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May 4, 2002
Column #1079

Compassionate Conservatism Restores Lives 

     The lives of President George W. Bush and of an ex-addict and former prostitute named Pam Martin, may seem worlds apart.

     However, they are linked by an American virtue of charity, or as the President put it in a speech this week, by "compassionate conservatism."

     He said, that more government "money is not always the answer." While liberals want to spend more money on social problems, often the need is for spiritual solutions. He said, "The measure of compassion is results. Yet we cannot have an indifferent government, either. We are a generous and caring people. We don't believe in a sink or swim society."

     The President proposed "charitable choice" legislation that would allow two-thirds of taxpayers who take a standard deduction, to itemize their charitable gifts. A stunted version of that bill passed the House last year and a more generous one is up for a Senate vote.

     As Bush argues: "The policies of our government must heed the universal call of all faiths to love a neighbor as we would want to be loved ourselves."

     Pam Martin was not very lovable in 1991 when she left Detroit for Grand Rapids as part of a "crew" to "boost" or "steal major items from stores." Grand Rapids gave "easy access for professional thieves." She also "turned tricks" as a prostitute. 

     Why? She was a crack cocaine addict. 

     Pam ended up in a homeless shelter with her two children, aged 3 and 4. Volunteers from Coit Community Church gave her food and clothing. They invited her to church, but she initially refused to go. 

     One volunteer, who had previously had little contact with African Americans, "was nice and pleasant and tried to get me to come to church. I went begrudingly most of the time. They gave me books to read and encouraged me to go back to school and to stop using drugs," Pam recalls. They found her an apartment and gave her furniture.

     One daily visitor was Jerome Burton, a black recovering heroin and crack addict on probation who talked to her powerfully about God. 'He saw my two boys and said, `You can do better for them, sister.' I told him, `I am not your sister. I don't know who you are, except an ex-dope fiend trying to pull me into this white church. I don't like them and I don't like you.' I was very belligerent. I was not a nice person," Pam confessed. 

     "I was on welfare which allowed me to do drugs, stealing and turning an occasional trick to buy drugs. But then I had a major relapse. I woke up and had sold every furniture in my house. I was devastated at what I had done. I was tired of living like an animal and was no kind of a mother. So I prayed to God to deliver me from drugs. I begged Him, "I know you are real, God. You are up there and I want to stop."

     Her church friends doubted her but said they were ready to help. Pam realized she needed to distance herself from her old friends, and began attending three Bible studies a week at Madison Christian Reformed Church. She got a job at night, started going to college and was soon on the dean's list. She became an addictions counselor and started Freedom House, a ministry that has helped 12 women who were strung out like herself - to get clean. 

     But Pam still had trouble managing her money. She started attending financial classes taught by church volunteers. They were trained by New Focus (616 895-5356), a ministry which has helped 75 churches to free people from welfare. 

     Soon Pam will graduate from college and she's been accepted at Calvary Seminary as its first African American female seminarian.

     New Focus has no government support, but charges churches $1,500 for its intensive training of volunteers. 

     If the Senate bill called CARE became law, 86 million Americans, 70 percent of whom earn under $30,000, could deduct $400 per individual and $800 per family. Today many have so few deductions that they do not itemize. (The House bill allows only $25 of deductions in the first year, rising to $100 over four years.)

     Would allowing charitable deductions increase giving? Absolutely.

     From 1982 to 1986, federal law allowed all taxpayers to deduct their contributions. Giving increased 40 percent! Therefore, a similar law today could spark billions of new giving.

     Think of the thousands of Pam Martins who could be reached.

Copyright 2002 Michael J. McManus.

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