What would America look like, if we were a nation without Faith?

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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

In the Sunshine of Faith: East Valley Cities in the Valley of the Sun

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.”

In Gilbert, Arizona, one community church’s social contributions include an adoption assistance program, to provide financial support to the families in church during the adoption process. This program also provides support to other organizations, including those that provide clothing for orphans and Christmas presents for children in need. The church operates a care center, to provide supplemental food and clothing to those in need regardless of age, race, religion, or national origin. This program is supported by several organizations, including six local churches and Gilbert Schools.

In Chandler, Arizona, one ministry program through a Christian fellowship gives away on average, roughly 60 - 70 lbs. of food to about 90 families. Elsewhere in chandler, an interfaith organization operates an emergency lodging program for homeless individuals that is supported by 18 churches.1 The program, in its third year of operation, actively responds when temperatures approach 120 degrees, by taking up to 30 guests per night.2 As of 2016, the program has provided:3

Bednights: 7774
Number of Participants/Guests: 391
Number of clients enrolled in case management: 228
Number receiving employment: 85
Number who gained housing: 58
Number of Volunteers: 4318
Volunteer hours: 12967

In Mesa, one faith-based regional initiative brings nonprofit, business, education and government leaders together to maximize resources and efforts while working for systemic solutions in human services germane to federal, state and local legislation, policies and appropriations. The community issues that are being considered if proposed budget cuts were enacted include: behavioral health and substance abuse, homelessness and rmergency housing, veterans, and community impact.

Also in Mesa, one faith-based food bank collaborates with a network of more than 200 organizations and churches to distribute food to hungry people in the greater East Valley. For every $1 donated, the food bank can distribute four meals to hungry people.4

Each year, about 40 percent of the food produced for people to eat in the United States goes to waste. This collaborative faith-based food bank is working to get some of that food into the hands of those who need it and is designed to recover a variety of nutritious foods from local grocery stores for food pantries and meal programs.

1. Evident Life Church's Social Contributions
2. Evident Life Church's Social Contributions
3. Evident Life Church's Social Contributions
4. Evident Life Church's Social Contributions

Shelter Through Coalitions

Representative Jack Bergman (MI-01)

In the Marquette, Michigan area, an interfaith coalition of churches shares the mission of providing support and shelter for the homeless. This coalition operates a rotating shelter, moving weekly to one of twelve different host churches. The shelter is run and staffed by volunteers and funded by contributions from the community. The underlying goal of the shelter is to provide an opportunity for guests to focus on life transitions without the worry of finding food and shelter.

Since its 2007 founding, the shelter has served 1,100 unique homeless residents, providing 27,000 bed nights and 100,000 meals.1 The shelter, which is open every night from September through May accommodates 18-20 guests per night.2 Each night the guests have a warm, safe place to sleep, and every morning, through a linked program, residents are provided with a hot meal, shower, and social worker assistance with housing, employment, health care, etc.

Since 2015, in coordination with local agencies that also serve homeless residents, 40 guests have been helped to move into their own housing.3

The interfaith coalition also operates a center which provides breakfast and lunch daily, year around, serving 2,000 meals each month.4 Suppers are provided by the hosting church volunteers. Both interfaith coalition programs are operated 100% through community donations and manned by approximately 14,000 volunteer hours per year.5

The collaboration among individuals and organizations serving the needy of the area is beyond imagination.

1. Interview with Douglas Russell, CEO of the Room at the Inn
2. Interview with Douglas Russell, CEO of the Room at the Inn
3. Interview with Douglas Russell, CEO of the Room at the Inn
4. Interview with Douglas Russell, CEO of the Room at the Inn
5. Interview with Douglas Russell, CEO of the Room at the Inn

Faith in the Heartland: Feeding Northeast Indiana

Representative Jim Banks (IN-03)

Despite being a region known for hard work and a robust agricultural footprint, northeast Indiana is no stranger to poverty or hunger. The poverty rate is an estimated 12.2%,1 affecting the health and livelihood of almost 96,000 people each year.2 Furthermore, approximately 90,000 people in Fort Wayne and its surrounding counties are considered food insecure.3 To address these needs, two community churches and a community food bank, who partners with local faith-based organizations, constantly assess, collaborate on, and give charity to the hunger needs of this close-knit community.

In Fort Wayne, the Catholic community of Fort Wayne-South Bend and the First Presbyterian community both provide a specialized array of services tailored to mitigate hunger and poverty. Specifically, each month, members of the First Presbyterian community collect food for emergency food banks around the Third Congressional District and provides volunteer-cooked meals to the local rescue mission.

