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Advancing The Salvation Army In A Faith-Based Environment

BY COMMISSIONER JOHN BUSBY, NATIONAL COMMANDER – 

In Good Faith

Throughout the history of mankind “faith” has played a critical role in personal development–spiritually, socially and materially. In times of tremendous doubt and challenge, men and women have drawn from their personal well of faith in order to advance a call, honor a passion, or fulfill a will to achieve.

Faith is mostly aligned with spiritual experience and theological thought, but it has played a tremendous role in the founding and development of this great nation. From the initial “faith-based” exploration of Christopher Columbus to the landing of the Pilgrims, to the subsequent passionate cause of our founding fathers, faith has served as a common element of resolve in each stage of our history. From the agony of Gettysburg to the historical events of Selma, Alabama, faith has been the bond that has allowed us to sustain and enhance a more perfect union.

“Charitable choice”

So it should come as no surprise to us that “faith” has become the foundation upon which President George W. Bush has decided to build his administration and engage its responses to the needs of people throughout the United States. And I should also point out to you that this is not a brand new idea, but the shape and scope of government collaboration with faith-based organizations has been undergoing a historic transformation. The legislative focal point for this attention has been “charitable choice.” “Charitable choice” is a term that refers to a specific legislative proposal first enacted by Congress in the 1996 federal welfare reform law.

Although the concept is often used loosely to refer to government funding of faith-based social service programs in general, in fact it refers more particularly to the new statutory conditions under which states may enter into funding relationships with religious organizations that provide social services using federal or state funds that originated with the enactment of the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) Program, replacing the old AFDC Program in 1996.

The new idea represented by “charitable choice” is not the involvement of faith communities in the social service arena, as many religious organizations have a history of involvement in such services, including The Salvation Army. Nor is government funding of religious social service providers in itself an innovation, as many organizations with a religious affiliation have long received government funds to carry out their work. So what is the new idea?

“Charitable choice” alters previous practice through new federal statutory language that specifically addresses the participation of religious providers. “Charitable choice” permits all faith-based organizations to compete for government social service funding, regardless of their religious nature. Thus “charitable choice” broadens the scope and extent of government financial collaboration with faith-based organizations. As stated earlier, this change is welcome to some but highly problematic to others. The legal, philosophical, and ethical dimensions of the change have generated substantial controversy.

While a faith-based initiative has captured the imagination of President Bush it has ignited the indignation of a very skeptical media. Even the non-profit sector “at-large” is listening with guarded caution. Many non-profits are expressing deep suspicion and fear regarding their own roles in such an environment and challenging the legalities of such a direction as it seems by some to be a blatant disregard for separation of church and state.

The faith-based community itself is deeply divided on the topic, questioning whether or not partnering with the government is good for the country or good for the devil. Many feel that any relationship with the government is nothing more than a willing compromise of spiritual values. For some it is a choice to be made between scriptural instruction and constitutional ideology.

Since the signing of the executive order to establish a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, the media wants to know what our position on partnering with the government will be; our soldiers are expressing opinions that span extreme left to extreme right; officers are inquiring as to what role we will take with the White House, some expecting us to get the Bush’s to visit their program settings and some advising us not to get in line behind Judas. I would imagine that many, if not all of you are also anxious to know exactly what our take is on this new mood in Washington? How involved will the Army become as one of the “armies of compassion?”

What I would like to do today is to have an open dialogue with you. I do not have any official policy statements. I do not have any constitutional wisdom or legal opinions on separation of church and state. I do not have any “inside” information that will give the Army immediate or exclusive access to the White House or to any new funding that may come along. What I do have is a general overview of what has happened to date, what I think is going on, and where I think there can be some tremendous ministry opportunities for The Salvation Army in the immediate future ­ provided the President’s plan fully materializes. I can also assure you that we are involved in the process and will continue to leverage every opportunity to keep the Army at the table. So here is what has happened to date . . . here is where I think it is going . . . and here is what I see as viable opportunities for The Salvation Army.

What Has Happened to Date?

Let me back up to a few days prior to the signing of the executive order. I received a phone call from the White House inviting me to the announcement of the establishment of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives along with the official signing of the executive orders making this a reality. Thirty-five representatives of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths along with leaders of community-based organizations met together for a 30-minute period of orientation prior to the arrival of the President. Steven Goldsmith, former mayor of Indianapolis, chaired this session, indicating that the effort that was being announced by the President sought to communicate the following five principles:

The establishment of this office was not a signal of government withdrawal from social services but forging a new level of partnership with those who are highly motivated to serve people.

That government is not the answer to all problems, but that there must be a working relationship with faith-based and community groups across the country working with government to help individuals in need.

The thought behind the establishment of the new office was not that government would favor religion, but rather signal that government was removing hostility to religion.

Individuals seeking need would be given a choice of both religious or secular service providers.

While the emphasis up until the point of announcement had been on faith-based organizations, the name of the office would clearly communicate that government would be working in a new way with both faith-based and community efforts.

