April 14, 2008
Faith-based initiatives are likely to endure
By Elaine Justice
Whatever the outcome of the 2008 election, one legacy of the Bush administration that is likely to remain a permanent part of the American landscape is faith-based initiatives, says Michael Leo Owens, assistant professor of political science and an associated faculty member of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion.
In his new book, “God and Government in the Ghetto,” Owens uses both survey data and his own fieldwork in New York City to show that African American churches have used and can use their connections with public agencies to influence policy and government responsiveness in a way that has real benefits. But those benefits may come at the expense of less involvement at the grassroots.
“African Americans, more than any other population, favor these alliances,” says Owens. And though none of this year’s presidential candidates have spelled out how faith-based initiatives might look during their administrations, all have voiced support.
“These initiatives may take a different form down the road, but the genie is out of the bottle,” says Owens. “There is tremendous public support for it.”
“For a long time, people thought of politics and African American churches as emphasizing two things: protest and elections,” says Owens. “But very few have been paying attention to what African American churches do after the protests, after the elections.”
Those looking at the future of political engagement by African American churches and even mainline and evangelical groups need to look beyond the stereotypes, he says.
“I hope the book will encourage people to see that if you really want to understand faith-based initiatives and the African American churches, you must begin focusing locally, not nationally,” says Owens.