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PRISM

ClJaritable
~h01Ce

Simple pragmatism tells us this holistic approach


is essential. (The problem of poverty is simply too
big and too complex to be abandoned to anyone of
The
us, regardless of how good a job we might do.)
So, too, does classic Christian theology. The state,
the Bible insists, must not be an impartial referee in
the marketplace, but an advocate in it-an activist
that aggressively seeks out justice for the oppressed,
Safety Net:
the marginalized, the needy, and that shapes the
rules to ensure equal opportunity and the "release People, Not
of the captives:'
The third temptation is related to the second.
As the government becomes a benefactor to FBOs,
we may find ourselves hesitant to speak on behalf of
Greenbacks
those we serve. In our desire to empower the needy
through our programs, a perverse funding equation BY TODD SVANOE
may tempt us to silence when the President or
Congress acts against their better interests. It will
take immense willpower, but we must be diligent to
ensure that Charitable Choice never becomes a
means by which the prophetic voice of the church is
silenced, even if it costs us our funding.
I believe the ultimate test for faith communities of the U.S. Congress when it revamped the
in this new era of Charitable Choice will be our abil- BASIC
social TO THEsystem
welfare GOVERNMENTAL
in 1996 was theGAMBLE
assump-
ity to adopt a model of neighborliness that insists on tion that people of faith and good will would step in
justice and peace for the poor as well as simple to create a new social and economic safety net.
"concern" or charity. The faith community has much That expectation is formalized in the establishment
to offer our culture as we seek to eliminate poverty of the Bush administration's Office of Faith-based
in the United States and around the world. Organizations (FBOs) and Community Initiatives,
Charitable Choice gives us the opportunity to lead, and FBOs are responding in record numbers.
both in the debate and on the ground. Pray we do
so faithfully .• Who's jumping on the bandwagon?
In 1999, Dr. Amy Sherman of the Hudson Institute
Dwight Ozard is the executive director of the reported 125 new church-state collaborations in
Evangelical Association for the Promotion of only nine states, many of them evangelical.
Education/Tony Campolo Ministries. More recently, an Independent Sector study indi-
cated that 92 percent of the 353,000 religious con-
gregations in the U.S. provide human services such
as day-care centers, food pantries and drug recovery
For more on Charitable programs, and that the demand for such programs
was increasing. Moreover, 41 percent of those con-
Choice, see "In Good gregations have added social programs since 1996.
Yet scale says nothing of quality, and upstart
Faith" on page 32. ministries may be headed for trouble, according to
The "In Good Faith" report Joy Skjegstad, author of a study of leaders from 50
churches and faith-based non-profits, who trains
can be downloaded in FBO leaders. Watching the struggle of pastors and
faith leaders over the years to adjust from pulpit to
PDF format from the pavement, she says she's seen great vision, great tal-
ent and great pain.
Pew Forum on Religion
and Public Life website: A ministry add-on or a second career?
Numerous faith leaders have "tremendous ministry
http://pewforum.org/press/rel skills, are full of the zeal of the Lord, and are willing
to make the sacrifices necessary to make their mis-
eas es/022701.php3 sions work;' but do not see the "20 steps" necessary
to establish a day care, an AIDS ministry or a pris-

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PRISM

hour curriculum addresses an area of organizational


capacity necessary to the success of faith-based pio-
neers. The last session introduces funders.
An FBO that is ill-prepared to use and effectively
manage funding could be a disaster, says Skjegstad.
"We need to build their capacity before we pump a
lot of money into them:'

Are you a Paul or a Barnabas?


Dr. Amy Sherman's phone has been ringing off the
hook with calls from evangelical leaders seeking
guidance, she says. A senior research fellow at the
Welfare Policy Center of the Hudson Institute,
Sherman studies, visits and talks to hundreds of
FBOs each year. She profiles seven model FBOs in
her book Restorers of Hope (Crossway, 1997).
Sherman is encouraged by the promise of new
faith-based ministries, but she warns of a frenetic
rush among leaders or funders who have not assessed
the field. "Everyone gravitates toward the Apostle
One of 180 students oner rehabilitation program, says Skjegstad. Paul frontline, storefront ministry, but what we need
is helped in "We work with people who are extremely visionary," is more Barnabases. A Barnabas trains, encourages
Urban Ventures she says. They have a picture of what their sports and comes alongside faith-based leaders:'
Learning Lab. program will look like, which gang members will turn TURN is one example of that, she says. The
their lives around or what color a renovated home Center for Renewal in Houston and B.A.S.LC.S. in
will be. "It's amazing and very inspiring, but hard:' Milwaukee are others. But individual Barnabases
Pastors often have dreams larger than their job are needed as well, who, instead of starting a new
descriptions, says Skjegstad, pictures of ministry that FBO, play support roles to strengthen existing ones.
would take them beyond their church walls. The "Barnabas ministries (or individuals) ask, 'What
idea of fulfilling those dreams through an affiliated do you need?'" says Sherman. It may be business
but distinct ministry is enticing. "But they often expertise, but it may be a van or a facility, mentors
don't know a thing about grant-writing, legally estab- or tutors, or someone who can swing a hammer or
lishing a nonprofit, human resources or setting up fix a computer.
an effective governing board:' There is a need for discernment, she says. The
Former youth pastor Art Erickson has learned the question for potential FBO leaders is, "Am I a Paul
hard way. A vision to create a successful urban or a Barnabas?"
community for youth and their families led him out
of church ministry and into vast and untried territory. The public barrier to faith is falling
Despite painful staff turnover and a steep learning FBOs come in all shapes, sizes and locations, from
curve over eight years, Erickson's Urban Ventures, church-affiliated to independent, from large to small,
now with a staff of 23, has transformed a wasteland from urban to rural and everything in betvveen. Their
formerly known as "Crack Alley" in south Minneapolis mission may be one of bricks and mortar, like that of
into a family haven, with two soccer fields, a Habitat for Humanity, or of transforming addictive
computer Learning Lab, a Center for Fathering, behaviors, like that of Teen Challenge.
Bible study and discipleship, and a free clothing Until recently, what it could not be, and still
and furniture store. receive secular funding, was evangelical, says Robert
Yet Erickson is the exception. "In the 35 years Woodson, president of the National Center for
I've been here, I've counted 62 church leaders who Neighborhood Enterprise. Yet there is "undeniable"
have abandoned their posts in the city," he says. and "overwhelming" evidence that "the vast majority"
The field of urban ministry, where many faith-based of the most effective social delivery systems are those
initiatives are attempted, is scattered with vaporized which combine community revitalization and per-
visions and deflated dreams. sonal transformation pioneered by evangelical com-
That's why Skjegstad created "Vision to Reality," munity elders, says Woodson, who profiles numer-
an eight-week training program for leaders of FBOs, ous FBOs in The Triumphs of Joseph (Free Press,
sponsored by TURNNision Twin Cities and the 1998). Still, society has not accepted social change
Center for Nonprofit Management at the University through "the transforming power of Christ:'
of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. Each class in the 50- Woodson, along with William Schambra of the

