The promise of faith‐based social services: Perception versus reality

Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work 01/2003; 22:5-23. DOI: 10.1080/15426432.2003.9960323


This article explores the tenets that support the history of faith‐based social services in the United States and highlights the role of faith‐based organizations, which have a long and respected tradition in service provision. These tenets are rooted in the religious and secular precepts of duty, obligation, charity, responsibility, participation, community, and justice. As basic as these concepts are, the 2001 political debate about extending public support of faith‐based services has proven to be divisive rather than unifying. The concepts and practice of, and experience with, faith‐based services provide an important perspective by which to view and assess the 2001 Bush initiative to expand the use of faith‐based groups in the provision of social services. There is an inherent danger in raising expectations about the ability of faith‐based groups to meet social service needs and to do so “better” than other nonprofit or government agencies. Based on this review of the purposes, history, and current capacity of faith‐based groups, implications are identified and future scenarios offered in regard to an extended role of religious groups in service provision.

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    • "However, the two have continued to interact, in partnership and in contest (Graham et al., 2007). Faith-based organizations have continued throughout the 20th and 21st centuries to provide significant social support and assistance in serving those with great needs such as impoverished and homeless individuals (Gibelman & Gelman, 2003; Yancey & Atkinson, 2004). However, for the most part those services have become the domain of social work, and as the profession of social work evolved in the 20th century these forms of assistance were historically placed outside of the formal boundaries of faith communities to serve not only members of the immediate church family but also the broader community. "

    Full-text · Article · Aug 2013 · Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health
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    • "• Effectiveness—The final area of concern is whether FBOs are as or more effective than secular organizations in terms of serving clients and achieving positive outcomes (see, for example, Cnaan & Boddie, 2002; De Vita & Wilson, 2001; Gibelman & Gelman, 2003; Urban Institute, 2005 "

    Full-text · Article · May 2008
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    • "While many nonprofit social service agencies have religious origins, the faith-based sectarian agencies have become independent communal organizations that engage in contracting with a wide variety of public and nonprofit organizations (Gibelman & Demone, 1998). As Gibelman and Gelman (2003) note: Sectarian services tend to be favored under two circumstances: when the need for service providers exceeds current levels (as during the Depression and the 1960s) or, alternatively, during conservative political eras when social need moves from center stage [politically] and emphasis is placed on community structures, including religious groups, as the primary source of service provision. . . . Locally based religious bodies are able to address community needs in times of plenty, but their resources are insufficient to resolve major social, economic or psychological problems , particularly in times of economic downturn. "
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    ABSTRACT: Interest in faith-based organizations has increased substantially since the Bush administration made them a priority in the presidential campaign of 2000 and established a special office in the White House to promote their involvement in government supported human services. The primary goal of this initiative is to encourage faith-based organizations, usually understood to mean congregations, to engage their members in supporting services to those most in need. While most research on faith-based organizations is limited to the past decade or two, very little is known about how they operate. This case study of Community Ministries of Rockville, Maryland (CMR) is designed to address this issue. CMR differs from most faith-based organizations in that it neither represents a single congregation nor the traditional faith-related social service agency like Catholic, Jewish, or Lutheran Social Services. The case study features the twenty-five year history of the Executive Director of a faith-based human service organization supported by twenty congregations. It concludes with the identification of major challenges and lessons learned.
    Full-text · Article · Sep 2005 · Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work
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