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Think Out Loud

How Religion and Politics Intersect

Pete Springer/OPB

Today we continue our conversation about faith by exploring how religious organizations and government intersect. Of course there is a long tradition of churches providing services for people in need as part of their mission. Catholic Charities, for example, traces its history to the opening of an orphanage in New Orleans in 1727!

According to Multnomah County Commissioner Barbara Willer, all of Portland’s homeless shelters for families are run by faith-based organizations. However, there seems to be a new movement afoot here, in the relatively “unchurched” Portland: government and faith-based groups are actively looking to each other for help. Multnomah County is in the midst of launching a faith-based initiative. It hopes local churches will be able to help them stay connected to their communities and provide services that they cannot.

One such group the county has spoken with is the Luis Palau Association. Kevin Palau, the son of the famed evangelical preacher, is working hard to change the face of evangelicalism. And to really work with governments to benefit local communities. His program, Season of Service, is bringing thousands of evangelical Christians into communities to help people who are homeless and hungry, to provide health care, and to restore schools.  Local writer Tom Krattenmaker describes Palau as “the human symbol of the new-century evangelicalism.”

Are these partnerships effective ways of providing services to a community? Or are church and state getting a little too close for comfort? What role should faith-based organizations have in the delivery of social services? Should a line be drawn? If so, where? And how?


  • Kevin Palau: President of the Luis Palau Association
  • Barbara Willer: Multnomah County Commissioner (District 2) working to launch the County’s faith based initiative
  • Tom Krattenmaker: a Portland-based writer specializing in religion in public life, a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, and the author of “Onward Christian Athletes” 
  • Ann Newkirk Niven: Publisher of Sage Woman Magazine and Witches and Pagans Magazine

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