critique of Texas faith-based initiative

colist at colist at
Tue Sep 9 21:03:19 CDT 2003

[ed:  Michael adds another perspective to the discussion.]

From: Michael Givel <mgivel at>

I have to disagree with the notion that there is *no* connection 
between faith-based community organizing and social services. 
Houses of worship have historically been involved in both 
independent community organizing *and* the provision of social 

Many scholars agree that there would have not been an effective 
Civil Rights movement without the independent involvement of 
African American churches. Now what would have happened to 
such a movement if African-American churches, say in Missisippi, 
were the recipients of significant government social service grant 
dollars from Mississippi?  The potential for political co-optation or 
at a minimum political retribution would have been very real. 

Since 1996, the funding of houses of worship was championed in 
the so called federal welfare reform bill.  It is now being advocated 
on a much larger scale.  This raises the serious question of how 
much political independence houses of worship will have in 
independent political community organizing.

The late Saul Alinsky was strongly opposed to the funding of 
community organizing by government. Yet, that is what happened 
during the War on Poverty in the 1960s and many now argue 
(myself included) that government funded Community Action 
Agencies, starting in 1967, were considerably toned down politically 
due to a reaction of affected powerful interests.

Moreover, government funding and grants for community 
organizing and community education sometimes or even frequently 
occurs with the provision of social services. This could occur, for 
example, through such programs as community education of 
substance abuse, Ameri-Corps/VISTA efforts, community outreach 
for weatherization, etc. It could also occur with requirements of 
grants for community participation in programs through such 
avenues as advisory boards. 

Now, of course, there are many community organizing efforts that 
are independent of such social service grants.

Nevertheless, will the warning of the Texas experience possibly 
play a role in these above sorts of activities? I think the possibility 
is high.

> From: Rob Kleidman <r.kleidman at>
> Rich Wood is right. There's no real connection between faith- 
> based organizing and Bush's faith-based initiatives, except the 
> obvious ones of terminology and some connection to organized 
> religion. But to avoid confusion between the two, I've started calling 
> the former "congregation-based organizing." As Rich and others 
> have written, there are also other terms in use, such as IAF's 
> preferred "broad-based organizing". 
> Rob Kleidman
> > .
> > [ed:  Richard emphasizes the difference faith-based community 
> > organizing and the Bush faith-based social service approach.]
> > 
> > From: Richard L Wood <rlwood at>
> > 
> > I've not read the critique yet, but just in response to Randy's 
> > editorial note below: Yes, let's think about possible implications for 
> > faith-based community organizing, but also recognize just how 
> > sharply different the Bush faith-based initiative and the model of 
> > faith-based community organizing are -- really different universes.  
> > 
> > But I do look forward to reading the critique, when I swim out from
> > start-of-semester craziness. Rich Wood, Univ of New Mexico
> > 
> > 
> > > .
> > > [ed:  I welcome discussion on the report cited below, as well as the 
> > > broader issues raised by it.  While the report does not focus 
> > > specifically on faith-based organizing (the focus is social services), 
> > > there may be some implications for community organizing.]
> > > 
> > > From: Michael Givel <mgivel at>
> > > 
> > > The Texas Freedom Network has issued a report on the five year 
> > > track record of Faith Based Initiatives in Texas.  Before jumping 
> > > into this form of community organizing, if you have not looked at 
> > > this, you might want to read about and consider the possible pitfalls 
> > > associated with mixing government funding with religion.
> > > 
> > > Michael Givel
> > > 
> > >
> > > 
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