Charitable Choice

Piggy Banks and God's Abundance

Ours is not the typical family where money is concerned. Out of our faith commitments, my husband and I run a small financial planning practice that specializes in socially responsible investing and community investing—ways of helping people put their money where their hearts are. So we talk, work, and play money and faith and the interconnections between the two.

Yet despite our immersion in this world, like most parents we’re feeling our way around money issues with our children. A basic question for us has been how to handle questions of openness versus privacy.

While our children were putting their allowance money into the church offering basket, for example, my husband, Andy, and I were sending our checks by mail. One Sunday, our then 6-year-old son, Walker, looked at his quarter going into the basket, shook his head sadly, and said, “Why do we give God so little?”

Clearly he needed more information. We learned that we needed to let the kids participate in actually putting the checks in the offering plate rather than sending them in the mail—less convenient but a better example for young, concrete thinkers.

On the other hand, we’ve sometimes given too much information. In the car one day, Walker asked me what I would do if I won a million dollars. I answered, “I’d pay off the house, save for your college education, and …,” spinning off my imaginings.

“What do you mean ‘pay off the house’?” he asked. I tried to explain the concept of mortgage. There was a long silence from the back seat. “We don’t own the house?”

I had erred; Walker had way more information than he needed. Four years later, he’s still worrying about the mortgage.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine May 2008
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Fiscal Spirituality

The past several months have been marked by burgeoning financial anxiety in the U.S. and global markets, at the gas pump and grocery check-out, in corporate offices and at kitchen tables. As falling house prices and the subprime mortgage crisis have destabilized credit markets and stock markets, many financial experts seem as confused as the rest of us. New York Times economics columnist David Leonhardt wrote in March, admitting his own befuddlement, “Raise your hand if you don’t quite understand this whole financial crisis.” One gets the disconcerting feeling that many major market players were like toddlers chasing after bubbles floating on the breeze, suddenly stunned and surprised to realize that bubbles will burst.

Some of us feel great fear as retirement funds nosedive or house values plummet, those ephemeral numbers on computer screens or in newspapers creating real uncertainty about our future. Others are caught in the undertow of the mortgage crisis or of personal debt, losing homes and cars and more. Others only know that they seem to be working harder, but getting poorer.

In focusing this issue of Sojourners on faith and personal finance, we are not offering quick fixes for current economic woes—if they exist, they are outside our field of expertise. Nor do we suggest simple pieties about how Jesus will make everything better. As Christians, in a deep sense we do think Jesus makes everything better, but he rarely makes things simple.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine May 2008
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Extreme Charity

You’ve heard of extreme makeovers, and extreme sports. But extreme charity? At least one group is encouraging people to go far beyond the typical levels of charitable giving, by challenging “the cultural norms and stereotypes about what is prudent and possible to give.”

Average charitable giving per household in 2005 was estimated to be 2.2 percent of disposable (after-tax) income, according to Giving USA, an annual compendium of philanthropy statistics. Some studies show that the lowest-income group (less than $20,000 annual income) gives proportionally more than that. At the other end of the spectrum, scholars with Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy found that households earning more than $300,000 give away about 4.4 percent of their income. But Anne and Christopher Ellinger, the founders of Bolder Giving, would like middle-class and wealthy Americans alike to aim higher. Much higher.

The Ellingers began their commitment to philanthropy early in their marriage, after Christopher received an unexpected inheritance at 21. They were motivated to create the Bolder Giving initiative in 2007 because, after years of work with other donors, they were struck by how rarely even the very wealthy reached their full potential for charitable gifts. This, even as overall societal wealth and economic inequality has grown and global needs in areas such as poverty and disease gain more coverage. The rare stories of people who did do extraordinary giving inspired the Ellingers deeply. They decided to gather and promote such stories to show people what is possible when it comes to making good use of assets or income.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine May 2008
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Wine for Abundant Life

The Community of Sant´Egidio, a Catholic lay group, is encouraging a glass of good wine with supper. When you buy wine through the Wine for Life program you’ll fight AIDS in Africa with every sip. More than 100 of the best Italian vintners have joined Wine for Life by purchasing round red-and-blue “Wine for Life” stickers for 70 cents each and affixing them to their bottles. When the bottles are bought in stores or restaurants, customers can see that a donation has already been made to Sant’Egidio’s Drug Resour­ces Enhancement against AIDS and Malnutrition (DREAM) program at work in 10 African countries.

