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Event Transcript
July 14, 1999


Faith-Based Outreach to Our Capital’s Youth

JOHN DIIULIO: Who is working with the most distressed children, youth and families in this nation? One answer, which is not completely unrebuttable, is government programs. Largely because of federal and intergovernmental anti-poverty programs like Medicaid and Food Stamps, “only” about 12 or 13 percent of all American families with children today, and I say only in quotes, are living in conditions under which they don't have adequate food, money or medicine. You have an historic low of black child poverty where “only” — again, only in quotes — one in five black children lives in such conditions. We also have new lows or falling rates of poverty and other social ills.

Along with Medicaid, Food Stamps, and other government anti-poverty programs, there is another now equally unrebuttable answer, and that is grassroots programs and ministries. Based on research that was completed during the last couple of years by my University of Pennsylvania colleague, Professor Ram Cnaan, we now know that on average, every older, urban religious congregation in this country supplies about $144,000 a year worth of social services and outreach to the community. This is in addition to almost 5,300 hours a year in services, or roughly two-and-a-half full-time people working around the clock as volunteers.

We also know from all of these boring social science surveys, that the primary beneficiary of these church-based programs are inner-city children and young adults who are not themselves the members of any church. It is community revitalization that pushes beyond the church doors and the church gates to reach the most needy children, regardless of whether they happen to belong to the church or have any religious affiliation. Based on preliminary research that Professor Cnaan and myself have been conducting, it is clear that even as much as the larger, older urban congregations do to help inner-city youth and young adults; smaller, community-rooted, faith-based organizations not attached to any congregation provide as much. They also deliver social services and aggressively reach out to the community.

What all of the social science research to date tells us is that these organizations are out there in critical mass and numbers. Whether we're talking about churches in urban areas or tiny blessing stations; whether we're talking about religious preschools or ministries to prisoners and ex-prisoners. They are out there, and they are working to help inner-city youth and young adults to reduce violence, promote literacy, to access jobs, to revitalize communities, to resurrect broken lives and to restore hope.

The community-serving ministries of Washington, D.C. in particular, tend to be highly efficacious and cost effective, whether we're talking about treating substance abuse, educating children or reducing recidivism among ex-prisoners. If you doubt it, you might want to take a look at the Spring 1999 issue of the Brookings Review, where you have such notable social scientists as Glen Lowry and James Q. Wilson and others making these points and summarizing some of the research and evidence.

The purpose of the Manhattan Institute’s Jeremiah Project, which formally began last year, is to study and assist, to identify, to document, and to help support exemplary faith-based community service urban ministries. Last year, Public Private Ventures, which is a research organization in Philadelphia probably best known for its evaluation research of the Big Brothers-Big Sisters of America mentoring program, the Jeremiah Project and the Manhattan Institute had two young, energetic, and incredibly talented researchers, Jeremy White and Mary DeMarcellus. both of whom are from the Princeton class of 96, produce a report, available to you, on Faith-Based Outreach to Youth in the District of Columbia. This is the report we're focusing on today.

They challenged my Manhattan Institute colleagues and me by saying, "You are getting lost in the quest for big-end research findings. You're getting sidetracked by futile debates on religion and society. Though that’s all important, think of what you might learn if you took two bright and talented researchers and sent them out into the field for six months in the District of Columbia and had them look for examples of the kind of ministries you are talking about."

Well, we took the challenge, and they did the research, and as you can see in the report, they profiled 129 such community-serving ministries in the District of Columbia. They reached a number of interesting findings, which I will leave to your reading.

One of the many remarkable community serving ministries profiled by Jeremy and Mary is The Fishing School, led by Elder Tom Lewis, who will be our first speaker on the panel.

Before all the talk about preacher, clergy, and police partnerships, Tom Lewis decided to become a one-man clergy-police partnership. Tom spent a couple of decades as a police officer here in the District of Columbia before forming The Fishing School and starting his ministry outreach.

Even though I am a Roman Catholic, I do sometimes get a chance to read the Bible. There is one passage in the Bible that speaks about loving children not merely in words but in truth and actions, and as our first speaker, I'd like to give to you a man of truth and action, Pastor Tom Lewis.

TOM LEWIS: Thank you so very much. I've been introduced by so many different names. I'm really not a pastor, even though I'm called pastor of The Fishing School. I have served as the assistant to the pastor in a couple of churches. But I am deeply honored to be here to share briefly with you my involvement in these efforts.

