Warren R. Copeland, Professor of Religion and Director of Urban Studies at Wittenberg University, has also served for several terms both as mayor of Springfield, Ohio and as a member of the Springfield City Commission. His wife Clara has also served on boards of voluntary associations.
He tells the story of how he and his wife became legal guardian of a teenaged girl.
They knew the family through Mrs. Copeland’s kindergarten class, and for several reasons the girl’s mother wanted the Copelands to raise the girl. People often tell Copeland, “You are such good Christian people to take this girl into your home.” But he aptly wonders why people don’t say they’re “good Christian people” because they participate in the public life of their community!
“Being legal guardians for a teenager is not significantly less complicated than being a good citizen,” but he wonders “Why is the direct relationship of a legal guardian so often seen as more of an act of faith than the principled participation in a community’s public life?”
He adds that “Those who have served on the board of a voluntary association know that that can be just as difficult as government,” since voluntary associations, like local government, “shape our communities and understandings of the issues we face” in public life.
Copeland worries that people shun public life because they feel like (to use his example) building a house for Habitat for Humanity is somehow more results-oriented and more obviously a “good cause” than, for instance, dealing with local and federal laws about housing. This is not to disparage Habitat, but to compare the possibilities of voluntary and public service.
During one year of his elected service, Copeland voted to support construction of over 200 housing units for medium- and low-income families via a federal tax credit program. In addition, his city’s public housing authority supports nearly 2000 housing units. In twenty years, he notes, Springfield’s local Habitat chapter constructed forty homes.
“Voluntary organizations provide a human touch and often a spiritual dimension that may be missing from government programs. However, we are not about to meet the huge needs of our urban communities through volunteerism.”
 Excerpt from the Study Guide for Faithful Citizen: Living Responsibly in a Global Society (pp. 103-104), a six week adult study published by Logos Productions. Order at the books at www.logosproductions.com order online version at www.faithfulcitizenstudy.com.
 Warren R. Copeland, Doing Justice in Our Cities: Lessons in Public Policy from America’s Heartland (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 124.
 Copeland, Doing Justice in Our Cities, 124.
Image: The County Election by George Caleb Bingham, 1854-55.