Few Churches Accept Public Funds, Survey Finds, But Bush Crusade Goes On

A new survey indicates that while most houses of worship in the United States provide social services, only a few are seeking government grants to fund them.

The study, “American Congregations and Social Service Programs,” was released by the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy at the State University of New York’s Rockefeller Institute of Government.

Written by John C. Green of the University of Akron, the study found that almost 70 percent of the houses of worship surveyed provide social services, but only 7 percent rely on government grants.

The survey found that marriage counseling is the most common form of social service offered, followed by food pantries, family counseling and services aimed at senior citizens.

The Bush administration has been aggressively pushing its “faith-based” initiative since 2001, but the survey found that most religious leaders knew little about it. Seventy-two percent said they were not very familiar with the concept of “charitable choice,” while 28 percent said they were at least somewhat familiar with it. Only 6.5 percent of respondents said they had attended a conference about charitable choice.

The report did find higher degrees of familiarity with the concept in black churches. Forty-two percent of them reported being familiar with charitable choice, and 24 percent said someone had attended a seminar about the topic.

Said Green, “Government grant activity is not tremendously important for congregations…even though they’re engaged in social services in a wide variety of areas.”

Nevertheless, the White House continues to push the initiative. In January, the Roundtable reported that the Bush administration has enacted “a series of administrative and structural changes that could have implications beyond the end of the Bush administration.”

While the initiative appears to be more low profile, there is apparently a lot going on behind the scenes.

“Some people assume the initiative is dead, but it’s not. There’s so much going on,” said Melissa Rogers, visiting professor of religion and public policy at Wake Forest Divinity School.

Rogers said Jay Hein, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives “has made it a priority to encourage state and local governments to carry out the initiative and to reinforce the staying power of the initiative beyond the life of the current administration.”