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PRISM

C1Jnritable
~h01Ce
Bradley Foundation who writes the epilogue, said he It's about you and me
was not a "deeply religious" person when he began The root of the problem with traditional welfare
to encounter these faith leaders. "I don't understand entitlements, wrote Marvin Olasky in his book The
how an FBO can reach into the heart of the most Tragedy of American Compassion, was that giving
severely damaged individual and transform him," became impersonal, indiscriminate and both geo-
writes Woodson. graphically and empathetically distant.
But he's listened to hundreds of testimonies, from In short, welfare reform sought to localize charity,
Native American reservations to Hispanic barrios, where greater accountability, discretion and personal
he says. "What they told me was that faith works:' involvement are possible between giver and recipient.
"We should embrace and pursue this evidence By extension, the success of an FBO will be propor-
with the same hope and vigor with which we pursue tionate to its ability to facilitate and nurture personal
breakthroughs in the arenas of medicine or technol- relationships.
ogy," where the promise of cures to cancer or AIDS, "The single most important thing that an individ-
for example, elicits tremendous financial investment, ual needs to move out of poverty is a supportive,
he says. caring friend," says Sherman. "I've interviewed one
If these embers of social and spiritual renewal welfare-to-work success story after another. When I
can be fanned through public and private funding, ask for the reason for their success, so often it comes
says Woodson, "the flames of revitalization will down to that: 'I needed a friend.'''
become a brushfire that will sweep across the The time is right for communities of faith to
nation, bringing life and hope where there is now mobilize, says Skjegstad. "We hear suburban
only cynicism, confusion and despair." churches saying, 'We don't want to just sit out here
Yet the push for funding, whether public or and write checks anymore. We want to be in rela-
private, may put the cart before the horse. For the tionship. We want to better understand poverty.'''
safety net is not made of greenbacks, but people. There's no better way to do that than to get
involved, says vVoodson. There have been enough
Safety nets need personal touch "failure studies" conducted and body-bag news
Skjegstad, Sherman and Woodson agree that ulti- reports written about those in need.
mately, the key to creating an effective new social In the words of Mother Theresa, "It is fashion- Hundreds of kids
safety net is not government openness to FBOs, their able to talk about the poor. Unfortunately, it is not play soccer on
organizational capacity, or private financing. It's the fashionable to talk with them:' But only an intimate Kix Field, built
willingness of thousands of average citizens to invest and mutually satisfying relationship with the needy over dump land in
in new, fruitful and satisfying relationships. can truly make a difference .• south Minneapolis,
George McNeal's experience illustrates this. fulfilling a dream
Were he still on traditional welfare, McNeal would Todd Svanoe is an urban publicist who is on a mission of former youth
today likely be on the street, in a Milwaukee shelter to raise public awareness of creative, effective and pastor and Urban
or in prison, out-of-sight and out-of-mind. Instead, replicable faith-based initiatives. He can be reached Venture president
McNeal was hired out of welfare by the Electronic at storycraftl@yahoo.com. Art Erickson.
Printing Systems, Ine. There he became one of a tight
group of co-workers, someone to stand by in times
of trouble. Employees saw the connection between
McNeal's home stability and work reliability, so they
paid his security deposit, helped him move into an
apartment and picked him up for work each day.
Inspired by this solidarity among his workers,
business owner Bob Kraft stepped in when McNeal
was thrown into prison on charges McNeal claimed
were false. Kraft paid his rent during the imprison-
ment, traveled to Washington, D.C. to testify on his
behalf, hired a lawyer to investigate his case, put
him up in a hotel after he was released and flew him
home to put him back on the payroll.
When stories such as these are brought to light,
says Woodson, we will begin to see that America
has a "natural immune system" that has long gone
untapped. Then, "we will begin to seek [FBOs] out
as a source of healing and a balm for our [nation's]
most critical wounds:'

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