Saving America?: Faith-Based Services and the Future of Civil Society

Princeton University Press
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On January 29, 2001, President George W. Bush signed an executive order creating the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. This action marked a key step toward institutionalizing an idea that emerged in the mid-1990s under the Clinton administration--the transfer of some social programs from government control to religious organizations. However, despite an increasingly vocal, ideologically charged national debate--a debate centered on such questions as: What are these organizations doing? How well are they doing it? Should they be supported with tax dollars?--solid answers have been few.

In Saving America? Robert Wuthnow provides a wealth of up-to-date information whose absence, until now, has hindered the pursuit of answers. Assembling and analyzing new evidence from research he and others have conducted, he reveals what social support faith-based agencies are capable of providing. Among the many questions he addresses: Are congregations effective vehicles for providing broad-based social programs, or are they best at supporting their own members? How many local congregations have formal programs to assist needy families? How much money do such programs represent? How many specialized faith-based service agencies are there, and which are most effective? Are religious organizations promoting trust, love, and compassion?

The answers that emerge demonstrate that American religion is helping needy families and that it is, more broadly, fostering civil society. Yet religion alone cannot save America from the broad problems it faces in providing social services to those who need them most.

Elegantly written, Saving America? represents an authoritative and evenhanded benchmark of information for the current--and the coming--debate.

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About the author

Robert Wuthnow is Gerhard R. Andlinger '52 Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University. His books include American Mythos: Why Our Best Efforts to Be a Better Nation Fall Short (Princeton), Acts of Compassion, and Poor Richard's Principle.
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Additional Information

Princeton University Press
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Published on
Nov 6, 2009
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Political Science / Public Policy / Social Services & Welfare
Religion / General
Social Science / Demography
Social Science / Sociology of Religion
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Content Protection
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Eligible for Family Library

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Tracing the intersection of religion, race, and power in Texas from Reconstruction through the rise of the Religious Right and the failed presidential bid of Governor Rick Perry, Rough Country illuminates American history since the Civil War in new ways, demonstrating that Texas's story is also America’s. In particular, Robert Wuthnow shows how distinctions between "us" and “them” are perpetuated and why they are so often shaped by religion and politics.

Early settlers called Texas a rough country. Surviving there necessitated defining evil, fighting it, and building institutions in the hope of advancing civilization. Religion played a decisive role. Today, more evangelical Protestants live in Texas than in any other state. They have influenced every presidential election for fifty years, mobilized powerful efforts against abortion and same-sex marriage, and been a driving force in the Tea Party movement. And religion has always been complicated by race and ethnicity.

Drawing from memoirs, newspapers, oral history, voting records, and surveys, Rough Country tells the stories of ordinary men and women who struggled with the conditions they faced, conformed to the customs they knew, and on occasion emerged as powerful national leaders. We see the lasting imprint of slavery, public executions, Jim Crow segregation, and resentment against the federal government. We also observe courageous efforts to care for the sick, combat lynching, provide for the poor, welcome new immigrants, and uphold liberty of conscience.

A monumental and magisterial history, Rough Country is as much about the rest of America as it is about Texas.

No state has voted Republican more consistently or widely or for longer than Kansas. To understand red state politics, Kansas is the place. It is also the place to understand red state religion. The Kansas Board of Education has repeatedly challenged the teaching of evolution, Kansas voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, the state is a hotbed of antiabortion protest--and churches have been involved in all of these efforts. Yet in 1867 suffragist Lucy Stone could plausibly proclaim that, in the cause of universal suffrage, "Kansas leads the world!" How did Kansas go from being a progressive state to one of the most conservative?

In Red State Religion, Robert Wuthnow tells the story of religiously motivated political activism in Kansas from territorial days to the present. He examines how faith mixed with politics as both ordinary Kansans and leaders such as John Brown, Carrie Nation, William Allen White, and Dwight Eisenhower struggled over the pivotal issues of their times, from slavery and Prohibition to populism and anti-communism. Beyond providing surprising new explanations of why Kansas became a conservative stronghold, the book sheds new light on the role of religion in red states across the Midwest and the United States. Contrary to recent influential accounts, Wuthnow argues that Kansas conservatism is largely pragmatic, not ideological, and that religion in the state has less to do with politics and contentious moral activism than with relationships between neighbors, friends, and fellow churchgoers.

This is an important book for anyone who wants to understand the role of religion in American political conservatism.

The Associated Press calls them "The Entitlement Generation," and they are storming into schools, colleges, and businesses all over the country. They are today's young people, a new generation with sky-high expectations and a need for constant praise and fulfillment. In this provocative new book, headline-making psychologist and social commentator Dr. Jean Twenge documents the self-focus of what she calls "Generation Me" -- people born in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Herself a member of Generation Me, Dr. Twenge explores why her generation is tolerant, confident, open-minded, and ambitious but also cynical, depressed, lonely, and anxious.

