May 4, 2002
Compassionate Conservatism Restores
The lives of President George W. Bush and of
an ex-addict and former prostitute named Pam Martin, may seem worlds
However, they are linked by an American virtue
of charity, or as the President put it in a speech this week, by
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
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
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
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.