loren Eric Swanson: The Newer Deal: Social Work and Religion in Partnership

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Newer Deal: Social Work and Religion in Partnership

Cnaan, Ram A. with Robert J. Wineburg and Stephanie C. Boddie. The Newer Deal: Social Work and Religion in Partnership. New York, New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Congregations are groups of persons who voluntarily band together for religious purposes and who share an identity with one another. These groups of people usually own a property where they periodically meet and observe a theological doctrine that to some extent guides their governance and worship practices (Garland 1997) p. 28

In 1826 Joseph Tuckerman, a Unitarian clergyman from Boston, initiated “ministry-at-large” in response to the devastating economic depression of 1819. He proposed that the church should help needy families, regardless of their religious affiliations—a revolutionary idea at the time. P. 117

Leonard Bacon summarized the concept of religious-based service in a sermon titled “The Christian Doctrine of Stewardship in Respect to Property,” which he presented at the Young Men’s Benevolent Society in New haven in 1832. In this sermon, which was later published and widely circulated, he said that people must actively seek out ays to do what God expects of them. Such actions must extend to all aspects of life and link voluntary service and personal philanthropy as a means of doing God’s will. Bacon’s thinking on the role of religion and the voluntary organizations in social welfare ran counter to that of the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian camps. Yet for many of his day, it was Bacon who best answered the moral question “Lord, what wilt though have me do?” and the answer he gave was “the BUSINESS OF DOING GOOD” [sic]. Thus, Bacon’s directive sparked the rise of church-affiliated civic associations that sought to spread the Word of the Lord and do good for others. In many ways, Bacon laid the moral ground for religious-based philanthropy that reflected the donor’s religious beliefs. P 118

Oates (1995) noted that in 1797 Philadelphia Catholic parishioners met to organize an orphanage for children whose parents had died following an outbreak of yellow fever. By 1806 they had established the Roman Catholic Society of St. Joseph for the Maintenance and Education of Orphans to support the St. Joseph Orphan Asylum and hired a matron as manager. In New York, in the mid-1830s, Bishop John Dubios ordered that all church collections on Christmas Day go to the care of orphans. In 1838 he allocated all collections on Easter Sunday to theat purpose as well. These Collections were the forerunners of the Campaign for Human Development, which annually distributes some $50 million to community-based social services that address poverty and empowerment. P. 119

In 1817 the New York Society for the Prevention of Pauperism was formed. Between 1818 and 1824 this society published annual reports that traced the origins of pauperism. Ironically, among the causes of poverty, the last one of a list of ten was the numerous charitable institutions of the city. P. 119

The case of the First Baptist Church in Philadelphia illustrates the development of welfare under congregational auspices. In 1839 women in the congregation formed the Evangelical Sewing Society to sew for the poor. In 1873 the same congregation established the Baptist Orphnage, later known as Baptist Children’s Services. A few years later, the congregation established the Philadelphia Home for Incurables…Another Baptist congregation in Philadelphia active at the time was the Baptist Temple, headed by Russell H. Conwell. Along with an impressive array of social services, in1884 Conwell established a night school for working people so that those from a lower economic status could have an opportunity to advance their social and occupational standing in society. Conwell’s night school was to become Temple University, one of the larges universities in Philadelphia. P. 120

One group that was highly influential in the Social Gospel movement was the Salvation Army. In 1890 General Booth published In Darkest England, in which he called for members of the Salvation Army to reach out to the poorest people in society. He argued that the moral improvement of the poor was dependent upon the amelioration of their material conditions and well-being. The overt presence of the army’s religious and social soldiers made its campaign visible and popularized the responsibility of religious people to help others in need. The saying, “No place was forsaken for the Army, no man or woman sunk so low as to be excluded from God’s bounty” best represents this denomination’s social perspective. Because all are God’s creatures, the Salvation Army made no distinction between the worthy and the unworthy poor. P 123

While delivery of social services through the churches had worked in London and in Glasgow, it did not work for America’s COSs [Charity Organization Societies] because of the nation’s religious and ethnic pluralism. This movement of service delivery away from the churches presaged an even greater change that was to occur in the twentieth century: the secularization of social welfare, which occurred partly because of the contributions of Mary Richmond and the philosophy of the Charity Organization Societies (COSs). Lubove (1965) noted that “Charity Organization was the creation of middle-class Protestant Americans, denouncing rigid sectarianism in charitable affairs, but inspired by an evangelical sense of mission” (p. 16) 124

A review of over 35,000 abstracts written between 1977 and 1997 for social workers 220 sources mentioned the term “religion.” “A close review of Social Work Abstracts failed to identify a single source that dealt with the religious-based social service organization as a service provider and/or a partner for social work. Nor was there any mention of religious-based social services that complement the services provided by the state, foundations, residents’ associations, and academic disciplines.” P. 51 Similar patterns were found at papers presented at academic conferences, in textbooks, course outlines and encyclopedias of social work.


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