One faith-based food bank in northeast Indiana also significantly contributes to this effort, working closely with faith-based groups to operate soups kitchens, food pantries, youth food programs, and homeless shelters for children, families, and veterans in need across nine counties. In 2016 alone, the food bank fed an average of 750 families a week,4 totaling an estimated 11.7 million pounds and 9.7 million meals to those in need.5

Thanks to the help and sacrifices made by an army of faith-based volunteers and employees around the Third District, fewer struggling families wake up hungry or worrying about where their next meal will come from. By providing hope to a community that is critical to the nation’s agricultural and manufacturing industries, northeast Indiana continues to shine because of faith-based organizations that are willing to roll up their sleeves.

1. Catholic Charities Factsheet
2. Legal Services Corporation Factsheet
3. http://www.communityharvest.org/chfb-facts/
4. http://www.communityharvest.org/saturday-helping-hands-distribution/
5. Community Harvest Food Bank Factsheet

A World Without Faith is a World Without Hope

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.

For example, one rescue mission in the Pikes Peak Region provides basic food and shelter for those in need. They also connect all people — regardless of circumstances — with experts to help with job training and rehabilitation.1

In 2016 alone, the rescue mission distributed nearly 300,000 meals, provided a place of refuge for a collective 27,000 nights, and performed over 46,000 hours of job training and counseling. 2

As elected officials, we look at statistics and trends. We analyze numbers and spreadsheets, trying to find a solution that will help as many people as possible. But it is the people on the ground who really make a difference in individual people’s lives. Church members and charity organizers know the people they serve. They know their names. They shake their hands. They talk to them face to face, and they can ask questions and work one-on-one to bring people out of poverty.

It is my hope that our government will get out of the way and let faith-based organizations continue to do their work. When religious groups have freedom to make their own decisions without government interference, they bless the lives of individuals and families in our communities. They do more than provide food or shelter — what they really provide is hope.

1. https://www.springsrescuemission.org/
2. https://www.springsrescuemission.org/

Faith in Hunger: Rural Missouri

Representative Vicky Hartzler (MO-4)

In Missouri last year about 14 percent of the population utilized the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the government’s most extensive anti-hunger program. The federal government issued over $1.2 billion in SNAP benefits to almost 850,000 Missourians in 2015 – around $125 per month per person. Yet, as beneficial as this program continues to be, food insecurity rates in Missouri have been rising over the last 10 years. In 2015, Missouri was rated as the tenth most food insecure state in the nation, meaning only nine states had more difficulty accessing a steady stream of food.

Randolph County, a county of roughly 25,000 people in central Missouri, is considered relatively "secure" compared to the rest of the state. Almost 1 out of every 5 people in the county - 4,240 people - are food insecure. Only a little over half of those, 54 percent, are eligible for SNAP benefits. That's almost 2,000 neighbors, friends, and relatives who are not eligible. Are they left to go hungry? No.

One of six food banks in Missouri, works with over 130 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other agencies in a 32-county area to ensure food gets into the hands of those who need it most. Nearly half of these organizations are faith-based groups looking to help their local communities. Supported by the selflessness of thousands of volunteers, contributors, and by county ministerial alliances, these organizations foster hope and encouragement among Missouri communities.

In Moberly, a small town of about 14,000, but the largest in Randolph County, one such organization provides food to 1,800 families in the area each month. In 2015, it distributed over 425,000 pounds of food to families in need. Another food pantry in Moberly, in 2015 distributed more than 672,000 pounds of food to area residents in need of food.

This is a small snapshot of a small town in a small rural county in central Missouri. Faith-based organizations like these can be found all across the country. A nationwide network of food banks operates over 58,000 food programs through the work of over 46,000 agencies. Of those agencies, 62 percent are faith-based organizations.

More than half of the 46.5 million people served by these food banks each year are also receiving SNAP benefits, but they must also rely on the generosity, selflessness, and faith of the religious non-profits of the world. What does America look like without faith? Hungry.

Faith in Awareness: Waco

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.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, it is estimated there are more than 20 million victims of human trafficking worldwide today. As many as 17,500 people are believed to be trafficked as a commodity into the U.S. annually. When you stop and think about these numbers as a whole, it shows that more people are being forced into slavery today than at any time in human history.

Human trafficking victims are lured by traffickers under false promises of jobs and better lives; and then are forced or coerced into prostitution, domestic servitude, or other types of forced labor. Having one person be subjected to this treatment is one person too many, let alone the millions who suffer this treatment each day across the world.

