Although both state and congregations are talking about a new era of cooperation in providing welfare, there are many obstacles that will hamper such bridge-building, reports Capital Commentary (Dec. 8), the newsletter of the evangelical Association for Public Justice.
Stanley Carlson-Thies writes that the Charitable Choice provision of the 1996 federal welfare reform law stipulated that when states spend their federal welfare block grants, they may not exclude faith-based organizations from competing for contracts or vouchers to provide such services. But such an arrangement is easier stated than done.
So far, such efforts have been uncoordinated and impeded by misunderstandings. For instance, in western Michigan, church-state cooperation in welfare is in full-swing, while at the other end of the state “some officials still insist that voluntary prayer and Bible reading can’t be tolerated in government-funded job preparation programs.”
Texas is committed to Charitable Choice programs, but the state has focused most of its contacts with interfaith networks, inadvertently excluding many independent and evangelical-charismatic-fundamentalist congregations. Carlson-Thies finds that religious organizations are hampered by similar problems. “Some church leaders are so used to telling government what to do with the poor that they can’t imagine how church and state may cooperate in service programs.
Others are so full of stories of anti-religious government action that they can’t believe Charitable Choice is the new rule. Many ministry leaders, having gone their own way for so long, don’t even know whom to call about local welfare changes and contracting opportunities.”
(Capital Commentary, CPJ, P.O. Box 48368, Washington, DC 20002-0368)