The first national, in-depth study of health services provided by religious communities is being undertaken by the National Council of Churches. The project will survey more than 100,000 Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations to determine the level of health care education, delivery and advocacy being offered.
Those weathering Katrina’s aftermath see no end in sight. “It's going to go on for years,” says United Methodist bishop Hope Morgan Ward. "For years and years." “We’re not back to normal, and I don’t know what that would be like,” says Nelson Roth, pastor of Gulfhaven Mennonite Church in Gulfport, Mississippi.
The faith-based initiative asks religious organizations to carry a heavy load. Providing a social safety net is the relatively easy part. Religious groups are also being asked—and are asking themselves—to build the social bridges that strengthen America’s civil society.
President Bush has urged large corporations and foundations to join government agencies in offering grants to faith-based organizations, adding that the private entities should rewrite their rules if they don’t allow funding of religious charities.
As criticism of the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina continues, praise of faith-based groups that have responded is providing new momentum in a campaign to expand federal funding of religious social services.
Aurora Solis is typical of the people involved in faith-based organizing. Solis, a Mexican immigrant who grew up in a low-income home, works in a staff position at a high school in San Jose, California. She has been a U.S. citizen for only four years.