Balancing act – Moral foundation

Faith can supply the moral foundation that social programs need, but data is lacking to assess how well faith-based programs work, a new report says.

“Sociological research shows that religious people are more generous in giving time and money even to secular organizations, for these people live in a community which values good works of any kind,” the Harvard Political Review says in the cover story of its Spring 2001 issue.

Just as religious leaders can’t or won’t always “foster wholesome political activity stripped of parochialism,” the magazine says, churches should not abandon their religious nature as they become politically active through social service.

So as government assesses groups getting taxpayer dollars based on tangible outcomes rather than their quality as religious organizations, the magazine says, politicians and religious leaders must “strike a careful balance between maximizing the churches’ potential for social service and watering them down by forcing them to become something they are not and cannot be: welfare agencies.”

The lack of data proving the effectiveness of faith-based programs “should temper our enthusiasm,” the magazine says.

“We don’t know whether these partnerships would encourage activism or extremism, community or exclusivity,” it says. “And yet at the same time we cannot allow uncertainty to paralyze us when a good policy option appears to come along.”

Data is needed to track empirical results against theoretical expectations and “gain insight into the complicated and interrelated sociological, theological and political dynamics of democracy in America,” it says.

For full story, go to HPRonline.

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