Human trafficking has been documented in almost every state and Texas is no exception. One of the hubs of human trafficking in our state is in Waco, TX. Its central location on I-35 and a large number of runaway minors contribute to the region’s levels of human trafficking. According to a federal grant study, the City of Waco alone encountered 84 cases of human trafficking in 2015, more than triple the number in just a year prior.

Fortunately, our community acted early to proactively deal with this human tragedy in three ways—deterrence, recovery, and education.

With respect to deterrence, our Sheriff’s Department set up effective sting operations to deter the promoters and users of human trafficking victims. In addition, the Sheriff’s trafficking task force deals with trafficked persons as victims, rather than as criminals engaged in prostitution.

Started in 2012, with the help of a local Christian church, one Texas faith-based organization is working to promote the recovery of the victims of human trafficking and to educate our community to identify and prevent trafficking. This organization’s goal is to bring an end to human trafficking in our community. In just three years, law enforcement concluded that human trafficking cases rose dramatically, yet before its inception, many in our community were unware of the problem growing in our backyard. This Texas non-profit, supported by a local Christian church, has brought a bright light to this human rights issue that was largely unknown. The organization focuses on three different areas in combatting human trafficking: prevention, professional training, and survivor advocacy. In total, they have reached over 600 youth, educated over 2,000 community members and trained 609 volunteers and professionals.

Additionally, over 30 other nongovernmental organizations form a Texas human trafficking coalition and come together for quarterly meetings to discuss the progress being made in Central Texas.4 The Coalition recently announced it is one of seven projects nationwide selected for the U.S. Department of Justice grant award of $1.5 million for the development of a human trafficking task force. The funding will allow the Coalition to expand its role, representing five counties and incorporating 50 area agencies on local, state, and federal levels.

Human trafficking exists in Central Texas. It is thriving in a country that prides itself on its human rights record. Without faith-based organizations like those in Waco bringing light to the issue, we cannot take the first step to win this fight – a fight that must be won. We must continue to work to empower faith-based organizations so we can finally put an end to this form of modern day slavery.

Faith in Opportunity: Lockland, Ohio

Representative Brad Wenstrup (OH-2)

In Lockland, Ohio, 82 percent of students live in poverty, and the median family income is the lowest in the Greater Cincinnati area. During the summer months when school is out of session, daytime supervision, meals, and educational opportunities for children are in short supply (and sadly drug dealers are not). In 2010, a local Presbyterian church, with the help of the local community and other Presbyterian churches, organized a ten-week free summer program for the children who live in Lockland and surrounding communities. This program offers free classes in Reading, Writing, Math, Character Education, Art, Nutrition, and Physical Fitness; a free breakfast and lunch; field trips; and, perhaps most importantly, a safe learning environment where children have the opportunity to grow as people of faith and make the most of their God-given talents. The children range in age from age three through age 18.

During the seven years, the program has grown, now reaching 150 children and youth. Each summer, the church has expanded and deepened the enrichment opportunities: parents and guardians have shared how it has encouraged educational excellence and a compassionate, caring spirit. Parents have also shared that it has kept their children away from the drug dealers who prey on needy children and youth. The program has also grown in diversity: in the summer of 2016, African, African American, Hispanic, and Caucasian children and youth "broke bread," studied, and played together. This program would not be possible without the Presbyterian church space and the faith of the leaders of the program who believe so strongly in their students.

Faith Behind the Wheel: Mount Juliet, Tennessee

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.

Whether you are young or old, skilled with cars or don’t know the first thing about them, there is a place for you at this ministry group. The ministry was founded five years ago when members of a local church expressed a desire to use their mechanical expertise to change lives, and since then, they have done just that. The congregation’s volunteers spend over 20 hours a week restoring old cars and have given away more than 85 cars to those in need since opening their doors. They are helping single mothers get their kids to school, the elderly find independence, and the unemployed make their job interviews.

The ministry organizers love to recount a particularly touching story involving a local high school senior whose mother was battling cancer. As the medical expenses piled up, the student was forced to sell his truck to help pay the family’s bills. During this difficult season, he began volunteering his time at the ministry and working on cars. Over the course of his time as a volunteer the student began restoring a truck that, unbeknownst to him at the time, would eventually be gifted to him as a graduation present.

This is just one example of how people of faith are changing lives and making a difference in the Volunteer State.