Why is Bush committed?

In thinking about this historic moment and wondering why the President is so committed to this direction, I believe it has come out of the experiences of his own life. He has spoken publicly about the chaos and misery of his life and the battle with alcohol. It was the environment of a church and the love of a congregation that enabled him to overcome his own addictions and misery. It is only logical that as he thinks about the burdens that others carry he begins to relate to his own experience and determines that “if it would work for me, why can’t it work for others.”

It may very well be that as he began to formulate in his mind a strong social service policy for the country, it became apparent to him that more people could be served, and more people helped by using the existing networks of faith-based organizations, churches and congregations. It is simply a strategy of building upon success and utilizing a network of service providers who have been ignored prior to this point in time. And I believe that congregations become the key component in his mind.

One of the most encouraging and, I believe, brilliant strategies was in the second executive order signed by the President, which set up parallel centers to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in five cabinet-level agencies that operate social programs–the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, and Education. Each department was mandated to establish their own offices of Faith-Based Initiatives within 45 days of the executive order.

Within their respective agencies, each Center will coordinate efforts to eliminate regulatory, contracting, and other programmatic obstacles to the full participation of faith-based and community organizations in the provision of social services. The Centers will also work positively to create a hospitable environment for groups that have not traditionally collaborated with government, make sure that departmental communications and technical assistance efforts are opened to faith-based and community organizations, and implement special programs designed to showcase and pioneer innovative efforts.

The administration is also committed to helping states create their own versions of the new White House Office, and supports making Federal matching funds available to help states design and establish state-level offices to advance this empowerment agenda and assist social entrepreneurs across the country.

Where Is It All Going?

Since the public signing of the executive order in the White House, and as I have already suggested to you, the critics, prognosticators, doomsayers and network “talking heads” have all had their unique takes and spins on the new policy. There are many legitimate concerns and yet there remain many positive opportunities. As various members of the national headquarters staff have had opportunity to participate in coalition meetings, press conferences and to listen directly to John DiIulio, Stephen Goldsmith and Tommy Thompson, Secretary for Health and Human Services, there seems to be some confusion on immediate direction and differences in policy interpretation about the future.

It does seem, without being on the inside at all, that the pressures of debate and intense scrutiny from all sectors on the outside, that policy is being reshaped and refocused on a daily basis ­ or perhaps more accurately, the message that is being articulated about the program is being refined on a daily basis. I must emphasize, this is from a personal perspective taken from the other side of the Potomac River. However, I see no sign that the initiative is crumbling, but rather, taking on more definition and more shape. Here is where I think it is going.

The indispensable and transforming work of faith-based and other charitable service groups will continue to be encouraged by the White House and the five cabinet agencies. There has been and will continue to be a recognition that government cannot be replaced by charities, but it can and should welcome them as partners.

The paramount goal will be compassionate results, not compassionate intentions. John DiIulio, the appointed director of the White House Office has expressed in recent days that the “leaky bucket of money” will no longer pass from one government bureaucracy to another, but will be sealed up and passed “from the suites to the streets.” He indicates that funding will be given directly to charities and not to state, county and city governments. He also indicates strongly that outcome-based results must be measurable and will be audited vigorously. Successful programs will be rewarded, non productive programs will be denied continuous government funding.

Focus on three areas

The faith-based and community initiative offices in government are and will continue to focus upon three primary areas:

Eliminating federal barriers and expanding Charitable Choice. The administration is committed to a concerted effort to identify and remove needless barriers that thwart the effective work of faith-based groups. A key role in each level of the Centers of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives will be the elimination of those barriers and to expand the practical implementation of “charitable choice.”

Expanding Private Giving. This administration envisions stimulating charitable giving through innovative tax incentives. They are proposing a variety of tax code revisions that will encourage charitable giving for individuals and corporations. They also plan to create a Compassion Capital Fund created through private funds and matching federal funds. They are forecasting $700 million annually dedicated toward funding increased technical assistance to help the small community and faith-based charities increase their capacity, improve their competence and expand their programs. It will also provide start-up capital to enable smaller groups to expand or emulate model programs.

Pioneering a new model of coopertion and new models of service.
And this is where I see tremendous opportunity for The Salvation Army to advance its mission and ministry in the United States in the future.

The Salvation Army has a long and honorable commitment to assisting individuals, families, and communities who have not fully shared in America’s growing prosperity. Yet despite a multitude of programs and renewed commitments by the federal and state governments to battle social distress, all too many of our neighbors still suffer poverty and despair amidst our abundance. We are serving more than 33 million people annually in Corps, institutions, service centers and service extension offices in every zip code of this country.

But consider these statistics as presented by the White House:

As many as 15 million young people are at risk of not reaching productive adulthood–falling prey to crime, drugs and other problems that make it difficult to obtain an education, successfully enter the workforce, or otherwise contribute to society.

About 1.5 million children have a father or mother in prison.

Over half a million children are in foster care; more than one fifth of whom are awaiting adoption.

