Michael Incavo’s letter run on Oct. 4 addresses an important problem — homelessness — but he ends up revealing a great deal of naivety on the subject of religion and the economy. His letter is one-sided, offering specific information on the benefits of working at a Church’s Chicken while offering only his personal anecdotes about how local churches fail to address homelessness. Are Church’s Chicken restaurants really directly dealing with the issue of homelessness? Doubtful. Are local churches really doing nothing? Also doubtful. Please provide evidence, Mr. Incavo, that local pastors (and more importantly, their congregations) are “nowhere to be found.”
A further, and perhaps more important issue, is the author’s failure to account for the economic and social value of religious congregations nationally and globally. Are they simply a “$71 billion-dollar drain?” Literally hundreds, if not thousands of academic studies address the social and economic value of congregations. A scholarly journal on religion, spirituality and health says that consistent religious attendance boosts the immune system, decreases blood pressure, reduces all-cause mortality, provides social support, encourages healthy behaviors like reduced tobacco and alcohol consumption, decreases depression, promotes flourishing — I could go on with dozens of other outcomes. All of these have a direct economic impact in terms of health and productivity.
Not only that, but in his book “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us,” Harvard professor and scientist Robert Putnam demonstrates the essential role religious congregations play in terms of establishing social trust, reducing corruption and increasing respect for laws, all of which in turn promote the kind of relationships necessary for economic transactions to occur. Historically, our own Charles North argues that private property protections established by the Church led to Catholic and Protestant nations providing protections for individual rights which are linked with incentive for individual success. On a global scale, UT sociologist Robert Woodberry has shown in his 2012 article “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy” that missionary efforts spread literacy, technology and civic institutions, all of which have translated directly to the economic growth of host nations.
I applaud Mr. Incavo’s interest in the issue of homelessness, and certainly local churches might become more involved, but his letter seems to be more about straw men and “churchy” puns than it is about how the social world actually works.
Blake Kent, Waco Ph.D candidate