Faith in the Dignity of Work: Missouri

Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO-3)

An emphasis on faith, family, and community runs deep in Missouri’s Third District, and with that, a desire to help those in need, no matter the circumstance. One faith-based non-profit serving multiple counties throughout the district is a wonderful example. This organization developed a program to serve homeless individuals until they are independent and living in permanent housing. It recognizes that sustainable work is the first step in obtaining independence, and it provides aid such as technology and transportation to help its clients become employed. In addition to immediate assistance and job seeking tools, it also provides counseling in the form of spiritual guidance, personal budgeting, and job skills. Not only does the organization provide immediate assistance with food and housing, but also the necessary tools for individuals to get back on their feet. To date, it has helped over 7,000 individuals, over half of whom have completed the program and lead self-supporting lives.

Our communities also rally around mothers in need. We have multiple organizations throughout the district that focus on supporting young pregnant mothers and their new born children. Often, these women do not have a safe place at home, and these faith-based non-profit organizations work to provide them with housing, food, and emotional support. One organization situated in a town of approximately 13,000 has housed a combined 156 women and children in their 14 years of existence. Another similar organization housed 14 women and children and provided resources to an additional 45 individuals this past year. These organizations go above and beyond by providing not only a tangible roof over their head, but also the emotional support and encouragement the mothers need to finish school or assist in finding a job.

These faith-based organizations are all encompassing and holistic with the assistance they provide. They not only counsel in faith, but exemplify it by their actions, preparing individuals to become self-supporting and assets to their communities. The Third District in Missouri is stronger because of the exceptional work they do.

Faith and a Hand Up: Shreveport

Representative John Fleming (LA-4)

People of faith work tirelessly behind the scenes to better our communities in Louisiana. One such community organization, a Christian rescue mission, has been serving and loving the hungry, homeless, abused, and addicted for decades. Last year the mission provided over 137,000 meals, over 58,000 nights of lodging, and over 2,600 free medical and dental services to over 700 homeless men, women, and children. Once basic needs are met, each person that comes into the shelter is given the option to enter into a discipleship training program where they receive classes in finance, job readiness, anger management, parenting, addiction recovery, domestic violence support, and Christian Foundation and principles. I am humbled by their heart of service and love for the community.

Faith in Times of Disaster: New Orleans and the Gulf Coast

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. The levees encasing New Orleans, built to keep the rising flood waters from washing through the largely-below-sea level city, were no match for the storm surge that pummeled them. Soon 80% of the city was flooded. New Orleans, as it had stood only hours before, was gone.

Prior to, and following the storm, thousands evacuated the city, leaving their homes, belongings, and cherished memories behind. More than 10,000 people sought shelter in the crumbling Superdome where the roof caved in, medical care and basic sanitation were lacking, and food and water were scarce. More than 1,400 people in New Orleans perished from the storm and over 1 million people were displaced from the Gulf Coast region, with over 600,000 displaced for longer than a month. The storm caused damage to over one million housing units, including 70% of all occupied homes in New Orleans. In total, Hurricane Katrina caused more than $135 billion in damage.

Local pastors remained in New Orleans, scouring housing complexes for survivors, running shelters out of their churches, helping residents rebuild. One group run by ministers in Louisiana used its network of more than fifty churches to distribute over 62 million pounds of resources through the storm-stricken region.

Religious congregations filled major gaps in the social safety net, providing human services—sheltering individuals, administering medical care, rebuilding—that the government – state, local, and federal – was unable to shoulder on its own. Local pastors remained in New Orleans, scouring housing complexes for survivors, running shelters out of their churches, helping residents rebuild. One group run by ministers in Louisiana used its network of more than fifty churches to distribute over 62 million pounds of resources through the storm-stricken region. A single Methodist faith-based community, on one day in September alone, reported more than 50 of its churches were being used as shelters for displaced persons in Louisiana and Mississippi. According to the Louisiana Department of Social Services, on September 12, 2005, over one hundred churches were providing emergency shelter to displaced individuals. Results of a survey of nonprofit relief efforts providing assistance to the Gulf Coast following Hurricanes Rita and Katrina found that 59% of nonprofit organizations providing relief services to the region were churches or faith-based organizations.

Later, on October 5, 2005, mere weeks following Hurricane Rita, the Red Cross operated 55 shelters in Louisiana, providing refuge to 13,617 people in need. At the same time, churches and faith-based organizations were operating an additional 123 shelters, taking in over 5,700 individuals. By 2006, a Catholic network of faith-based efforts provided aid to over 300,000 victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, allocating roughly $69 million to respond to those in need following the storm. The damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, and subsequently Hurricane Rita, may have only occurred in a matter of days, but the services provided by religious institutions gave assistance for months, in some case years, helping to rebuild both lives and communities for future generations. Without the aid provided by these private, non-profit religious groups, the Gulf Coast would have faced a more desolate and less hopeful future.

