The Roundtable on Religion & Social Policy interviewed Acton’s Karen Woods, director of the Center for Effective Compassion (CEC) this week. Woods spoke about the work of the CEC, including the Samaritan Award, and also gave her perspective on the federal Faith-Based and Community Initiative.

She says in part,

With welfare reform in ’96, and certainly the waivers that preceded that in certain states, there was a change in the way that we looked at social services. Suddenly, work was valued, not just in the sense of an economic value, but a personal value. You’re not viewed by the system as saying, “Well, we have to help you because you can’t help yourself,” but saying, “Guess what? There are a lot of things you could do for yourself and let’s focus on that.”

We’ve got all these people in the system — three and four generations of people who’ve been on entitlement systems that don’t know how to work. The parallel issue with that is that you have three or four generations of people who do not know how to help — and many of them sitting in church pews and in religious congregations across the United States.

Because, for three and four generations, the first line of defense was called social services, as opposed to saying, “I watched my mother help the next door neighbor when she had problems and when she was ill or couldn’t take care of her kids (or) I watched my dad help a man in our church who’d lost his job, and helped him with his job skills and get another job.” That used to be an assumed role of Christian charity.