June 5, 1999
CAN FAITH-BASED GROUPS PROVIDE
Who made this statement: ''Our
severest challenges are not just material, but spiritual. Americans know
that the fundamental change we need will require not only new policies but
more importantly, a change of both our hearts and our minds. If children are
not taught right from wrong, they behave chaotically....Without values of
conscience our political life degenerates.''
And who said this: ''Government
does not have a monopoly on compassion. Who better to help those who need
help than people of faith who are following a religious imperative to love
their neighbors, feed the poor and help the needy? Government should welcome
the help of faith-based institutions. Church and state should work together
for our shared goals.''
Did you guess Vice President Al
Gore gave the first quote? The second is by Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
Not coincidentally, both are favorites for their party's Presidential
Each is expressing a new interest
in government funding of religiously-based groups to serve the poor, the
addicted and the homeless. The old belief in the need for
separation of church and state is melting away among those running for
Why? Faith-based groups are
often more successful in transforming the character of criminals and the
indolent, than is government. Teen Challenge, which helps drug addicts
go straight via a one year immersion in Scripture, has 86 percent of its
graduates remaining drug free.
Yet in Texas in 1996, government
bureaucrats attempted to shut down Teen Challenge because it did not offer
the drug treatment of the preferred therapeutic medical model. Gov. Bush
stepped in and halted the shutdown, saying that if religious people are able
to help addicts recover, they ought to be commended, not terminated.
That sort of stand is not
surprising for Republicans, who derive much of their support from religious
conservatives. However, Al Gore's initiative was extraordinary, since
Democrats get much of their support from liberals who want to keep the
government and church separate.
Speaking to the Salvation Army in
Atlanta, he praised its ''powerful role of faith in nurturing a change of
consciousness'' of men recovering from substance abuse who start their day
in prayer before refinishing furniture.
He cited the work of Rev. Eugene
Rivers in Boston, who organized people of faith to face down the gangs that
was so successful the city went 18 months without losing one child to gun
violence. ''To the workers in these organizations, that client is not a
number but a child of God,'' Gore said. ''I believe government should play a
greater role in sustaining this quiet transformation.
''The 1996 welfare reform law
contained a little-known provision called Charitable Choice. It says,
simply, that states can enlist faith-based organizations to provide basic
welfare services and help move people from welfare to work.
''As long as there is always a
secular alternative for anyone who wants one, and as long as no one is
required to participate in religious observances as a condition for
receiving services, faith-based organizations can provide jobs and job
training, counseling and mentoring, food and basic medical care. They can do
so with public funds and without having to alter the religious character
that is so often the key to their effectiveness.''
Gore's desire to expand Charitable
Choice was unanimously condemned by the board of People for the American
Way, a civil liberties group. ''This proposal is bad for the Constitution
and it is bad for religion,'' PAW said. Melissa Rogers, of the Baptist Joint
Committee on Public Affairs, agrees, ''A war on poverty doesn't have to
include a war on religious liberty. Tax money and government regulation and
control should stop at the church-house door.''
Joe Loconte of the Heritage
Foundation dissents: Gore's speech ''marks a repudiation of anti-religious
bigotry that has dominated liberal forces for at least a generation. The
hollow secularism of liberal government has run its course. That is a
Gov. Bush has worked aggressively
to offer public funding for religious groups helping move people off welfare
with very limited results. Three years after passing such a bill
only a few churches are mentoring welfare recipients in the Fort Worth area.
However, a wing of a Texas prison
run by Prison Fellowship immerses men in Scripture with spectacular results.
Some inmates have actually refused parole so they could continue their
discipleship in prison! Brian Snyder, 29, explained, ''I had just accepted
Christ. I really wanted to change. I saw change in other guys' lives. They
showed the fruit of the spirit, were always lovable, happy. I have
learned so much: patience and love. Through Christ I can overcome
anything. If I were not here, I would have failed long ago.''
Copyright 1999 Michael J. McManus.