Faith in Struggle: Mental Health in America

America’s mental healthcare system is in disarray. The demand for resources far outpaces the availability of the limited help American practitioners can offer. Young people are suffering from depression at greater rates than ever, a majority of whom are not receiving treatment for their illness. Securing access to mental health professionals is often difficult. In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the United States only had 156,300 mental health counselors, leaving almost 90 million Americans in federally designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas.

With approximately 353,000 clergy serving their communities in the United States, they dedicate roughly 10-20% of their work week to counseling individuals suffering from emotional or marital problems. This amounts to roughly 138 million hours of mental health services per year; services provided at little to no cost to those who seek them.

With at least 1 in 5 Americans suffering from mental illness, America’s congregations are stepping in to fill yet another gap society has left open. Local congregations frequently provide counseling and other mental health and social services to both their members and their communities at large. With approximately 353,000 clergy serving their communities in the United States, they dedicate roughly 10-20% of their work week to counseling individuals suffering from emotional or marital problems. This amounts to roughly 138 million hours of mental health services per year; services provided at little to no cost to those who seek them. This staggering amount of work is provided by chaplains, pastoral counselors, Catholic Sisters, Brothers, and clergy from Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim traditions. These dedicated servants reach Americans from all walks of life, who are able to receive help that is too often difficult to find, but is offered when they look to their religious communities for guidance.

Both the House and Senate have dedicated resources to exploring and investigating the country’s mental health system and its current deficiencies. Lead by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in the Senate and the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House, members have explored increasing access to mental health care services in rural areas, addressing the current mental health care provider shortage and streamlining the current patchwork of services available. Competing bills in both chambers have been introduced with varying avenues for addressing reforms. Although differences are still being worked out, leaders on both committees have committed to reforming the federal mental health system to better address the growing and complex need to services in this country.

Faith in Community: West Dallas

The 11.5 square mile region known as West Dallas, formerly known as the “Devil’s Front Door,” was once an industrial center plagued with crime, poverty, and racial tension. In the 1950s, following the construction of 3,500 low income housing units, the area became the largest public housing development of its time.

Today, West Dallas is the site of an in-depth Baylor University case study examining the role the faith-based community plays in providing social services to the community. West Dallas is considered to be one of the most economically disadvantaged communities in America. Roughly 65% of students entering high school here drop out before their senior year. Only about 2% of the adult population has obtained a college education. More alarming still, 86% of students in the area are economically disadvantaged, and roughly 50% live below the poverty line. Compared to Dallas proper, where the per capita income rests just above $24,000 per year, West Dallas falls drastically behind, with a per capita income of only $9,813. In short, this 24,000-strong community faces economic hurdles every single day that are extraordinary in the wealthiest nation on Earth.

Beginning in 1980, residents began to fight for change within their community, demolishing the housing projects and replacing them with affordable housing and senior units. Today, there is reason for hope again in West Dallas as dropout rates are on the decline, and residents are working with their local religious leaders, churches, and non-profits to bring a brighter future and economic transformation to the area.

A collaboration of 13 ministry partners works as a support network for collective impact initiatives, partnering with local business leaders, nonprofits, community leaders, and their ministry partners to serve the people of their community.

Churches and ministries have stepped in to improve the economic outlook and futures of the residents of West Dallas. One faith-based organization in the area teams with ministry partners who share a goal of, seeing “a spiritual, economic, social, and physical transformation of West Dallas neighborhoods,” and to encourage religious leaders and community members to work together to create their own brighter future. A collaboration of 13 ministry partners works as a support network for collective impact initiatives, partnering with local business leaders, nonprofits, community leaders, and their ministry partners to serve the people of their community.

At one West Dallas school, the ministry partners coordinated efforts to implement new programs and services to give students a better shot at success. This included providing volunteer mentors and tutors, class room assistance for teachers, and library support to improve academic performance and experience for all students. The school was matched with a local suburban church with a large congregation, which provides volunteers to engage students to help improve their reading proficiency and confidence. As a result, students’ reading scores began to skyrocket, with the proportion of fifth grade students reading at or beyond their grade level increasing from 17% to 40% over a two year period.

