Since the advent of the “Charitable Choice” movement of the early Clinton era, Americans find it easier to look to the faith community to address many of the nation’s most pressing social challenges.
President Bush raised the bar higher when he created the White House Office for Community and Faith-Based Initiatives. Thanks to Bush’s leadership, each of the major cabinet level agencies that address social issues now have new offices focused on the role and importance of community and faith-based initiatives. It is clear that the playing field for receiving government funding through grants has been leveled dramatically. An Executive Order issued early in Bush’s first term removed numerous barriers to access for community and faith-based groups that sought funding in the open competition of grant writing.
All of this to say, times are interesting for faith-based, community organizations working in inner city neighborhoods like those in Dallas. It is definitely a new day when federal, state and local governments invite a wide variety of churches, synagogues and mosques to the table of community engagement, planning and service delivery that involves the use of public funds.
While it is encouraging that faith-based and community organizations are being drawn deeper into the important work of community development and renewal, big picture perspective needs to be kept in view. People of faith can do many things, some of which government cannot do. People of faith are making a huge difference in the lives of millions of individuals and in thousands of neighborhoods across the nation. People of faith should continue to be included in the movement to rebuild America’s crumbling inner cities.
But faith will never be enough when it comes to any comprehensive renewal of urban communities.
Faith must be joined by fair, equitable and well-informed public policy if America’s inner city areas are to be reclaimed for decent living. Take just three examples of pressing community issues demanding better public policy: education, housing and health care.
Urban schools in America are struggling and in disarray. Community groups, including persons of faith, must be involved here as never before. Over the last decade volunteers and staff members from Central Dallas Ministries have worked in over a dozen public schools to assist teachers, administrators and students in learning and teaching.
But our faith alone cannot lift the load today.
Leaders in the public arena must address issues associated with more adequate funding, higher standards for teachers and administrators, equitable distribution of resources within school districts and blatant discrimination based on class. These issues begin at the local level and extend all the way through Austin’s statehouse to Washington. When it comes to our schools, faith must be joined by decisive and aggressive public action for the good of all our children.
America is in the midst of a workforce housing shortage. The housing crisi s has been building for over five decades. We see it in the inner city of Dallas, as well as inevery major city in America. Faith-based and community-led non-profit housing organizations can play a role in addressing the shortage. However, it would be foolish to think they can end the crisis. Again, public policy makers must take steps to incentivize the work of developers in low-income, inner city areas. The problems here are complex. New leadership is needed beginning at the local level and extending to the national. Faith is not enough.
Every urban area in the United States faces a mounting crisis in healthcare delivery. Dallas is no exception. The Parkland Health and Hospital System, one of the best public healthcare systems in the nation, has the capacity to care for just over half of those eligible to receive its services. Again, faith-based and community efforts can help.
But the scale and scope of the problem begs for better public policy decisions. More funding is needed. Better state policy addressing the drive-in patients from outside Dallas County should be formulated at the insistence of the Dallas County delegation in Austin. The health and well-being of low-income citizens of Dallas impact workforce issues, education, crime control and family stability. Once more we must admit faith is not enough.
People of faith need to be involved in informing, shaping and influencing this new and better public policy.
One of the great ironies of life in Dallas, Texas has to do with the amazing prevalence of churches, synagogues and other communities of faith in view of our public policy crisis. Dallas is one of the most churched cities in the world. Yet, there is an obvious disconnect between the celebration of faith in our numerous houses of worship and the manner in which that professed faith works itself out in public life.
Faith must inform public policy in new ways. People of faith must demand better of their elected leaders.
The values of fairness, justice, equity and opportunity for all should be championed by faith leaders. These same values should be put to work and lived out in the market places of this city.
In this steady, on-going endeavor, faith will find its most important role. Public policy informed by faith could change an entire city.