all research published in English through December 2000 on Charitable Choice.  The accompanying, complete bibliography is the only one in print.  Dr. Lindner points out gaps in existing research and “points in the direction of research we think will be critical to the church and the national debate about the long-term implications of the Charitable Choice provision of the law.”

Dr. Lindner is Deputy General Secretary for Research and Planning of the National Council of Churches, which prepares the annual Yearbook.

            The 2001 Yearbook’s value to anyone interested in the debate on government funding of faith-based social services – and to journalists, scholars, seminary and public libraries and others engaged in research or ministry -- extends well beyond the theme essay.  The Yearbook is widely recognized as the most accurate and comprehensive compilation of facts and figures, including membership and financial data, from U.S. and Canadian churches and religious organizations.

It offers a uniquely comprehensive directory of thousands of faith-based organizations, including an index to U.S. regional and local ecumenical bodies’ work in 25 program areas – among them AIDS/HIV, clothing distribution, employee assistance, homelessness/shelter, prison chaplaincy and youth activities.

            The Charitable Choice provision of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 requires states to permit faith-based organizations to be eligible, along with other nonprofit organizations, to accept government funding for social service programs.  President George W. Bush is promoting such partnerships, and has created the first federal office intended to encourage – and finance – faith-based and community groups’ social service programs.

The 2001 Yearbook’s article is offered as a “contribution to the national debate” and seeks to “deepen the interests particularly of church agencies in assessing the consequences, intended and otherwise, of choosing Charitable Choice,” Dr. Lindner said.

            The NCC’s General Secretary, Dr. Bob Edgar, is sending the “Considering Charitable Choice” essay to every member of Congress “for their use as they work to ensure that the new initiative enhance and not undercut the good work and generous investment in ministry to the poor by congregations all over the country.”

In his cover letter, Dr. Edgar said, “After serving six terms as Congressman from the 7th district in Pennsylvania I know how important it is to receive thoughtful, timely and balanced information on the issues which come before you.

“This essay takes a research-based approach to an issue which strikes a chord with millions of citizens who wish both to respect our cherished system of church-state relations and to provide opportunity to America’s poor, infirm, elderly and children.”

“Considering Charitable Choice” does not take sides in the Charitable Choice debate.   But it does raise cautions --  for example, about the capacity and willingness of congregations to undertake social service with public funds.

“While most churches take pride in their commitment to serve the indigent at their doorstep,” Dr. Lindner said, “they lack the capacity for sustained work with larger numbers of persons on an indeterminate basis.  The present research points up the need for government planners to take cognizance of these congregational realities when projecting the ultimate capacity of FBOs to provide services. The governmental expectations may well outstrip FBOs willingness and capacity for such service.”  Among other elements that warrant study are the following:

        A further examination and measurement of the willingness and capacity of local FBOs to provide services, and identification of such FBOs by socio-economic status, geographical distribution and faith traditions.  “Congregations with the greatest institutional infrastructure tend overwhelmingly to be located in communities with fewer needs for social services,” Dr. Lindner said.

        Study of FBOs which begin and later cease to provide contracted services.

        Financial analysis of FBOs providing services (pre and post).

        Longitudinal comparative studies of clients served at/by FBOs and those receiving services in traditional settings.

        Pre/post Charitable Choice studies of outcomes of FBO sponsored programs which are not eligible for funding.  Do such programs increase, decrease or remain constant?

        Finally, closer identification and examination of church state relationships and case law arising thereunto must be undertaken.  “At issue,” Dr. Lindner said, “is how to respect the Constitution’s “free exercise of religion” and “no establishment” guarantees and at the same time preserve civil rights standards – for example, non-discrimination in employment.”

The Year 2001 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches costs $39.50 postage paid ($29.50 if ordered by Feb. 22).  Write Yearbook Orders, National Council of Churches, 475 Riverside Drive Room 880, New York, NY 10115.  Order online at;    e-mail Phone (888-870-3325), fax 212-870-2817.


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