Other organizations focus on the health of community residents. Some Christian non-profits run faith-based community clinics, providing health care services to uninsured patients. One clinic alone sees on average 72 patients a week, providing flu shots, diabetic care, and healthful meals to those in need. The clinic operates healthy living classes for diabetics, encouraging patients to successfully manage their blood sugar levels. In addition, it operates four specialty clinics, for adults, eye care, women’s health issues, and for dental care. Without these clinics, patients would be left to seek care in the already over-burdened Medicaid system. By providing immediate health care and helping residents live healthier lifestyles, these clinics save money for both the community and our nation’s health care system by preventing illness and managing disease early on.

Faith in Value: Philadelphia

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. Some of these religious groups collaborate with secular groups, in addition to government organizations, in an effort to widen their reach and assist as many people as possible.

In total, the study estimates the financial “value” of congregational social services provided to the people of Philadelphia at over $245 million per year.

Services provided by congregations vary—ranging from programs targeted at youth and children, to those geared at the elderly, the poor, disabled Americans, and those suffering from addiction. Clergy and members of the congregation are often joined by non-members from the community, embracing civic involvement as a broader ideal. The study goes on to estimate the true value of the services provided by congregations, examining factors like hours of service performed, in-kind support, and financial support. In total, the study estimates the financial “value” of congregational social services provided to the people of Philadelphia at over $245 million per year. While this estimate is staggering, the true value of service is likely much greater, as the study took a conservative estimate of the number of services and volunteer hours performed.

These service hours and their value often vastly outpace the level of support provided by successful American corporations. When compared with an average American corporation that donates about 1% of their pretax net income to charitable purposes, congregations outperform giving by a much greater scale, often allotting up to 40% of their budgets towards helping their communities.

Faith Across the Globe: Helping our Fellow Man

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. Almost 800 million people worldwide suffer from chronic hunger and roughly 1 billion people worldwide live in extreme poverty. According to the World Bank, as of 2012, 12.7% of the world survives on $1.90 a day or less. Many of these people are difficult to reach, living in remote areas or in precarious political climates.

Just as American faith-based groups provide essential services to those at home, many also extend their reach around the world. The services they provide offer both compassion for those in need and serve to advance the foreign policy and national security interests of the United States by alleviating deprivation, poverty, and providing hope in areas of extreme strife.

When local governments and agencies do not have the resources to help their citizens obtain food, clean water, shelter or education, a wide range of American congregations and faith-based organizations step in to do just that. The southern Baptist community mobilizes people and financial resources to alleviate suffering worldwide. Congregations have worked with Christian groups in West Africa to train communities on Ebola response in rural areas, in an effort to halt the spread of the devastating disease. They are also providing resources to Syrian refugees to help get children back in school. Congregations are providing students with backpacks, and teachers with classroom assistance and school supplies so students have the resources they need to learn, and can in turn make their communities better for generations to come.

When local governments and agencies do not have the resources to help their citizens obtain food, clean water, shelter or education, a wide range of American congregations and faith-based organizations step in to do just that.

In April of 2015, more than 30 leaders from different world religions and faith-based organizations issued a call to action, with the goal of ending extreme poverty across the planet by 2030. Though these religious leaders hail from different faiths, with different belief systems, they all share a moral consensus that extreme poverty stifles human dignity and have pledged their commitment to its eradication. They hope to tackle preventable illnesses, chronic joblessness, and discrimination. They are fighting for a world where women and girls have an equal access to education and where human rights are paramount. Because more than 8 in 10 people across the globe identify with a religious group, religious leaders are using this global sense of faith to empower world citizens to fight poverty alongside each other.

Other organizations have delivered food, medicine, and other assistance to alleviate suffering around the world, for several decades. Through one organization, doctors have provided life-saving operations to more than one thousand children from impoverished or war-torn nations, including Bosnia, Uganda, and Bolivia. They work with hospitals and doctors around the world, arranging for children, a guardian, and a translator to travel to these hospitals to obtain care that is not available to them in their home countries. They locate Christian churches and families to serve as hosts, who in turn help provide food, housing, transportation, and other amenities to the visiting group. This network of doctors, families, and hospitals provide life-changing treatment, giving children abroad a second chance at normal lives.