In 1997, more than one million babies were born to unwed mothers, many of them barely past their own teen years; and more than one out of six American families with children live on an annual income of $17,000 or less.

Millions of Americans are enslaved to drugs or alcohol. Hundreds of thousands of our precious citizens live on the streets. And despite the many successes of welfare reform, too many families remain dependent on welfare and many of those who have left the rolls can barely make ends meet.

To illustrate and expand the federal government’s faith-neutral social policy stance, several new federal programs will be initiated to test partnerships between the federal government and faith-based and grassroots groups to serve particular needs. These programs will pilot new approaches and new fields of collaboration. Programs will be results-oriented with systematic evaluation of outcomes and procedures.

Helping the Children of Prisoners
Federal competitive grants will be provided for services reaching the children of prisoners. People of faith and others can mentor and reach out to these children and help to heal broken families once prisoners are released.

Improving Inmate Rehabilitation.
A new pre-release pilot program for inmates nearing release will be launched. Federal funds will be made available on a competitive basis for faith-based pre-release programs at Federal facilities, to make sure inmates avoid old habits, old haunts and old friendships.

Support “Second Chance” Maternity Group Homes.
Funds will be provided to states for pilot maternity group homes. States will be authorized to make funds available either as certificates to individuals, or as competitive grants to providers, who will be able to use the funds to purchase or operate a facility.

More After School Opportunities.
Provide more after-school programs for low-income children. The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program will open 100% of its funding to competitive bidding including faith-based groups. Also, federal funds will be allocated to create community technology centers to help bridge the digital divide in poor neighborhoods. Finally, low-income parents will be provided certificates to help defray the costs of after-school programs, including faith-based programs.

Carefully listening over the past several days to President Bush, John DiIulio, Stephen Goldsmith and Health and Human Services Secretary, Tommy Thompson, it appears that the fundamental ground rules and strongest avenues to newly funded partnerships will be as follows:

Programs that respond innovatively to the targeted areas will get priority.

Programs that are developed in collaboration with faith-based and secular organizations, along with grass-roots congregations, appear to be the model they are looking for.

Programs that are designed to provide a continuum of progressive outcomes that integrate business partners who provide job skills and employment opportunities are high on the priority list.

Programs that are contracted will be highly audited for progressive success outcomes. We get the impression that program outcomes will be audited more strenuously than financial standards.

There are mixed readings about how they will handle church/state issues. One says that there will be no discrimination of any kind; another says faith-based organizations can discriminate in hiring practices, but not in any area that is protected by civil rights laws. There will be no discrimination in who is to be served.

No funds will be authorized for use to promote religion, doctrine or proselytizing.

Other than the new Compassion Capital Fund of approximately $700 million, there is no indication that the financial pie will get any bigger. It seems more likely that existing funds will be diverted to more focused and innovative programs. This means that some of us may get less funding for existing programs.

Competition from non faith-based organizations will become intense; and the mainline faith-based organizations who are funded through Government contracts are gearing up to protect their “turf.”

In Conclusion

Obviously we have entered a new era of opportunity in our long-standing relationship with the government. President Bush has delivered an unexpected challenge and each of us will need to determine how we can and how we want to respond. Some of you will choose to do nothing and that may be the most appropriate response for you.

I would caution you that government relationships are not for everyone; and certainly not for every Salvation Army unit. I would advise you not to chase the money. Do not pursue any alliance with the government that is motivated by an opportunity to relieve existing financial pressures. You should only pursue these opportunities if they provide an avenue to broaden or enhance the mission focused objectives of your particular community.

I would further encourage you in any exploration of social service ministry in your community to strategize an integrative link to the worshiping community of The Salvation Army. While we fully respect the non-proselytizing posture of these new initiatives, I believe there are a variety of effective ways to evangelize the last, the least and the lost. I would remind you that our mission is “to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to serve suffering humanity in his name, without discrimination.” While we are being given numerous opportunities to serve suffering humanity, do not deprive them of the healing power of the Gospel and the love of Jesus Christ.

Back on that day in January when President Bush finally walked into the room where we waited, he thanked each one of us for what we are doing and for joining him on that important day. He said, “We are here to make words become action. The promises of the campaign are now to take practical form.” He further stated that he believed in the power of faith by the changing of hearts, and wanted government to encourage social service entrepreneurs.

He was very clear to point out that he was not funding churches, but funding programs to help people. As a result of this, he knew there would be a legal challenge, but he quickly said, “We will win this and then get on with the work.” In one of the most moving parts of the meeting, the President said, “You can’t pay for praying. You can’t pay for love. You can’t pay for compassion to help others. We need faith-based and community groups to do that.” He followed that up by saying that it is his hope and belief that the country is on the verge of religious revival of all faiths and then added his own personal emphasis by expressing, “I know what it’s all about. I once was lost, but now I’m found.”

The USA is in very good hands. What a great time in our history to advance the cause and mission of The Salvation Army

(Note: the above speech was given in March 2001 at the National Community Relations & Development Conference held in St. Louis, MO.)

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