Smaller World. Three European human rights groups and the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights filed a legal complaint in France accusing former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld of authorizing torture in Iraq and Guantánamo. If found guilty, Rumsfeld could be arrested when in France.

Golden Goal. Italy’s Roman Catholic bishops have purchased a professional soccer team. With an 80 percent interest in AC Ancona, a third-division soccer team from a city in central Italy, the bishops aim to “moralize soccer,” according to a local Italian newspaper.

Single Serving? “Unmarried women are poised to tip the 2008 election in progressives’ favor,” according to a recent study by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. “In an electorate that is hungry for change, this cohort is the hungriest, with 78 percent saying the country is on the wrong track.”

Color Line. Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, called on church leaders to “name the sin of racism and lead us in our repentance of it.” Amid increasing public displays of nooses and swastikas and ongoing racial profiling, Hanson urged all Christians to address the “spiritual crisis concerning race relations” in the U.S.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine January 2008
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Who's Using Charitable Choice Funding, and How?

This spring, the Survey Research Center at the University of Akron surveyed 587 leaders of faith-based organizations with government contracts under federal programs regulated by the charitable choice legislation. Here's what the study revealed:

*78 percent of the contractors were faith-based nonprofits and 22 percent were congregations.

*More than one-third of the congregations were predominantly African American; 18 percent of the congregations were predominantly Latino, Asian, Native American, or ethnically mixed.

*Less than one-half of the congregations were predominantly white.

*56 percent of the contractors started their government contracts since 1996 (after charitable choice).

*Two-thirds of those surveyed created new programs with their government-funded contracts. Contractors used three primary strategies for complying with the charitable choice guidelines: 70 percent segregated public funds from funds used for inherently religious purposes, 60 percent provided special staff training, and 57 percent held inherently religious activities at special times.

*77 percent of the faith-based contractors regarded as "very important" the act of notifying clients that they need not participate in religious activities to receive services from a faith-based organization.

Source: "Fruitful Collaborations: A Survey of Government-Funded Faith-Based Organizations in 15 States," Hudson Institute, 2002

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine November-December 2002
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Compassion is good, but justice is better

Here's a little quiz related to political support for faith-based organizations. Which of the following three statements was said by George W. Bush?

Statement A: "I am a supporter of these programs in which faith-based organizations help the government serve public purposes. If a drug addict or a prisoner or a homeless person can find inspiration and strength within himself to deal with his or her problem, then don't we all gain from that?"

Statement B: "I have seen the difference faith-based organizations make. I believe the lesson to the nation is clear. In those instances where the unique power of faith can help us meet the crushing social challenges that are otherwise not possible to meet, we must explore carefully tailored partnerships with our faith community."

Statement C: "This is a meeting to begin a dialogue about how best to help faith-based programs change people's lives, how best government can encourage, as opposed to discourage, faith-based programs from performing their commonplace miracles of renewal."

If you picked "C" as Bush's statement, you were right. Statement A was made by Sen. Joe Lieberman and Statement B was made by Vice President Al Gore last May. I suggest that this indicates some sort of consensus, or at least less dissension than you might have expected on these programs.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine May-June 2001
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Hijacked Faith?

Some religious leaders, especially from within conservative evangelical Christian communities of faith, have worried out loud that religious bodies that receive government support will, over time, become dependent on Caesar's coin....They fear [that] government-religious partnerships will enervate the spiritual identities and characters of the participating churches and stifle their prophetic voices. Even if strictly limited to public support for specific social service delivery programs, they fear the resulting secularizing influences put the churches on a super-slippery slope to losing the "faith" in "faith-based."...

Such concerns are entirely understandable and, for many congregation leaders and faith communities, ought to be controlling. Charitable choice ought to be open to all qualified community-serving groups, but not all groups ought to participate. Faith leaders, organizations, and communities that perceive the slope as secularizing and slippery ought simply to opt out. But...America's faith communities are as diverse in their traditions of public-private partnerships as they are in their theological understandings.