Using findings from the largest intergenerational study ever conducted -- with data from 1.3 million respondents spanning six decades -- Dr. Twenge reveals how profoundly different today's young adults are -- and makes controversial predictions about what the future holds for them and society as a whole. But Dr. Twenge doesn't just talk statistics -- she highlights real-life people and stories and vividly brings to life the hopes and dreams, disappointments and challenges of Generation Me.With a good deal of irony, humor, and sympathy she demonstrates that today's young people have been raised to aim for the stars at a time when it is more difficult than ever to get into college, find a good job, and afford a house -- even with two incomes. GenMe's expectations have been raised just as the world is becoming more competitive, creating an enormous clash between expectations and reality. Dr. Twenge also presents the often-shocking truths about her generation's dramatically different sexual behavior and mores.

GenMe has created a profound shift in the American character, changing what it means to be an individual in today's society. Engaging, controversial, prescriptive, and often funny, Generation Me will give Boomers new insight into their offspring, and help GenMe'ers in their teens, 20s, and 30s finally make sense of themselves and their goals and find their road to happiness.
Much has been written about the profound impact the post-World War II baby boomers had on American religion. But the lifestyles and beliefs of the generation that has followed--and the influence these younger Americans in their twenties and thirties are having on the face of religion--are not so well understood. It is this next wave of post-boomers that Robert Wuthnow examines in this illuminating book.

What are their churchgoing habits and spiritual interests and needs? How does their faith affect their families, their communities, and their politics? Interpreting new evidence from scores of in-depth interviews and surveys, Wuthnow reveals a generation of younger adults who, unlike the baby boomers that preceded them, are taking their time establishing themselves in careers, getting married, starting families of their own, and settling down--resulting in an estimated six million fewer regular churchgoers. He shows how the recent growth in evangelicalism is tapering off, and traces how biblical literalism, while still popular, is becoming less dogmatic and more preoccupied with practical guidance. At the same time, Wuthnow explains how conflicts between religious liberals and conservatives continue--including among new immigrant groups such as Hispanics and Asians--and how in the absence of institutional support many post-boomers have taken a more individualistic, improvised approach to spirituality. Wuthnow's fascinating analysis also explores the impacts of the Internet and so-called virtual churches, and the appeal of megachurches.

After the Baby Boomers offers us a tantalizing look at the future of American religion for decades to come.