Other organizations operate children’s ministries to provide new beginnings to the most vulnerable across the globe, children without homes or families. In 2010, an earthquake devastated Haiti, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and many more homeless. Orphanages were reduced to rubble, leaving children to fight for survival in their ruins. In 2012 a home and school, operated on the foundation of the Gospel, was constructed and has welcomed 60 children, many without families, and others in situations so dire it is unsafe to return home, to live, be children, and get an education taught in French, Creole, and English. Between 2010 and 2012 following the earthquake, faith-based organizations have also distributed more than 15,000 shelters, drilled 18 permanent wells, built 193 permanent latrines, and distributed roughly 13,000 metric tons of food. They continue to provide relief, health [care], and children’s services to struggling adults and children in Haiti, improving living conditions and providing educations to those most in need. This is of critical importance for a nation where over half of food aid is distributed through religious organizations with boots on the ground.

Other organizations share a mission of affirming God’s love for all. One Lutheran organization partners with other Lutherans and organizations worldwide in a fight to end poverty and human suffering. In working with local partners on a variety of life changing causes, including developing long-term solutions to poverty, these ministries are able to address rural financing and food scarcity by supporting nearby small scale farmers. They provide access to small grants to farmers and cooperatives to be used like loan funds, establishing local savings systems for small-scale farmers. Through coffee and cocoa initiatives, small producers are gaining the ability to capture a portion of the global markets. In Honduras, Lutheran outreach groups are helping farmers improve their knowledge about cocoa production through farmer field schools and through training and technical assistance. These services are aimed at increasing their volumes of cocoa production that are in line with market standards, and give farmers greater access to market information. This increased access allows small-scale farmers to support their families and communities and helps them gain access to the tools they need to meet the high standards of a competitive industry.

Faith in Our Own Backyard

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. Perhaps the only thing that is overwhelmingly evident in analyzing the role of congregations and faith-based organizations in our communities is that if these groups are unable to provide these services going forward, the United States would be faced with an overwhelming crisis at the breakdown of its social services safety net.

Over 1.7 million residents of New York City live in poverty. Though about 48% of adults between 15 and 65 were both food insecure and unemployed, employed New Yorkers, living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, also suffer from food scarcity. Nearly 474,000 children in New York City, amounting to roughly 1 in 4 children, don’t get enough to eat. These people—our neighbors, teachers, shop keepers—are struggling right in our own backyards.

In New York, congregations of differing faiths often join together to feed those in need. Each year, Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic leaders combine forces in an interfaith effort to combat hunger in New York. For two months, the congregations collect and distribute food packages to shelters and food pantries throughout the New York City area, with a goal of supplying 1 million meals to feed those in need and reduce food insecurity throughout the city.

Halfway across the country in the Detroit metro area, over 34,000 people suffer from homelessness, including over 5,000 children. Michigan has the greatest rate of homelessness in the Midwest, and is ranked 5th nationally for the number of homeless residents. Faith-based organizations are stepping up in a big way to provide safe and warm shelter for men, women, and children in the often freezing nights. A group of just 11 faith-based shelters is able to provide beds to over one thousand people in need every night—one thousand people, who can get off of the street, get to safety, and have the comfort of a warm bed when they need it most.

In New York, congregations of differing faiths often join together to feed those in need. Each year, Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic leaders combine forces in an interfaith effort to combat hunger in New York. For two months, the congregations collect and distribute food packages to shelters and food pantries throughout the New York City area, with a goal of supplying 1 million meals to feed those in need and reduce food insecurity throughout the city.

In Chicago, efforts of Catholic non-profits provide services to local seniors, so they can continue to live independently or with the help of caregivers, with dignity and compassion. By providing several services, including housekeeping, transportation, delivered meals, and subsidized housing, seniors are seeing an improved quality of life and are avoiding the need for institutionalized care. Over three thousand seniors have benefited from homemaker assistance, with 96% being able to remain in their homes. Thousands more have taken advantage of companionship provided by senior centers and receive protection through the organization’s elder abuse services. The Catholic effort operates twenty subsidized senior living apartments throughout the Chicagoland area, helping needy seniors retain their autonomy and keep their own homes.

The evangelical community provides assistance to men, women and children in almost 100 countries. Domestically, their efforts have included lifting Americans, especially children, out of poverty and hardship. In 2014, a single evangelical faith-based organization served roughly 1.7 million adults and children through their domestic programs. They have helped 175,487 teachers and students obtain school supplies in support of low-income communities. The effort helps to provide new school supplies, clothing, backpacks, and other supplies to students attending schools with 70% or greater poverty rates. Teachers impacted by the education program have expressed that the supplies provided not only increased classroom participation but also improved kids’ attitudes about school. Other teachers found that they saw improved attendance, improved homework completion, and an increased sense of pride. The program continues to improve, reaching out to more and more kids to give them the things they need to stay in school.

