Thinking about Partnerships among Faith Communities, Faith-Based Organizations and Government in a New Way: Observations from the Faith and Organizations Project
Religious communities and faith-based organizations play vital roles in the United States in education, health care, senior services, community development, and the provision of a wide range of social services. This prominent role long preceded the 1996 welfare reform law and the federal faith-based initiatives that have brought special attention to government partnerships with religious service organizations. Today, many faith-based organizations (FBOs) -- from nationally prominent groups like the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, and Jewish Vocational Services to lesser known grassroots organizations -- play vital roles in the social safety net. They are not all alike but vary in key ways between different religions in how the religious aspect shapes their identity and operations -- whether there are specific religious practices or less obvious religion-shaped decision-making styles or even a commitment to avoiding an overt religious identity. And, depending on the religion, they may have extensive ties to one or more congregations, be embedded in an extensive local religious infrastructure, or sit at the center of a network of individuals and congregations specifically recruited to be the support base.
Given such actual complexity and variability, private funders, governments, and other social actors seeking to effectively engage with and support faith-based organizations should actively seek to go beyond a one-size-fits-all approach. However, constitutional requirements and operational realities may limit how adaptable government policy, in particular, can be.
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