A project by the Republican Study Committee
Living in a country without Faith
What would a portrait of America look like, if we were a nation without faith? On a cold winter night, would there be enough warm beds to shelter the men, women, and children suffering from homelessness? Would cities struggle to rebuild following natural disasters: would houses remain leveled, would residents be able to return? Who would feed the hungry? Would there be enough warm clothing for children living in poverty? Would America be able to do enough, be enough, provide enough for her people in need? Would Americans still give, if their Churches, Temples, or Mosques did not? Would the government be able to step in to pick up where congregations left off?
What is the value of faith in America, and where might she be if that faith simply was not there?
There are an estimated 350,000 congregations in the United States spanning hundreds of religions, each with their own unique belief systems, their own traditions, and their own priorities. Studies have shown the vast majority of congregations serve in some capacity as a community safety net for those in need, providing services ranging from food and shelter, to counseling and daycare. Coupled with America’s congregations are the nation’s faith-based organizations, which annually provide an estimated $20 billion of privately donated funds for social services, benefiting over 70 million Americans each year. Though exact calculations vary, it is clear that places of worship and faith-based organizations step up to provide vital resources to those in need in ways our government does not and cannot.
Congress is in a unique position to ensure that federal policy does not hinder facilitating this assistance to Americans. By doing so, Congress can be part of a system that will help people to lift themselves out of poverty, ensure quality access to health and medical care, and provide aid in times of hardship. Congressional assistance is not provided through major spending programs, but through interaction of individual Members with their communities to identify where specific relief and legislative policy changes may be needed, and by encouraging and enabling communities to help their fellow man in ways the federal government cannot. House Speaker Paul Ryan has made it a priority to address poverty in America, encouraging members and presidential candidates to formulate real solutions that could help up to 45 million Americans. To further address this issue, Speaker Ryan has created a legislative task force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility, to encourage and help American families move off of welfare and into the working community.
The House Republican Study Committee’s Empowerment Initiative aims to address issues pertaining to hunger, housing, and poverty plaguing American families. The member-driven task force is focused on combating poverty and reforming the welfare system to promote opportunity and empower individuals, families, and communities. In April 2016, the RSC Empowerment Initiative released a comprehensive anti-poverty agenda that included reforms to promote work, eliminate marriage penalties, and emphasize opportunity and upward mobility in education programs. Many of these policies were echoed in the blueprint Speaker Paul Ryan’s Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity and Upward Mobility unveiled in June.
The RSC recognizes that the welfare programs created by the federal government decades ago have done little to actually address the root causes of poverty and the lack of upward mobility. The current welfare system entices people to become dependent on government and behave in ways that keep them there. Instead of fostering the conditions that allow individuals to escape poverty, these programs focus on temporarily alleviating its material symptoms. While some defend this failed and outdated system, many believe that throwing money at a problem without actually fixing it is not an act of compassion. Compassion means helping individuals escape from poverty and climb the ladder of opportunity. That requires pursuing the reforms we know will work. Engaging with civil society and organizations on ways people can, and do, help their fellow man is an integral part of this effort.
Members of the RSC have put forward a number of policy proposals to reduce poverty in ways that could involve faith-based organizations. For example, new ideas such as Social Impact Bonds would promote public-private partnerships where non-governmental service providers would be reimbursed by government only for successful anti-poverty outcomes. Faith-based housing programs have been held out as an example of successful programs that assist recovering drug and alcohol abusers. School choice proposals that have been sponsored by RSC members would make it more affordable for families to opt out of failing public school systems and instead attend faith-based private schools. The House Budget Committee has proposed an Opportunity Grant program, where states would be provided federal funds to partner with local service providers that would act as case managers for individual beneficiaries, helping them achieve their goals in a holistic way.
Of course, no amount of government intervention can replace the greatest drivers of American life: our families, friends, neighbors, religious institutions, and charities. These institutions, which operate between the isolated individual and government, make up our communities and enable people to thrive and grow. Rather than burdening civil society by hamstringing faith-based non-profits, we must empower it.
Further, Members of the RSC have introduced legislation, including the First Amendment Defense Act, which recognizes the unique status churches and faith-based organizations hold in their communities. This bill would ensure that these groups retain their tax status and would prevent discrimination of our religious institutions and faith-based organizations because of their sincerely held religious beliefs, so that they can continue to serve their communities through religious and social services. Identifying the services these groups already provide can give valuable insight to Members and their constituents as Congress continues to consider policies like the First Amendment Defense Act.
