Secular Welfare vs. Religious Based Welfare (Part II)


Secular Welfare vs. Religious Based Welfare

Part II

 Published in the NY Times in October 2007, Neela Benerjee told  (Article:  In New Orleans, Rebuilding with Faith) the story of a minister, Rev. Lance Eden of First Street United Methodist Church, who became involved not only in rebuilding his church, but the community surrounding devastated by Katrina.  Neela noted, “New Orleans’s patchy recovery has largely bypassed places where the working class and the poor lived, like Central City and the Lower Ninth Ward. Many former residents lack the means to return. Instead, churches and groups with religious affiliations, citing Scripture’s call to help the stranger and the neighbor, have taken on building affordable housing.”  It is difficult to estimate “how much housing religiously affiliated groups and churches have built.” She went on to say.  The Church’s were the only ones functioning in the low-income neighborhoods before Katrina.  They took on great responsibility in helping rebuild their communities, but not without having to learn the ropes, to deal with the maze and requirements of a variety of funding sources to accomplish their ends.  Their primary objective was to rebuild the housing in the area so long time residents could return. 

Many months into the process, in Neela’s word, “Mr. Eden… became aware of the availability of Department of Housing and Urban Development money, and he admitted to feeling his way through a financing process he found murky and in constant flux.”  This was one of the burdens of Government funding – slow, inefficient and complex.  Inexperience with the various and complex bureaucracies (including private sources – I must admit) was a problem for many of the area pastors, but it was the pastors and their flock that persevered.  Terms such as “mind-boggling” and “excessive needs”, “diverse funders” were obstacles the religious community had to jump over to provide for their communities.  The writer was not criticizing government’s involvement or lack there-of, but noting the burdens the religious, faith-based, groups shouldered to help improve their area as quickly as possible.

It should have been easier.  In fact if those pastors and churches had been incentivized and funded to provide for their communities in an ongoing fashion, the government having not assumed their roles (let them be dependent on each other), the delivery of services, even in the tragedy caused by such an unexpected and devastating hurricane, would have been quicker, less costly, and more humane.

“The conventional wisdom runs like this: Liberals are charitable because they advocate government redistribution of money in the name of social justice; conservatives are uncharitable because they oppose these policies. But note the slight of hand: Government spending, according to this logic, is a form of charity.”  The source of this claim is the website:  www.arthurbrooks.net/whoreallycares/excerpt.html the article/blog/whatever entitled, Is Compassionate Conservatism an Oxymoron?  The dialog continued, “Let us be clear: Government spending is not charity. It is not a voluntary sacrifice by individuals. No matter how beneficial or humane it might be, no matter how necessary it is for providing public services, it is still the obligatory redistribution of tax revenues. Because government spending is not charity, sanctimonious yard signs do not prove that the bearers are charitable or that their opponents are selfish. (On the contrary, a public attack on the integrity of those who don’t share my beliefs might more legitimately constitute evidence that I am the uncharitable one.)”  This may state more clearly my position, but is a bit hard-handed. 

I simply see benefits to the Government being involved in welfare differently – or not at all.  Lower taxes on everyone in concert with the amount Government now spends on welfare (over time – have this transition in a proper fashion) and give encouragement, provide incentives, to the people to give according to their lowered taxes – to volunteer, to provide money, and to give of their talents to help their communities and the people with needs.  Sure there are those that will not participate, but there are many others that will more than fill the gap.  The people will do more than the Government gives back, the benefits to the poor will be greater than when the Government was involved.  In time of emergency the Government can provide additional funds to active organizations to help rebuild or stimulate a given area – but only as needed, as a stimulus, as a means to assist in an economic crisis and help rebuild America.

In 2006 a book was published, The Other Philadelphia Story: How Local Congregations Support Quality of Life in Urban America(Univ. of Penn. Press, Phila., PA), the author – Ram Cnaan.  Great detail is provided on the role churches play in helping those in need throughout the city – doing good, even when public support “retrenches.”  Social support could be the by-word which over 90% of the congregations in one way or another provide with less “red tape” and less “humiliation for the recipients” than with government programs.  They do so much such as:

  • Feed the hungry
  • After school care programs
  • Housing for the homeless
  • Hostels
  • Visits to the homebound
  • Various forms of medical care
  • AA meetings
  • Drug rehab programs
  • Access to telephones and computers to search for jobs or housing
  • Vaccinations (free)
  • Education for personal hygiene
  • Counseling
  • Help for families and children of prisoners
  • A social gathering outlet
  • Outreach to area youths
  • Clothing
  • Cash for transportation needs
  • Volunteers

Some ministers use their own funds and/or must be creative in raising funds, handy in repairing used equipment and appliances, even automobiles.  The figure of $250 million (dollars) has been calculated as the cost to the City to replace the work done by the churches.  Imagine this city without religion.  It must be noted that this non-government approach deals with the cause of the social problems, with love, sincerity and a dedicated heart, the cause – the breakdown of the family. 

Returning to the authors of God is Back they summarize the view of Gertrude Himmelfarb whom they refer to as “the iron lady of the neoconservative movement (60-s-70’s), “the government version of the welfare state had perversely decoupled the provision of basic services from any attempt to reform personal behavior.”  (pg. 199)  This all suggests a return to an emphasis, from inside and outside our Government at the State, local and Federal level, to allowing the people themselves be the bell-weather for caring for the needy, for providing assistive services and care, and being given incentives to do so.  The government can search out pockets where services provided have value and can use additional funds, providing such funds without the traditional “red tape” and need for bureaucratic overlays and attention.  The source of the services received would enable greater dignity, increased trust, and an understanding of hope and love to a much greater extent than that provided by a secular, functional, bureau of welfare.

Look for Part III – Secular Welfare vs. Religious Based Welfare

[Your comments and additions are welcomed.]

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