Faith-based social services: the human factor

President George W. Bush established the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in 2001, and President Barack Obama later created a similar organization — the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The partnership runs 12 federal centers that promote faith-based community initiatives and work with neighborhoods and religious organizations to further goals.

The government’s effort to provide more opportunities for religious organizations to receive federal funding for social services has generated thousands of pages in grant materials, regulations, executive orders, explanatory materials and legislation.

Reporters have had to contend with unanswerable questions: How much government money is given to religious organizations? How exactly do they use it? Are religious organizations more effective than the government in providing social services? If so, which ones? What rules are groups following about what activities government money should or should not fund?

Now, more than 10 years after the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives opened, journalists in every state can find concrete, street-level stories about the people giving and receiving faith-based services and government funds.

What to watch for?

  • Advocates of faith-based social services recommend looking at the relationships between providers and those they serve. Those relationships make the biggest difference between faith-based and government providers, many say.
  • Watchdogs, critics and others wary of government plans say to follow the money – who gets it, for what and how is it used and accounted for – and the rules – what are grantees told about restrictions on the money and hiring?
  • Both groups say that it’s key to look at the effectiveness and efficiency of how grant money is being used.
  • Watch for lawsuits, which continue to define the rules on how government money is spent.
  • One avenue for covering this story is activity in the states. Journalists can find people-oriented stories in their area by talking to the state liaisons of faith-based initiatives and looking at the expanding body of research on faith-based social services in the states. Local organizations can be profiled in light of the many national issues involved in the debate.

Why it matters

Religious organizations have a long history of providing critical social services, but America also has a long history of respecting the separation of church and state. Government funding of faith-based social services raises questions both about how much the government should rely on religious organizations and how the constitutional provisions for freedom of and from religion play out in individual grants.



Research reports

National sources


Twelve federal agencies are involved in faith-based initiatives and funding. The government posts contact information for all of them.

  • Melissa Rogers

    Melissa Rogers is a nonresident senior fellow in governance studies for Brookings, where she specializes in the First Amendment’s religion clauses and religion and faith-related political issues. She previously served as special assistant to President Barack Obama and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

  • Samantha Jo Warfield

    Samantha Jo Warfield is media contact for the Corporation for National and Community Service in Washington, D.C. 


  • Diana Garland

    Diana Garland, dean of the Baylor University School of Social Work, has conducted research about congregational social work and family ministry.

  • Ram A. Cnaan

    Ram A. Cnaan is a leading expert on faith-based social services and the chair of the doctoral program in social welfare at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He wrote the article “Defining Who Is a Volunteer: Conceptual and Empirical Considerations” for the journal Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly (1996). He is also director of the Program for Religion and Social Policy Research and co-author of The Invisible Caring Hand: American Congregations and the Provision of Welfare.

  • Rebecca Sager

    Rebecca Sager is an assistant professor of sociology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She wrote Faith, Politics, and Power: The Politics of Faith-Based Initiatives (Oxford, 2010).

  • John DiIulio Jr.

    John DiIulio Jr. is a professor of politics, religion and civil society at the University of Pennsylvania and was the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. A frequent speaker and writer on faith-based social services, he is co-editor of What’s God Got to Do With the American Experiment? (Brookings, 2000).

    Contact: 215-898-7641.
  • Mark A. Chaves

    Mark A. Chaves is professor of sociology at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He is an expert on religious organizations in the United States and leads the National Congregations Study.

  • Helene Slessarev-Jamir

    Helene Slessarev-Jamir is a professor of urban studies at Claremont School of Theology in California. She is an expert on anti-poverty policies and is writing a book on faith-based social justice work.

  • Joseph Loconte

    Joseph Loconte is an associate professor of history at The King’s College in New York City. He is the author of a 2001 book about the Bush initiative, God, Government and the Good Samaritan: The Promise and the Peril of the President’s Faith-Based Agenda.

    He supports the right of religious organizations to discriminate in hiring even when receiving public funding. He’s the author of God, Government and the Good Samaritan: The Promise and Peril of the President’s Faith-Based Agenda (Heritage Foundation, 2002).

Religious organizations

  • “Faith-Based Initiatives”

    The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops supports the government’s faith-based initiatives. Read a 2005 statement posted on the website.

  • Noel Castellanos

    Noel Castellanos is institute director of the Chicago-based Christian Community Development Association, which works to reclaim and restore under-resourced communities, and he was appointed to serve on the president’s council for Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships.

  • Marvin Olasky

    Marvin Olasky is editor of World magazine, based in Asheville, N.C. He is credited with coining the phrase “compassionate conservatism” and has been a proponent of the government’s faith-based initiatives. He is the author of Renewing American Compassion: How Compassion for the Needy Can Turn Ordinary Citizens Into Heroes (The Free Press, 1996).

    Contact: 800-951-4974.
  • Sojourners

    Sojourners magazine is a progressive evangelical magazine in Washington, D.C. Its commitment is to faith in action for social justice. Jim Wallis is CEO and editor in chief of Sojourners.

  • Richard Cizik

    The Rev. Richard Cizik is president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. He seeks to bring evangelical Christians, researchers and policymakers together to work on issues such as climate change, economic justice and national security.

  • Mark J. Pelavin

    Mark J. Pelavin is associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. The group has previously criticized federal budgets for not reflecting the value of compassion.

  • Nathan J. Diament

    Nathan J. Diament is director of the Institute for Public Affairs, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, in New York.

  • Seventh-day Adventist Church

    The Seventh-day Adventist Church has an official website with resources on beliefs and practices, missions and statements on the livelihood of practitioners and members. The website has a page with links to the church’s official statements on birth control, human rights, climate change and more than 100 other aspects of debate and culture.