In 2014, a faith-based mission organization conducted a survey of 114 gospel rescue missions in North America, to look at a snapshot of those in need of assistance. Of those surveyed, roughly 35% of people suffering from homelessness on a single night, were homeless for the first time. At a mission in Boise in 2014, 2,000 people sought shelter who had never experienced homelessness before. Over the span of two years, the numbers of homeless women and children in need of shelter resources doubled. In Charleston, West Virginia, one mission fed roughly 50,000 people per month, amounting to roughly 15,000 families. This number represents those who have shelter, but are struggling day to day with feeding their families. Of the missions surveyed, roughly 27% can be classified as chronically homeless, and roughly 24% have been homeless for three or more times previously.

Another glaring gap needing to be filled can be seen amongst the veteran population. Roughly 14% of those surveyed were veterans, 25% of whom had served in Vietnam. Members of these missions serve "between 40-50 million meals a year, provide roughly 15-20 million nights of lodging, [and] distribute more than 25 million pieces of clothing." These missions provide support to abuse victims and are responsible for graduating roughly 20,000 individuals from addiction-recovery programs, helping them to become contributing members of society.

Faith in the Worth of People:
Human Trafficking at Home and Abroad

It is difficult to pinpoint the number of lives affected by human trafficking—these are often hidden crimes, frequently targeting the vulnerable—women, children, the poor, the addicted. Though estimations vary, the Global Slavery Index estimates that as of 2016, roughly 45.8 million men, women, and children are caught in a modern slavery situation. This broad term encompasses human trafficking, forced labor, forced marriage, the exploitation of children and debt bondage. Topping the list of nations affected are a number of African nations -- Uzbekistan, Haiti, Qatar, and India. In the United States, almost 60,000 individuals are enslaved. Of those enslaved, the United Nations has estimated that globally more than 2.4 million people, predominantly women and girls, are victims of human trafficking.

The Baptist community is making strides in the fight to stop human trafficking here in the United States, providing assistance to women exploited by human trafficking. They train individuals to assist exploited women and work with their network of ministries in prevention, intervention, and aftercare. Other organizations provide assistance to human trafficking victims by helping them escape and begin new lives.

Faith-based organizations are acting to put an end to human trafficking abroad. Over one million children enter the sex trade each year—this amounts to a massive loss of innocence and childhood throughout the world. In Cambodia, the tragedy of child sex trafficking is acutely felt, with hundreds of thousands of children affected. One California-based mission provides assistance, aftercare and rehabilitation to victims of sex trafficking through their recovery home. On the front end, to prevent trafficking, they also founded a community center based in Cambodia to provide healthcare, education, and a safe place for Cambodian children to go. Instead of being bartered for the sex trade, Cambodian children have opportunities to learn, grow, and obtain careers to take care of themselves and their families.

The Baptist community is making strides in the fight to stop human trafficking here in the United States, providing assistance to women exploited by human trafficking. They train individuals to assist exploited women and work with their network of ministries in prevention, intervention, and aftercare. Other organizations provide assistance to human trafficking victims by helping them escape and begin new lives. They help victims get physical care and reunite with their families, in addition to educating and promoting awareness of the horrors of human trafficking to their communities. Though the atrocity of human trafficking is largely kept hidden, with many Americans believing it does not touch the United States, local congregations are supporting victims in a huge way, helping to educate Americans and end the cycle.

Faith in Children: Child Welfare Services

According to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, there are over 400,000 children living without permanent families in the American foster system. Across the globe, there are an estimated 132 million orphans that have lost one parent and almost 13 million orphans that have lost both parents and are either living on the street or in orphanages. Statistics for children in orphanages and foster care are concerning. On average, children raised in orphanages have an IQ of 20 points lower than their peers raised in the foster system. Almost 25% of foster youth aging out of the system are unable to obtain a high school diploma or GED. At best, the situation is alarming.

Faith-based organizations across the nation are stepping in to get these children placed in homes, both in foster care and permanent adoption. In 2014, a single Catholic adoption agency was responsible for 2,707 completed adoptions and 1,954 foster care adoptions. Another Christian non-profit with the ultimate goal of “bring[ing] families together and keep[ing] families together,” provides Christian adoption, foster care, and pregnancy counseling to women and families at home and abroad, impacting over 101,000 children worldwide in 2015. Christian adoption services also provide family counseling and post-adoption support, as the adoption journey continues after a child is placed.


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