Policy organizations and think tanks have also recognized that faith-based organizations have lessons to teach legislators about how to address poverty and work. A central lesson is that faith-based service providers do not look at the poor as a statistic - as government often does - but these organizations take a whole-person approach to helping those in need. Success for faith-based organizations is not measured by how many people can be kept dependent on a welfare program, but by how many people can be moved off of assistance and into self-sufficiency and earned success. Outside organizations have also discussed how the current welfare programs discourage marriage, an institution important to many faith organizations.
It is no secret that federal spending in Washington is out of control. Helping people should not be hamstrung by the inability of Congress to balance a budget and reduce our deficit. People at home and abroad are in need of assistance and compassion, and they are in need now. With over 80 federal programs already in place geared at providing federal welfare benefits to those in poverty at a cost of roughly $1 trillion per year, the government is overspending, but underperforming, and Americans continue to suffer. Washington is often so out of touch with the realities facing the poor, and federal bureaucrats are frequently not in the best position to help those truly in need. Understanding the efforts of our faith-based community gives us a more complete picture of how to best support those in need in America and throughout the world, and it provides revealing anecdotes of individual lives that are changed for the better.
This project, America Without Faith, aims to shine a spotlight on this essential knowledge base for Members of Congress and the American public. Faith-based organizations are already the groups running some of our most successful homeless shelters, soup kitchens, disaster relief missions, and orphanages at home and abroad. Upon a candid review, we might find that helping to break the cycle of poverty is a task better handled by these private religious organizations, rather than by government leviathan bogged down by failed solutions.
Billion in Privately Donated Funds
Million Americans Served
Representative Doug Lamborn (CO-05)
Congressman Lamborn describes the charitable work performed by faith-based organizations in Colorado.
My hometown of Colorado Springs, CO, is home to hundreds of churches and religious non-profits.
These organizations do more than just provide services for Colorado residents to attend on Sunday. They also reach out and provide bridges of friendship in our communities, and they bring relief to those most in need.
Across the globe, men, women, and children live in unimaginable poverty, without access to clean water, healthful foods, or warm clothing. Diseases ravage nations without access to adequate medical facilities or basic healthcare. Many lack the sanitation services needed to stop normally preventable, treatable illnesses from striking their communities. Natural disasters are worldwide phenomena.
Representative Diane Black (TN-6)
For more than half of Tennesseans, faith communities are an important part of life, and for the 16 percent of Tennesseans who live in poverty, these churches, ministries, and faith-based charities can be a rescue in times of need. There are many organizations worthy of recognition, but there is one story of a faith-based automotive ministry group in Wilson County, Tennessee that offers a unique service to the community.
Representative Bill Flores (TX-17)
Imagine having all of your freedoms taken away, being forced to work against your will and constantly living under the threat of violence — in short, being forced to live as a slave. Sadly, this situation is a reality for millions of children, women, and men each year as part of the global human trafficking industry.
Representative Brad Wenstrup (OH-2)
Congregations and faith-based organizations coordinate valuable local services aimed at lifting Americans out of poverty—ensuring they have clothes on their backs, food in their stomachs, and warm places to sleep at night. One welfare-to-work study of Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, and Philadelphia found that 35% of the non-profit programs were faith-based in nature.
Early in the morning of August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina made landfall between Grand Isle, Louisiana and the mouth of the Mississippi. The category 3 storm hit the coast with 127 mile per hour winds and an endless downpour of rain. Areas in southern Mississippi and Louisiana were swiftly underwater as the torrential rain and wind pushed ever more water inland.
Philadelphia has one of the densest concentrations of houses of worship in urban America, with an estimated 2,095 congregations. Roughly 88% of these congregations provide at least one social service to their community. A 2001 study from the University of Pennsylvania found that on average, a Philadelphia congregation provides 2.41 programs to their community, resulting in service to 102 people per congregation, per month.
Representative Andy Biggs (AZ-05)
Though the words faith and religion do not have one generally accepted definition, cities in the East Valley of the Sun (Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler, and Queen Creek) have the definition characterized by James; “to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction.”