A recent Washington Post article reports that several faith leaders are sensing a new tone from President Barack Obama’s office on faith-based initiatives. According to Stanley Carlson-Thies, who has worked closely with the office under both Presidents Bush and Obama, rather than creating a fair playing field for the good works of faith-based groups, the attitude now is: “We’re the government, doing wonderful things, YOU can come join US.”
Attitudes and expectations about government are important. They shape how citizens respond to poverty and injustice.
That’s why we’d propose a different view of government’s role in meeting people’s needs: the government protects what civil society provides.
A new resource from The Heritage Foundation called Seek Social Justice: Transforming Lives in Need explains this perspective. This innovative DVD small group study guide articulates a framework for understanding the roots of human need and social breakdown and what to do about them. Effective assistance tends to come not from the federal government but from those closest to the problem.
As the guide’s third lesson documents, congregations and faith-based groups are especially suited to offer comprehensive care and responsibility. The White House should ask what it can do to protect their capacity to serve, not the other way around.
Government plays the important role of securing conditions in which individuals and civil society institutions can meet people’s needs. That’s much different than saying, “We’re the government, doing wonderful things, YOU can come join US.” One approach assumes that the government should help people by directly providing them money or jobs. The other assumes that government is more helpful when safeguarding conditions that foster personal and mutual responsibility and upward mobility by enabling businesses to grow and create new jobs.
The former approach fosters the attitude that government is the place to turn to solve social challenges directly. The latter approach looks to government to protect the social space in which problems are tackled by those who are better equipped for the job—whether they be families, churches, businesses, charitable organizations, or a vast range of private-sector groups, clubs, teams, and associations.
In the midst of rising unemployment and other economic difficulties, many people are looking for a place to turn for help. Now more than ever we need to understand which spheres of society are responsible and equipped to provide that help most effectively. Seek Social Justice addresses this question in a thoughtful, engaging way. (All six videos and the corresponding study guide can be viewed online or ordered for delivery at www.seeksocialjustice.com.)