I came from North Carolina, one of 15 children. My mother was pregnant 17 times, and my father had an alcohol problem. I left home when I was a 10th grade dropout. I caught a migrant bus to a variety of states between Florida and Upstate New York, picking peas and beans, apples and oranges, tomatoes, potatoes. But in 1960, I moved to New York, and while sleeping on the floor in Brooklyn, a Jewish family rescued me. They gave me a job. They gave me a place to stay, and got me thinking about things I could do in the future. After going to the military, getting my GED, and working in the post office in New York for about a year, I came down to D.C. and became a police officer. I was blessed to get involved with American University, and after about seven years I finally graduated and began my training.

While a police officer, I worked in the Officer Friendly Program. My job was to go to schools and talk to children about the things that police officers did and how they helped within the community. As I was doing my work, going to the schools every morning, children would come to me in elementary and junior high schools. They wanted to talk, and they wanted to touch my uniform. "Officer Friendly, can I shake your hand?" "Officer Friendly, would you be my daddy? My daddy's in jail." They even said, "My daddy's a thief." Then one day I saw two of them in the back of the classroom fighting over me, "He's my daddy. No, he's my daddy. Officer Friendly, aren't you my daddy." I said to them, "All of you are my children."

In the midst of working within that structure, I promised God that I would retire and give my life to prayer. As time went on, I began to work with Lutheran Social Services, and I did home-based work. I began to go to the homes of these children. I never saw so many dirty children coming to school in the morning: coming from home early in the morning just filthy. When I began to work in the homes, I began to see what they were coming from — houses literally turned upside down. You wouldn't believe people actually lived there, but they did. Yet they were expected to go to school then and work with normal children.

I began to think about what I could do. I thought I was doing a good job in my work, but there was something gnawing on me on the inside. I took a course at the Washington Bible College, and something stuck with me from that. God is not necessarily concerned with what we do, but he's concerned with why we do what we do. That stuck with me, and I began to think about what I was going to do.

Now, I had my own three children to send to school, and I had no money. At the time I was trying to be a real estate man. I was trying to rent out this particular building. No one would rent it because it was on one of the worst streets in America. As time went on, I decided I was going to sell it. I went to church on the Sunday that I advertised it in The Washington Post. While on my knees, praying, I had a vision: I saw a desk and children coming in the door in the little house that I had on 1240 Wylie Street, NE. If you go to that building right now, you'll see the same desk that I saw in my vision.

I told my wife that I was not going to sell the house. I told her, “I'm going to open up a family service center.” She said, "What's that?" I said, "I don't know what it is, but I'm going over there and I'm going to do it." So, we began to work over there. I went there, and people thought I was crazy. I worked for about two years by myself. I didn't know how to get started, but I saw five little girls dancing in the street, and the boys came by, and they would shake themselves in front of the boys. They said, "Mister, what do you got over there?" I said, "I've got a fishing school." I didn't know what to call it at first, but I thought about this old adage that says "If you give a man a fish, you'll feed him for a day; if you teach him how to fish, he'll feed himself for a lifetime." I said I'm going to open up a fishing school, and we're going to be fishing in the river of those minds.

I started working with these children. I wrote the word "respect" up on the board, and I said "Give me a word that we can have respect for." They gave me the word “rules.” Then we began to talk about rules. Where do you find rules? They began to name places. Then we pondered that if you don't go anyplace, you still have rules at home. What happens if you disobey rules? One of them said you go to jail. I said "What if your mother tells you to wash the dishes: she's not going to put you in jail if you don't wash the dishes." So, we found out that there are consequences for disobeying all sorts of rules.

One of the girls asked me on the way about trying to become a cosmetologist. We talked about self-respect. I told her that if she wants to be a cosmetologist, then she’s going to have to have self-respect. I reminded them of how I saw them disrespecting themselves in front of the boys outside. I said, “if you want to be a cosmetologist, you're going to have to learn how to have self-respect, because other people treat you like you treat yourself.” If you disrespect yourself, you're giving other people permission to disrespect you. Then I began to talk about The Fishing School. And we began to fish in the rivers of the minds.

Wylie has been one of those streets that has been talked about over the news media in such a long period of time. It's an area where you've got drug infestation, alcoholism, and fighting every day. We began to have a safe haven for the children. We have an after school program that goes to schools and talks about the expectations that the teachers have of the children. We have a faith-based program. We have Bible study every day. We have a computer learning center. We have a male youth enrichment project to work with the boys between the ages of nine and 14 and recently we started a female youth enrichment project.

I don't believe these program really work unless you have a home component. We try to get every parent involved. We have about 40 children in our regular program, and we just opened up another program with about 37 other children. For the summer we have a day camp program that works with about 70 children. Some of these kids that you saw singing today are in that program. This the first time they have ever sung in public.

I believe that if we don't do something to help these children, my friends, they are going to be breaking into our homes. They're going to be charging us more and more taxes. We're going to pay for it one way or the other. You've heard the old saying, "pay me now, or pay me later."