    Contact: 301-680-6000.
  • C. Welton Gaddy

    The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy is president of the Interfaith Alliance and author of numerous books, including First Freedom First: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State. Gaddy serves as pastor for preaching and worship at Northminster Baptist Church in Monroe, La. The alliance is based in Washington, D.C.

    He has been critical of the president’s faith-based initiative, and his organization has been active in monitoring whether government funds are financing religious activities.

    Contact: 202-238-3300, 202) 466-0567.


  • Jay Sekulow

    Jay Sekulow is chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington, D.C., a leading pro-life religious legal advocacy group that frequently litigates on behalf of religious groups.

    The public interest law firm has applauded the government’s faith-based initiative.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Nancy Ammerman

    Nancy Ammerman is professor of sociology at Boston University and a leading expert on congregational dynamics, especially in mainline Protestantism. She is the author of Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes: Finding Religion in Everyday Life and Pillars of Faith: American Congregations and Their Partners. She is also an expert on religious movements and has written about the rise of fundamentalism.

  • Peter Dobkin Hall

    Peter Dobkin Hall is a lecturer in public policy and a senior research fellow at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He does research on social welfare policy and civic engagement and has held a teaching appointment in the Divinity School.

  • “New Hampshire’s Social Service Contracts with Faith-Based Organizations”

    Read “New Hampshire’s Social Service Contracts with Faith-Based Organizations,” an April 2004 report from the NH Center for Public Policy Studies

  • Tracey Meares

    Tracey Meares is a professor at Yale Law School in New Haven, Conn. She has given several presentations on the relationship between black churches and communities and organized a conference on “Faith-Based Initiatives and Urban Public Policy.”

  • Robert Wuthnow

    Robert Wuthnow is director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University. He wrote the book Poor Richard’s Principle: Recovering the American Dream Through the Moral Dimension of Work, Business and Money and was the editor of the 2006 Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion. He is also the author of  After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion and Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America’s Heartland. He can speak about hot-button issues including abortion, the separation of church and state and gun control.

  • Mary Segers

    Mary Segers is professor of political science at Rutgers University, Newark campus. Her specialties include religion and politics. She co-wrote the book Faith-Based Initiatives and the Bush Administration: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003).

  • Jo Renee Formicola

    Jo Renee Formicola is a professor of political science at Seton Hall University in New Jersey and author of Pope John Paul: Prophetic Politician (Georgetown University Press, 2002). She can discuss the impact of John Paul’s papacy on world affairs. She is co-author, with Mary C. Segers and Paul Weber, of Faith Based Initiatives and the Bush Administration: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

    She is co-editor of Faith Based Initiatives and the Bush Administration: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2003).

In the South

  • Charles Marsh

    Charles Marsh is a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia and director of the university’s Project on Lived Theology, which aims “to understand the way theological commitments shape the social patterns and practices of everyday life.”

  • Kathleen Flake

    Kathleen Flake is Richard Lyman Bushman Professor of Mormon Studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She has written extensively on Mormons and is the author of The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle.

  • Helen Rose Ebaugh

    Helen Rose Ebaugh is a professor of sociology at the University of Houston who specializes in the sociology of religion as well as religion and new immigrants.

  • Jimmy Dorrell

    Jimmy Dorrell is co-founder and executive director of Mission Waco, a ministry to empower the poor, mobilize middle-class Americans and address systematic social injustices. He is pastor of Church Under the Bridge and also teaches classes at Baylor University and Truett Seminary in Waco.

  • Robert V. Kemper

    Robert V. Kemper, an anthropology professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, co-authored The World As It Should Be: Faith-Based Community Development in Americaon his website.

In the Midwest

  • Amy Black

    Amy Black is a professor of political science at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill. She co-authored Of Little Faith: The Politics of George W. Bush’s Faith-Based Initiatives and is the author of Honoring God in Red or Blue: Approaching Politics with Humility, Grace and Reason.

  • Doug Koopman

    Doug Koopman is professor of political science at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., and co-author of Of Little Faith: The Politics of George W. Bush’s Faith-Based Initiatives (Georgetown University Press, 2004).

  • David Ryden

    David Ryden is professor of political science at Hope College in Holland, Mich., and co-author of Of Little Faith: The Politics of George W. Bush’s Faith-Based Initiatives (Georgetown University Press, 2004).

  • Corwin E. Smidt

    Corwin E. Smidt is a research fellow at the Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics and a professor of political science at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. He is author, editor or co-author of books on religion and public life, including In God We Trust? Religion and American Political Life; Pulpit and Politics: Clergy in American Politics at the Advent of the Millennium; and The Bully Pulpit: The Politics of Protestant Clergy.

In the West

  • Star Parker

    Star Parker, founder of the Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education in Los Angeles, has expressed concerns about faith-based initiatives headed up by the government. Read a 2005 Agape Press interview posted by

    Contact: 202-479-2873.
  • Greg W. Hamilton

    Greg W. Hamilton, president of the Vancouver, Wash.-based Northwest Religious Liberty Association, supports the idea of faith-based initiatives with an important qualification: He does not support government-funded faith-based groups discriminating in their hiring practices or offering sectarian programming. Hamilton is an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and a scholar of church-state issues.

    Contact: 360-857-7040.
  • Salam Al-Marayati

    Salam Al-Marayati is president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. The group condemned both the Danish cartoons and the violence they spawned.

    He has expressed concerns that the faith-based initiative may leave minority religions such as American Muslims out, but he has also said that religious groups do provide a benefit to society so the tax incentive provision is OK as long as it brings about “degrees of change” and not a massive overhaul of the current system.

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