Friday, June 12, 2015

The Quiet Revolution, by Jay Hein

Jay Hein has had a front row seat to a quiet revolution in the United States.  Having served as George W. Bush's director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, Hein participated in one of Bush's trademark ideas: charitable choice, the idea that private charity can and should be funded on an equal footing with government programs.  In The Quiet Revolution: An Active Faith That Transforms Lives and Communities, Hein tells the story of charitable choice, gives examples of private charity in action, and argues the case for this modern partnership between church and state.

The challenge of The Quiet Revolution is this: there are thousands of organizations around the U.S. doing great work for the poor, as well as serving other groups in our communities.  These organizations are staffed by millions of volunteers, dedicated employees, and talented directors.  Reading Hein's stories forced me to reflect on what I am doing on behalf of my neighbors and community.

My biggest problem with Hein's argument is this: he spends little time (maybe none at all, but I may have missed it. . . .) analyzing the potential impact of government funding on religious and other non-governmental organizations.  He celebrates the fact that effective charitable organizations qualify for government grants.  I wonder, though, if the fact that they have taken government money would inhibit the very qualities that make them effective.  Once an organization long dependent on local donors, grants from foundations, and creative fund raising turns toward dependency on the decisions of  Washington bureaucrats, the culture and priorities of the organization will inevitably begin to change.

What I can whole-heartedly agree with is Hein's call for more emphasis on private charity.  He points out that "people, not bureaucracies, solve problems."  Washington culture's focus on bureaucratic solutions neglects the role of private, community-based efforts in every corner of the nation.  He may be right that "President Bush's faith-based initiative and larger compassion agenda proves that government can be a catalyst for solving some of society's biggest human needs," but I remain just as suspicious of government choosing one charity over another as I am about government choosing one business over another in corporate welfare.

I especially appreciated Hein's larger point.  This revolution is quiet.  Bush isn't given enough credit for it.  The small armies of compassion are noticed from time to time, but the larger impact tends to be overlooked by political pundits and the press.  Hein does a great service by pointing them out and encouraging all of us to be a part.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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