In particular, compared to predominantly ex-urban white evangelical churches, urban African-American and Latino faith communities have benevolent traditions and histories that make them generally more dedicated to community-serving missions, and generally more confident about engaging public and secular partners in achieving those missions without enervating their spiritual identities or religious characters. There are, to be sure, many urban clergy who want nothing whatsoever to do with government as well. But the "hijacked faith" fears expressed by some are less pointed and less prevalent in metropolitan America....

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine May-June 2001
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Best-Kept Secret

Charitable choice is one of the most elusive and confounding features of the current political and religious landscape in America. Since 1996, when Congress passed this provision allowing faith-based organizations to receive government money for their social service activities, charitable choice has been debated in divinity school classrooms, the halls of government, and among church-state separationists.

Social conservatives argue that the government cannot be held solely responsible for the heavy burden of caring for the nation's poor, so for them shifting responsibility to the faith community is a very good thing. On the other side of the aisle, liberals are relieved that government is still actively participating in the provision of social services. Both agree on one thing - there is something unique that faith-based groups can contribute toward solving the problem of poverty in America.

But for those doing the day-to-day work of social justice, these debates can be seen as rather abstract. Until recently, the actual on-the-ground effect of the charitable choice legislation was largely unknown.

A series of recent surveys and reports have now emerged, however, that raise new questions about whether charitable choice is working as it was intended to, how it will impact the nation's poor, and whether the governmental and religious communities will be able to negotiate each other's turf.

Most of the new studies reach similar conclusions. Charitable choice shows great promise, but it cannot hope to fulfill that promise until a more fundamental need is met - more congregations and faith-based social service organizations need to know that charitable choice even exists.

What is it, anyway?

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine July-August 2000
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Our Lady of the 501(c)3

E.J. Dionne—syndicated columnist, practicing Catholic, and think-tank fellow—thinks the uneasiness about wearing religion on your sleeve in journalism and other aspects of American society is healthy. But he makes clear that healthy unease and putting faith in quarantine from public life are two far different things. He describes himself as "a columnist for a secular newspaper who will neither hide nor flaunt his commitments."

That secular newspaper is The Washington Post. Dionne writes sharp and engaging analysis of elections, ideology, and the body politic. He also offers some of the most thoughtful commentary available in the mainstream press on the role of religion in American politics and society. He is the editor of the forthcoming What’s God Got to Do With the American Experiment? (The Brookings Institution Press, 2000), and author of They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate the Next Political Era (Simon & Schuster, 1996) and Why Americans Hate Politics (Simon & Schuster, 1991). Dionne is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a public policy research center in Washington, D.C. He was interviewed there in December by Sojourners editor Jim Wallis.

Jim Wallis: Is the use of the language of faith by political candidates appropriate or dangerous, good or bad, for public discourse?

E.J. Dionne: All of the above, depending on the context. In American history there has always been a significant amount of political talk that was also religious talk. The abolitionists were rooted in the Protestant-evangelical movements. The early progressives were rooted in the social gospel movement, to a very significant degree. It is new for our time and it makes a lot of people nervous—for some good reasons.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine March-April 2000
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Charitable Choice

The charitable choice provision of the 1996 federal welfare reform law makes Christian ministries and other faith-based organizations eligible for government funds to provide welfare services, without requiring them to form separate corporations or remove religious content from the services they offer. We asked two experts on charitable choice to explore the issues of church-state relations raised by the provision.—The Editors

Cooperation between government and religious organizations to serve the needy is not new. But previous federal rules for such cooperation were often so restrictive, uncertain, or arbitrary that many Christian ministries rejected federal dollars for fear of losing their spiritual mission. The charitable choice rules for federal welfare funds are designed specifically to address this fear by protecting the religious integrity of participating faith-based organizations.

Charitable choice is built on four principles. It

  • encourages state and local governments to use contracts or voucher arrangements to obtain services for welfare families from non-governmental organizations;
  • requires the governments not to exclude faith-based organizations from competing for funds because they are religious or too religious;
  • obligates the governments to respect the religious integrity of organizations that accept government funds to provide welfare services;
  • protects the right of the needy to receive help without religious coercion.

The charitable choice provision is a set of conditions on how the federal welfare block grant that each state receives can be used, not a separate fund designated for churches.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine July-August 1998
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Pages

Subscribe