We also try to work with the lives and souls of these children, because Jesus asked the question, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?" There's nothing you can give in exchange for that. So, we want to work with that: we try to touch the entire person.

I want to close by saying something that paints the picture as to why I have been involved in this effort. In the 11th Chapter of the Gospel of St. John, there was a man named Lazarus who got sick, a friend of Jesus’. They sent for Him, but by the time He got there, the man had been dead for four days. He saw that and He cried. I believe that when we see the conditions of our communities, the way things are going, it really is enough to make you cry. I also believe that when the crying is over, when the singing is over, when the shouting is over, there's work to be done.

Christ asked where Lazarus had been buried. They took Him to a large tomb, and there was a large stone blocking the entrance of the tomb, and He gave three commands. He gave two to the people and one to the dead man. He told them to roll that stone away. And Martha, Lazarus's sister said, "Well, he's been dead four days, his body is stinking."

When I read that, something lit up on the inside of me, because my mother's name was Martha. Lazarus's other sister's name was Mary. My mother's twin sister's name was Mary. I recall when I was a police officer, I had to stand by the body of man who had been dead for four days, waiting for the morgue wagon, so I know what a stinking body smells like after that long. I can tell you, however, that the smell of a dead man's body has no comparison in the nostrils of our God to the smell of pain and suffering and illiteracy and degradation.

Christ commanded that they roll that stone away, and when they did, He called that dead man forth. "Lazarus, come forth." And the Bible says, "He that was dead came forth," and that his feet and hands were bound with burial garments. Then Christ gave the final command to the people: "Loosen him and let him go." Over there on Wylie Street, at The Fishing School, it's like a tomb. Dead people. They're walking. They're breathing, but they can't go anywhere. And the reason they can't go any place is because of stones — stones of illiteracy, stones of hopelessness. The Fishing School is trying to roll these stones away through our work.

We call the people that help us stone rollers. You may have heard about a group called the Rolling Stones: they have been around for years, and though they have had trouble with drugs and alcohol they've been still going year after year. I believe that if God would allow a group like that to stand, he certainly will allow us and our Fishing School to stand.

People criticize our work, as a lady who once said to me, "I watch you, and you cry on cue." When I get before a big crowd of people, I have a certain thing that I say, and I do cry. But I tell you my friends, when the crying is over, there's work to be done. So, we're asking people to help us with our work, and when the stone is rolled away, we will call out the “dead” people — we've got Kevin, we called him forth out of bed, and the Washington School of Ballet gave him a scholarship. He's dancing now with the Dance Theater of Harlem. We've got another boy who performed his poetry at the Kennedy Center. We've got five children who just won $8,000 scholarships so that when they finish high school they'll be able to go to college.

Not all the stories are as good, though. We've got two children that were supposed to graduate this year — one barely made it out and doesn't want to attend college, and one did not make it out. There's trouble in the land, my friends. We have three staff members who have been robbed within the last three months. We've got two staff members who have been shot within the last three months. One of the men that taught our kids how to assemble model rockets is now walking around with a bullet in his head.

I believe God has called us to be stone rollers, and that's what we are at The Fishing School. Thank you for the opportunity and God bless you.

Mr. DIIULIO: Thank you. Our next speaker was in the headlines a couple of weeks ago in Boston. The story was about a teenager who had committed a murder, who was apprehended and was about to kill either himself or a lot of other people. Our next speaker, as he so often is on those streets in Boston, was Johnny-on-the-spot, and talked this young man into giving himself up.

Reverend Eugene S. Rivers has been in the headlines a great deal. Going back a year ago in June, he was on the cover of Newsweek. You will now find him on the cover of the Ford Foundation's quarterly report. Many of you here have read about him. Some of you may even have written about him. But the remarkable thing about Reverend Eugene S. Rivers, as I learned again this past Sunday as I was kept up until 3:00 in the morning in Boston with him and his main ministry colleagues, is that the more attention he gets, the harder he works and focuses. The more tunnels he builds into the lives of the most distressed children of Dorchester, Mattapan, Roxbury, and Boston. He's been widely credited with helping police and probation to engineer what was a 29-month period in Boston without a single gun-related youth homicide. He has been credited with helping to broker a number of partnerships between law enforcement, clergy and social services.

But the thing that I think recommends Reverend Rivers more than anything else after all this and all the attention, is that his primary concern remains where it was when he began this 30 years ago, and that's with the children. It's a privilege to give you Reverend Eugene Rivers.

REVEREND EUGENE RIVERS: I'd like to begin the way one begins in church by first giving honor to God. In my tradition, the first thing you say before you say anything else is giving honor to God and thanking the Lord that you have breath in your body. Those of you who know my tradition understand that, right? I don't want to break with my tradition just because I'm at the National Press Club. Praise the Lord. Amen.

