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Where's the Religion? Distinguishing Faith-Based from Secular Social Service Agencies

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The charitable choice provision and President Bush's proposed Faith-Based and Community Initiative have spurred debates regarding government support of faith-based social service programs and their effectiveness. To address the issue of relative effectiveness, the logically prior question of what constitutes a faith-based agency and how they differ from secular providers must be answered. Utilizing data from a mailed survey, this study compares the organizational characteristics of faith-based and secular agencies that provide services to the homeless in Houston, Texas. Results indicate that the two agency types vary significantly across several dimensions including funding sources and preferences, decision-making tools, organizational culture, practices, leadership, and staffing characteristics. In addition, survey data and content analysis of mission statements reveal that 80 percent of faith-based agencies use religious imagery in some form of their “public face” to communicate their religiousness.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: University of Houston 2: Harris County Department of Education

Publication date: September 1, 2003

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