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2002 'Yearbook' Contributes to Faith-Based Initiative Debate

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2002 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches            February 13, 2002, NEW YORK CITY – Just as the Bush Administration brings its faith-based initiative back to the legislative table, the National Council of Churches’ 2002 “Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches” offers a succinct guide to the emerging consensus on government funding of faith-based social service.

            In the 2002 “Yearbook’s” theme article, “The Fevered Frenzy Over Faith-Based Initiatives,” the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner describes five initiatives that made substantial progress over the past year on clarifying “the issues endemic to a government partnership with religiously based organizations.”

Dr. Lindner, “Yearbook” editor and NCC Deputy General Secretary for Research and Planning, writes as a participant in all five initiatives.  Their reports, she says, “will do much to further the national dialogue and … will help frame the discussion so that progress is attained in both social welfare and constitutional understanding.”

The 2002 “Yearbook” comes out on the heels of President Bush’s February 1 appointment of Jim Towey as director of the White House Office of Community and Faith-Based Initiatives.  Towey fills the vacancy left by John DiIulio’s resignation last May.

It is the second year in a row that the “Yearbook’s” chapter is serendipitously timely.  2001’s long-planned essay “Considering Charitable Choice” was published precisely at the moment President Bush was announcing his related “faith-based initiative” – sparking heated debate about the capacity of faith-based institutions to carry out social service with public funds.

In that essay, Dr. Lindner reviewed all research on Charitable Choice published in English through December 2001, pointing out gaps and urging faith-based organizations and government alike to base their decisions about Charitable Choice on sound research, not on guesswork.

The President’s proposals foundered after DiIulio resigned.  Then the September 11 attacks and the pursuit of an overseas war drew public attention away from practically everything else for a time.

            “Yet, an economic slow-down and the persistent commitment of the religious community to the poor cause us to return to this theme and once again document the significant advances in framing the national debate that must inevitably accompany any legislation that would extend the concepts of Charitable Choice to broader areas of social service provision by faith-based organizations,” Dr. Lindner writes in her 2002 essay.

            Religiously-based efforts to alleviate human suffering have a long history, but religious and civil libertarians are concerned “that important American traditions of church/state separation could be imperiled by the rush to find the kind of cost-effective delivery of social services that would enable politically popular tax cuts,” she writes.

            “Moreover, faith-based organizations, over time, could grow dependent on public monies and shrink from social criticism, thereby forsaking the prophetic witness they sought to offer,” Dr. Lindner says.  “Only by engagement of persons from varying points of view could an approach be envisioned to enable partnerships at the community level that utilized the most trusted local resources fueled with public dollars to promote individual and community development.”

            Dr. Lindner commends the following five initiatives to readers’ attention:

  • “Partnership or Peril,” published in May 2001 by the First Amendment Center.  Call 800-830-3733 or download from www.freedomforum.org for a free copy.
  • “Faith-Based Initiatives: Sacred Deeds and Secular Dollars,” based on a May 2001 seminar co-sponsored by the Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy and Harvard University’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations.  Call 202-261-2687 or 877-847-7377 for a free copy.
  • “Religious Organizations and Government,” the report of a July 2001 collegium convened by the Aspen Institute’s Nonprofit Sector Strategy Group.  Call 202-736-5811 for a free copy.
  • “Sacred Places, Civic Purposes: Should Government Help Faith-Based Charity?,” a book released in December 2001 and based on a series of Brookings Institution conferences.  Available for $20.95 by calling 800-275-1447 or 202-797-6258 or visit www.brookings.edu
  • “Finding Common Ground: 29 Recommendations of the Working Group on Human Needs and Faith-Based and Community Initiatives,” the product of a broadly bi-partisan Working Group led by former U.S. Senator Harris Wofford (D-Pa.) at the request of U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).  Jim Towey served as staff to the Working Group.  Call 202-265-4300 or download from www.working-group.org

            “Working intensively from June through December, this report goes further perhaps than others in framing and surveying the topographical features of the common ground that must be occupied if the needs of America’s poor and the demands of the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state are both to be addressed,” Dr. Lindner writes.

The 2002 “Yearbook” may be ordered by e-mail (yearbook@ncccusa.org); phone (888-870-3325); fax (212-870-2817); or mail (Yearbook Orders, National Council of Churches, Room 880, 475 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10115).  Cost is $55 including shipping.

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