How the Faith-Based Initiative Enables Good Governance and Empowers Under Resourced Communities
Chelsea Langston Bombino and Jared Miller, March 30th, 2017
A continuation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, maintained under both the Bush and Obama administrations, would provide President Trump with the opportunity to be a catalyst for both community strengthening and cost-saving advancements in how government partners with civil society. The President’s clear goal is to increase innovation and efficiency in government, and a renewing of the faith-based initiative would go great lengths towards a realization of these aims, as well as sending a message that he genuinely cares about under resourced communities. Although approaches and degrees will vary greatly, both Democrats and Republicans have expressed support for creative and cost-saving government partnerships with civil society. This is an area where Trump could show a good faith effort to carry forth such bi-partisan goals by continuing the faith-based initiative.
The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, by coordinating with counterpart Faith-Based Centers in various federal agencies such as the DOL, DHS, USAID, DOJ, HHS, and others, empowers local faith-based and neighborhood organizations with innovative solutions and high levels of community trust to compete for government funding partnerships. Organizations such as these, whose vision and purpose are inherently tied to the needs of their communities, are often better equipped to understand the specific circumstances vital to local development. Innovative approaches to reaching communities on the ground often took the form of creative, non-financial partnerships under the Obama administration’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, including: “community efforts to recruit and train volunteers to serve in our nation’s public schools and the formation of jobs clubs by neighborhood organizations — clubs that provide job seekers with opportunities to network, get social media training, and to meet potential employers.”
The faith-based Office has helped to enable these local faith-based and secular nonprofits to better partner with government through targeted bottom-up solutions. For example, the Faith-Based Center at DHS has developed resources for congregations on how to build resilient communities through trauma-informed congregations. These congregations provide much needed restoration to their communities by: “recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma….[and] respond[ing] by integrating knowledge about trauma into everyday policy, practices, and procedures.”
If the faith-based initiative is not continued, President Trump loses a valuable opportunity to further demonstrate his serious commitment to smart and efficient government. The faith-based initiative ensures that faith-based and neighborhood groups have the ability to effectively vie for federal funding, which is crucial for the development of under resourced communities. Why? Research has shown that building the capacity of place-based initiatives is central to empowering local communities. According to place-based experts from The Center for the Study of Social Policy:
“Many communities face challenges of high poverty, unemployment, failing schools, and housing instability. These outcomes are influenced by unequal access to opportunity and decades of disinvestment in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty….Increasingly, funders and federal officials are focusing their investments on place-based efforts to improve outcomes for families.” By supporting the faith-based Office, President Trump would help empower placed-based nonprofits, both religious and secular, to build their capacities to navigate the process of competing for government partnerships. The Center for the Study of Social Policy affirms that “deepening organizational and leadership capacity’’ of place-based initiatives is an important component for “for successful and sustainable neighborhood transformation.”
The faith-based initiative can provide resources to place-based organizations already providing the best community-specific, solution-oriented and cost-effective programs with the know-how needed to compete for funding to continue the work they are already doing.
Continuing the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is not about religious organizations holding advantage over secular organizations; it is about ensuring that the organizations that are best able to serve the highly particular needs of diverse communities have an equal opportunity to compete for government partnerships, whether the groups are faith-based or secular, large or small. The faith-based initiative is worth continuing because it allows partnerships between government and civil society organizations, including faith-based groups, so that these distinct institutions can function in partnership with each other and better fulfill their distinct roles and responsibilities to promote the common good.Invaluable services such as homeless shelters, substance-treatment facilities, prisoner reentry programs, low-income housing, and others alike, should be delivered by the best provider irrespective of the religious identity or size of the organization.
The faith-based initiative can ensure both faith-based and secular organizations be considered equally for federal support. This is important because faith-based organizations bring something invaluable and distinct to the table: the recognition that we are not just physical beings in need of material goods and services, but that we are beings with souls in need of spiritual food. This sentiment was reflected in Obama’s Advisory Council report on Strengthening Efforts to Increase Opportunity and End Poverty:
“Government resources must therefore sow the seeds of community-based efforts to heal and unlock communities’ and individuals’ inner assets triggering and sustaining lasting external and internal transformations. We should remember that capital is not just financial; it is social, informational, experiential, spiritual, emotional, natural, and cultural.”
For example, last year, the Environmental Protection Agency turned to diverse communities of faith to help achieve its lofty aim of reducing food waste in the United States by 50% by the year 2030. The EPA’s initiative to engage individuals and groups of faith is called the “Food Steward’s Pledge.” The EPA’s website states: “Faith communities understand the need to care for the well-being of all people and responsible stewardship of our resources for both current and future generations.” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy demonstrated the distinctive capacities of faith groups, stating that in engaging faith-groups, the EPA is “tapping into incredibly motivated and dedicated people.” McCarthy further noted to NPR that food sustainability and waste reduction aligns with the central principles of an array of faith-based entities, “particularly helping the poor and feeding the hungry.”
Government’s role in promoting public justice requires it not to display any institutional bias when supporting under resourced communities. This is a key responsibility in exhibiting good governance: maintaining accountability to citizens by impartially protecting human dignity within a political community. By treating religious, secular, and other social service providers equally, not only are government funds being used justly, they are promoting a social responsibility that supersedes party politics, and prioritizes human flourishing.
As President Obama said of the faith-based initiative in 2009:
“This work is important, because whether it’s a secular group advising families facing foreclosure or faith-based groups providing job-training to those who need work, few are closer to what’s happening on our streets and in our neighborhoods than these organizations. People trust them. Communities rely on them. And we will help them.”
We pray that President Trump will see the value of the contributions of faith-based and placed-based groups, as Presidents Bush and Obama, despite their many other differences, have done, and that the President will make a commitment to continue this vital White House Office that empowers local communities by recognizing the importance of the diverse groups that serve them.