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2001 NCC Yearbook Theme "Charitable Choice"
09 Feb 2001 12:01:55
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA
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“CONSIDERING CHARITABLE CHOICE” IS TIMELY THEME ARTICLE
IN NCC’S 2001 “YEARBOOK OF AMERICAN AND CANADIAN CHURCHES”
Article Offers Comprehensive Review of Research Through 2000; Proposes Next
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
*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
*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 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
www.ElectronicChurch.org; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone
(888-870-3325), fax 212-870-2817.
CONSIDERING CHARITABLE CHOICE
Theme Article to the 2001 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches
by the Rev. Dr Eileen W. Lindner, Editor
In 1996 the primary legislative basis for federal assistance to the poor was
appreciably amended with the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work
Opportunity Act of 1996. Within this new and complex law section 104 was
established which has become known as the “Charitable Choice”
provision. At its heart this provision requires states to permit
faith-based organizations (FBO’s) to be eligible, along with other
nonprofit organizations, in providing contracted social services. Moreover,
the section forbids the states from requiring such a faith-based
organization to “alter its form of internal governance or remove
religious arts, icons, scripture or other symbols” as a condition for
serving as a contracted provider of social services.
The political climate which nurtured the development of this Charitable
Choice provision; the experiences of FBO’s which have taken place
under this provision; and, the initial research that has been undertaken to
analyze various aspects of the consequences of this provision, together are
the focus of this theme chapter. The Yearbook of American & Canadian
Churches seeks annually to identify trends, directions and degree of changes
observable within the American religious landscape. From its inception
Charitable Choice has demonstrated an unusual potential to affect such
changes. The brief treatment of Charitable Choice which follows is intended
to be suggestive about some of the issues at stake and about the ways in
which research has begun and continues to inform the myriad discussions that
will be occasioned by the decision of FBO’s to choose Charitable
Choice. This modest contribution to the national debate owes much to the
labor of a number of investigators who have pioneered in exploring various
aspects of the aftermath of this welfare reform provision. The discussion
which follows, it is hoped, will serve to quicken and deepen the interests
particularly of church agencies in assessing the consequences, intended and
otherwise of choosing Charitable Choice.
A Peculiar Lineage
The political will to formulate and enact the Charitable Choice provision of
the welfare reform law came from a somewhat unexpected quarter. University
of Arizona sociologist, Mark Chaves, writing in the American Sociological
Review in 1999 noted: “The Charitable Choice section of the Welfare
Reform Legislation was sponsored by Senator John Ashcroft, Republican of
Missouri, and initiatives inspired by this legislation have been actively
promoted by prominent conservative organizations such as the Christian
Coalition and The Family Research Council.” (p. 843)
Chaves and others have suggested that this support was motivated, at least
in part, by a desire to see broader church involvement in meeting the needs
of the poor as well as an interest in “redirecting public resources to
religious organizations.” (Ibid, p. 837)
Such potential motivating factors must be located historically in the
context of discussions of welfare reform in the wake of the Newt Gingrich
years in Congress and the concern for a private – public partnership
with a resultant decrease in the overall size of governmental structures.
The enduring legacy of the Bush Administration with its emphasis on the
“Points of Light” and the unbridled enthusiasm for the potential
of voluntary service contributed more than a little to the move toward
Charitable Choice. In 1996 the divisive mood within the nation made a
rightward movement by the Clinton Administration a political necessity for
the passage of the welfare reform legislation. The President was thoroughly
criticized by liberal organizations concerning the bill as a whole with many
condemning its provisions as punitive toward the poor. FBO’s which
are generally considered liberal leaning criticized the Charitable Choice
provision of the bill in particular. Mainline churches and their allied
religious liberty groups sounded a shrill warning note concerning the
possibility of Charitable Choice’s corrosive impact upon the wall of
More than one observer has remarked on the ironic nature of the sponsorship
of and opposition to the Charitable Choice provision. The very subset of
American Christians whose life experience and theology have predisposed them
to be wary of entanglement with government urged the provision’s
passage. Those mainline churches which have long, and until recently,
enjoyed religious cultural hegemony were most persistent in their cautions
concerning the dangers of public monies being expended through private
sectarian channels. Thus it was, with this confusing political and
ecclesial lineage that the Charitable Choice provision became law.
