News Release: Politics

Mar. 24,  2008

Faith-Based Initiatives Likely to Endure, Says Emory Author

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 Emory University political scientist Michael Leo Owens.

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--and for good reason.

"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."

An Obama administration, for example, might retain elements of current faith-based initiatives, says Owens. "Obama's past experience includes being a community worker in Chicago's south side. He has insight into the issue that the other candidates don't."

"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, says Owens. He points to current surveys showing that evangelical Christianity in the United States "is becoming different than how we have traditionally thought of it -- as staunchly conservative."

"The younger evangelicals have a much broader perspective of what a person's religious portfolio should look like," says Owens. "That portfolio, they believe, should include taking care of the environment, poverty and health care. We will begin to see changes down the road as young evangelicals make their wishes known."

After all, he says, "Rick Warren and Jim Wallis's politics aren't all that different."

People think of faith-based initiatives as being centered around the White House, says Owens, but the real action is in the cities and state capitals.

"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.

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