Urgent calls have gone forth--from the White House and Congress, from schools, churches, synagogues, and other agencies--for Americans to become more involved in caring for the needy and in serving their communities. And as federal and state governments across the nation cut back on aid to the poor and disabled, the role of volunteerism can only grow in importance. But how can we inspire caring behavior in our young when so many adults seem indifferent to the problems of the needy, when many problems (such as homelessness) seem beyond individual effort, and when agencies often come under fire for ineffectiveness if not corruption? Drawing on deeply moving personal accounts from young people who have become involved in community service, as well as on data from recent national surveys, Learning to Care looks at why teenagers become involved in volunteer work, what problems and pressures they face, and what we can do to nurture caring in our youth. Robert Wuthnow's intimate interviews bring to life the stories of high school student volunteers, teenagers such as Tanika Lane, a freshman who works with Literacy Education and Direction (LEAD), a job-training program for inner-city kids, and Amy Stone, a homecoming queen and student-body president at a suburban southern school who organizes rallies for AIDS awareness. Through these profiles, Wuthnow shows that caring is not innate but learned, in part from the spontaneous warmth of family life, and in part from finding the right kind of volunteer work. He contends that volunteers' sense of service is shaped by what they find in school service clubs, in shelters for the homeless, in working with AIDS victims, or in tutoring inner-city children. And Wuthnow also argues that the best environment to nurture the helping impulse is the religious setting, where in fact the great bulk of volunteering in America takes place. In these organizations, as well as in schools and community agencies, teenagers can find the role models and moral incentives that will instill a sense of service that they can then carry into their adult life. Robert Wuthnow is one of our leading commentators on religious life in America, the author of Acts of Compassion, which was nominated for both a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. Learning to Care, the sequel to that highly acclaimed volume, offers an eye-opening (and somewhat reassuring) portrait of volunteerism among America's youth, as it helps lay the groundwork for teaching our children to care.
At a time when already overworked clergy are being called upon by budget cutting politicians to do more for the poor, the sick, and the elderly, American churches are suffering persistent financial shortfalls. In fact, contrary to popular media images of millionaire televangelists, America's churches are cutting back programs and staff, clergy salaries are stagnating, and many parishes are having trouble raising enough money to keep the church lit and heated on Sunday. Why are America's churches in financial distress? Robert Wuthnow, a leading commentator on religious life in America, asserts that the steady drop in donations, volunteering, and personal involvement is a direct result of a spiritual crisis--a crisis caused in large part by the clergy's failure to address the vital relationships between faith and money, work, stewardship, giving, and economic justice. In The Crisis in the Churches, Wuthnow offers a searching study of this financial crisis and of the spiritual vacuum that has silently grown worse during the past decade. To do this, he lets the churches speak for themselves, quoting extensively from interviews with clergy and laity in sixty Protestant and Catholic congregations throughout the U.S., and drawing from the texts of over 200 sermons, from church financial records, and a national survey. What emerges is that parishioners often feel the church does not care about what they do from Monday to Friday, offers no guidance in their most pressing day to day concerns, yet always seems to be asking for more money. Clergy, for their part, say they hesitate to talk about finances because they know "the money question" makes people uncomfortable. But failure to raise the subject often makes it necessary to cut the very programs and services that middle class parishioners desire and would support. Wuthnow argues that in order to survive, churches must find ways to minister to the economic concerns of their own middle class parishioners. Indeed, of every $1,000 received by churches, $900 comes from people who work in middle class occupations. Clearly, anything that motivates middle class members to become more involved will strengthen a church's financial well being and capacity to serve its people. Although the situation is critical, Wuthnow finds much cause for hope. He points to ideas and programs that some churches have enacted to challenge their members to think differently about work and money and giving. Parishioners sometimes respond positively when clergy speak boldly and concretely about matters of faith and finance, and some churches have formed small groups whose members meet regularly to discuss issues of spirituality, work, personal finances, and stewardship. A serious and sympathetic examination of the crisis behind the stained glass, this thought-provoking volume will be highly valuable both practically and as moral support to clergy, parishioners, and anyone else concerned about restoring vitality and significance to American churches.
In the year 2000--and beyond--what will the church be like? What challenges will it face? Will the church be able to provide a strong sense of community? Will it be an ethical force in the lives of Americans? And what role will religion play in politics and in the marketplace? In Christianity in the 21st Century Robert Wuthnow reflects on these provocative questions as he seeks to identify changes that are taking place now in American society that churches must address if they are to remain vital in the future. He foresees five critical areas--institutional, ethical, doctrinal, political, and cultural--in which major challenges will arise, then meets the thorny issues head-on. How will churches' resource bases, their very identity, and their capacity to carry on their spiritual traditions be altered? till they continue to function as sources of caring in a needy world? What impact will the resurgence of fundamentalism have, and how will moderate and liberal congregations react? How will the political activities of churches influence their capacity to be heard in the public arena, and what will the impact be of pluralism and the prevailing materialism of our society? Drawing on a wide range of first-hand observations and research, Wuthnow demontrates that in each of these five areas people of faith have strong reasons to enter the next century with confidence in their religious institutions. But he also highlights worrisome signs, and points to specific areas that need to be addressed to ensure the continuing vitality for Christianity in America--not least among these are the rampant individualism that erodes spiritual communities and the religious infighting that diminishes the Christian sense of unity. The onset of a new millennium affords a historic opportunity to take stock of the present situation and to plan for the future--in the years ahead, much reflection is likely to occur about all our major institutions. Christianity in the 21st Century aims to contribute to those reflections by offering a sobering, realistic, and ultimately hopeful assessment of where the church is now, and where the church is headed.
The American Dream is in serious danger, according to Robert Wuthnow--not because of economic conditions, but because its moral underpinnings have been forgotten. In the past this vision was not simply a formula for success, but a moral perspective that framed our thinking about work and money in terms of broader commitments to family, community, and humanitarian values. Nowadays, we are working harder than ever, and yet many of us feel that we are not realizing our higher aspirations as individuals or as a people. Here Wuthnow examines the struggles in which American families are now engaged as they try to balance work and family, confront the pressures of consumerism, and find meaning in their careers. He suggests that we can find economic instruction and inspiration in the nation's past--in such figures as Benjamin Franklin, for instance, who was at once the prudent Poor Richard, the engaged public person, and the enthusiastic lover of life.

Drawing on first-hand accounts from scores of people in all walks of life and from a national survey, the book shows that work and money cannot be understood in terms of economic theories alone, but are inevitably rooted in our concepts of ourselves and in the symbolic rituals and taboos of everyday life. By examining these implicit cultural understandings of work and money, the book provides a foundation for bringing moral reasoning more fully to bear on economic decisions. It re-examines the moral arguments that were prominent earlier in our history, shows how these arguments were set aside with the development of economistic thinking, and suggests their continuing relevance in the lives of people who have effectively resisted the pressures of greater financial commitments. Demonstrating that most Americans do bring values implicitly to bear on their economic decisions, the book shows how some people are learning to do this more effectively and, in the process, gain greater control over their work and finances. At a time when policymakers are raising questions about the very survival of the American dream, Poor Richard's Principle offers an analysis of how moral restraint can once again play a more prominent role in guiding our thinking.

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