Choosing Charitable Choice
The origins of the Charitable Choice provision might well have led one to
predict that religious conservatives would enthusiastically give leadership
to congregational participation in local social service provisions while
liberal leaning congregations demurred. Such a prediction emerging would
have been roundly repudiated by the experience now observable in the first
four years of operation. Not only is a pattern contrary to the prediction
but it is now clear that other factors beyond church-state theory and
liberal vs. conservative social thought is determinative. While no
nationwide study to date has thoroughly investigated the demographic profile
of all participating congregations much less examined the correlation of
belief and practice, some compelling early work has been done.
Mark Chaves’ work, reported by The Urban Institute, concluded that
“large congregations and especially predominantly African American
congregations are most likely to seek public monies.” This finding is
corroborated by the work of Arthur E. Farnsley updated through The Polis
Center of Indianapolis.
At least two other studies confirm and extend the findings that while many
congregations provided some form of social service ministry only a small
percentage do so in a manner and degree sufficient to obtain public monies
and conform to the requirements thereof. Susan Grettenberger, a Michigan
State University investigator, studied 400 United Methodist Churches and
found the type and extent of social services provided to be limited in scope
and directed particularly to specific populations. The work of Robert
Wuthnow who examined “Linkages Between Church and Faith-based
Nonprofits” found that congregations’ capacity to provide social
services were enhanced and often made possible only through their
association with nonprofit agencies possessing the requisite financial and
administrative capacities congregations often lack.
Amy Sherman’s overview of the early years of implementing Charitable
Choice was published in July 2000 in “The Christian Century.”
Her own conclusion that opponents’ worst fears about Charitable Choice
have not been realized might well have been accompanied by similar assertion
that neither have its proponents greatest hopes been fulfilled. Provisions
in the law itself contain potentially confusing directives concerning
FBO’s which only time and greater experiential learning are likely to
correct. Even with such evolving clarity few observers doubt that a host of
church-state implications will ultimately require attention.
The early research which has been published gives ample evidence of the
importance of careful analysis of the consequence of the now five year
practices of the state. Through this provision and its aftermath local
congregations, or FBO’s, as social science describes them have been
“discovered” by governmental agencies, philanthropic foundations
and researchers alike. It is not certain that they will ever be the same
The investigations of Ram Cnaan and his colleagues at the University of
Pennsylvania contribute much to the discussions at this point. In a superb
summary of extant research Cnaan draws many of the implications from this
major shift in governmental approach to religious based organizations. In
particular Cnaan points out the lack of knowledge regarding FBO’s on
the part of the social work profession, Cnaan calls for a new engagement
across the professional disciplines of social work, clergy, researchers and
governmental agencies. In an earlier study of nearly 900 congregations in
Philadelphia, Cnaan found only 7% of clergy were familiar with the
Charitable Choice provisions while nearly two thirds thought their
congregations would be willing to apply for such funds. (Cnaan,
“Keeping Faith in the City”) Mark Chaves similarly found three
quarters of clergy unfamiliar with the Charitable Choice provisions in the
law with only about 36% expressing the willingness on the part of
congregations to apply to use such governmental funds. The difference in
the findings of Chaves and Cnaan may be attributable to several factors
especially method of sampling, geographical spread and the difference in the
timeframe of each sample.
More significant than research methodology is the essence of what both
investigators are studying, namely the willingness and capacity of local
congregations to respond. While most churches take pride in their
commitment to serve the indigent at their doorstep 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 FBO’s to provide services. In 1998, the scope of
Charitable Choice was extended to include community services block grants
and broad range governmental programs with further expansion projected. The
governmental expectations may well outstrip FBO’s willingness and
capacity for such service.
A number of conferences called either by governmental or religious
organizations have sought to sharpen the national debate concerning
Charitable Choice. At New York’s Riverside Church conference HUD
Secretary Andrew Cuomo enthusiastically announced an increase in HUD
assistance administered by FBO’s to $1 billion in 2001. At the same
conference the Reverend Calvin Butts, Pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church
noted the difficult balancing act churches face when they try to carry out
community ministries within the bounds of governmental programs. With
Abyssinian’s extensive involvement, Reverend Butts’ cautions
should be heeded by both FBO’s and governmental agencies.
Putting Faith in Faith Based Organizations
The changes wrought by the Charitable Choice provisions are apt to have
long-term consequences for governmental agencies, FBO’s, and the poor
themselves for some time to come. Careful longitudinal research should be
initiated to gauge the very real consequences that may result from this
public – private partnership. So too should research be designed and
implemented to shed light on various aspects of the extent of changes in
church state relationships which may occur.
The Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches believes the national debate
concerning Charitable Choice will best be served by sound research. Among
other elements which warrant study are the following:
*Further examination and measurement of the willingness and capacity of
local FBO’s to provide services; and identification of such
FBO’s by socio-economic status, geographical distribution and faith
*Study of FBO’s which begin and later cease to provide contracted
*Financial analysis of FBO’s providing services (pre and post).
*Longitudinal comparative studies of clients served at/by FBO’s 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
*Finally, closer identification and examination of church state
relationships and case law arising thereunto must be undertaken.
Such research and the studies presently underway will contribute much to our
national debate in seeking to provide the most effective services. So too
would such research inform churches and other FBO’s as they weigh the
merits of considering Charitable Choice within the larger context of
American Jewish Congress. 2000. Press release: “AJ Congress and Texas
Civil Rights Project Challenge Texas ‘Charitable Choice’
Program, ‘Permeated’ with Christianity, Violating Separation of
Church and State.” New York. July 24, 2000.
Ammerman, Nancy. 1997. Congregation and Community. New Brunswick, NJ:
Rutgers University Press.
Chaves, Mark. 1999. “Congregations’ Social Service
Activities.” Charting Civil Society. Washington, DC: The Urban
Chaves, Mark. 1999. “Religious congregations and welfare reform: Who
will take advantage of charitable choice?” American Sociological
Cnaan, Ram A. 2000. Keeping Faith in the City: Survey Results on 887
Congregations. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, Center for
Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society.
Cnaan, Ram. 2000. “Keeping Faith in the City II: How 887 Philadelphia
Congregations Serve Their Needy Neighbors Including the Children and
Families of Prisoners.” Draft CRRUCS Report 2000-3. Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil
Cnaan, Ram with Rodgers, Rodney, Trulear, Harold Dean, and Yancey, Gaynor.
2000. “Managing local religious congregations in America: Contextual
necessities and leadership challenge.”
Cnaan, Ram A. with Wineburg, R. J. and Boddie, S. C. 1999. The newer deal:
Social work and religion in partnership. New York: Columbia University
Etindi, D. 1999. “Charitable choice and its implications for
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Farnsley, Arthur E. II. 1999. “Research Note: Grant Applications from
Faith-Based Organizations.” Indianapolis: The Polis Center, Indiana
University Purdue University Indianapolis.
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services: United Methodist churches in Michigan.” Paper presented at
the 26th annual meeting of the Association for research on Nonprofit
Organizations and Voluntary Action, Indianapolis, IN.
A Guide to Charitable Choice: The Rules of Section 104 of the 1996 Federal
Welfare Law Governing State Cooperation with Faith-based Social-Service
Providers. 1997. Washington, DC: The Center for Public Justice, and
Annandale, Virginia: The Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law and
Hill, R. B. 1998. Report on study of church-based human services.
Baltimore: Associated Black Charities.
Hodgkinson, Virginia A. and Weitzman, Murray S. 1993. From Belief to
Commitment: The Community Service Activities and Finances of Religious
Congregations in the United States, 1993 Edition. Washington, DC:
Kuzma, A. L. 2000. “Faith-based providers partnering with government:
Opportunity and temptation.” Journal of Church and State, 4:1-37.
Marcum, John P. 1997. Social Justice and Social Welfare: Report for the
August 1997 Presbyterian Panel. Louisville, Kentucky: Research Services,
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Matsui, Elena and Chuman, Joseph. 2000. “The Case Against Charitable
Choice.” Voice of Reason: The Newsletter of Americans for Religious
Liberty No. 2:2, 6.
Monsma, Stephen. 1996. When Sacred and Secular Mix: Religious Nonprofit
Organizations and Public Money. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.
Nathan, R. P., & Gais, T. 1999. Implementing the personal responsibility act
of 1996: A first look. Albany, NY: Rockefeller Institute Press.
Printz, Tobi Jennifer. 1998. “Faith-based Service Providers in the
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Society, a series by the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy. Washington,
DC: The Urban Institute.
Sherman, Amy L. 2000. “Churches as government partners: Navigating
‘Charitable Choice’.” The Christian Century. 117, No. 20:
Sherman, A. 2000. The growing impact of charitable choice. Washington, DC:
Center for Public Justice.
Wuthnow, Robert. 1988. The Restructuring of American Religion: Society and
Faith Since World War II. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
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