This meeting is extraordinary to me for a couple of reasons. In the audience there are a number of friends that have sort of been on the same journey over the last 30 years, and it's remarkable to think about this. There's Jim Wallace here, one of my old buddies, from Sojourner magazine, with whom I had conversations about these matters 30 years ago. It's amazing, Jim, to think about that. Twenty-nine years ago we were having conversations about how one would integrate faith and the planet Earth, and move from pious kind of theological rhetoric to making our faith real.

I just saw Cheryl Saunders — is she still here? As she came in it flashed across my mind that the first march that we did against heroin and crack dealers in the city of Boston was actually led by a woman, who was the pastor of the only church that was willing to host the meeting to march against the crack dealers. In 1982, as a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School she felt that God was really leading her to be the convening contact for a march. As we marched through the black community, we weren't marching against white folks, racism or police brutality, because while those were concerns, what was a greater concern to us was the fact that black kids were killing black kids, and you couldn't have a big press conference on that. We had to do the real work, which was to come together as a faith community and wrestle with the challenge of checking egos in at the door. In my tradition this seems to be the biggest problem. In fact, in this work, you find that the egos of the preachers are more intractable than the nonsense of the kids. So, you folks, pray for us preachers. As some of you may know, we are all legends in our own mind, so we are in desperate need of deliverance from the sin of hubris.

This afternoon I am very, very thankful. There are two points I want to make for those of you that are here. As the programmatically and politically obsolete rhetoric of a declining civil rights industry increasingly recedes into the distant past, the most formidable political question confronting those concerned with the future of this country is going to be how we frame the discussion to mobilize faith communities, to resurrect the future for a generation of young people who are drowning now in their own blood.

The real terms of this debate revolve around a fairly elementary proposition. This isn't clear to those of us who have been laboring beneath the radar screen for 30 years and have now just been recently discovered. We have a decision to make. There are few agnostics and atheists in the trenches when the gunfire is moving. We have to determine whether or not we want society to descend into apartheid as gated communities become de facto public policy locking in the unwashed and the poor. We also have to figure out how we strengthen the faith-based communities that emphasize responsibility and measurable outcomes, and not the discourse of rights and complaints.

So, this society has a decision to make. The rhetoric of the civil rights industry is over. We've got the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. For the most part, a man can say and do what he likes. When we talk about racial profiling, the most tragic form of racial profiling that we must organize around is the issue of black on black violence. This is a more tragic form of racial profiling than black professional men being perturbed because they are confused for social inferiors. The bigger challenge, and I am so thankful for this meeting this afternoon, is for us as a society to make a decision. It will either be virtual apartheid, or it will be a new movement of faith that focuses not on rhetoric but on keeping hope alive. At the end of the day we need measurable outcomes that produce a rational vision of the future for a generation of children for whom hope and the future have died.

It is my prayer this afternoon that among even the most cynical of you with regards to faith and theology, that you will put first the concerns for your future: the children. Let's work together to see how we can generate the kinds of discourse, the kinds of policies and programmatic responses that are needed by the most disadvantaged so that we can live a much more rational life in this society.

God bless you, and thank you very much.

Mr. DIIULIO: One of the interesting things that I've concluded over the past three or four years of studying and trying to help assist the kinds of ministries that are represented by Reverend Rivers and Elder Lewis and those profiled in the D.C. report, is that there is often an inverted pyramid between the ratio of attention to actual support. Reverend Rivers is on the cover of Newsweek and on the cover of the Ford Foundation's magazine, and yet part of the discussion until 3:00 in the morning the other night was how does one find the $70,000 to $80,000 to fund the summer program. Elder Lewis and The Fishing School have been much profiled. We're going to acknowledge shortly the Alliance of Concerned Men, which was highlighted on page one of The Washington Post on Sunday, above the fold. Yet there's a resource issue there. I want to come in behind this appeal. It's not about church and state as much as it is about religion and society.

Before I do that, I also want to be a good professor and acknowledge that it's not just about money. In fact, the comparative advantage of faith-based organizations is that at the end of day while they need some basic support — public, private, philanthropic, corporate — what they do is no less than some form of moral jujitsu.

Unlike almost any other kind of social service provider, they intervene in the lives of these children. They do not perform the type of deficit assessment that says, "You're an education problem and you have a father that's incarcerated and you have a mother who is on crack or on welfare, and eventually after we address all of these various needs we will be able to consider you a whole person and expect something from you."

They perform a form of moral jujitsu where they say, "Right now, put all of that hurt and pain and dysfunction on God, and we have something for you, we have something better for you. It's right there in The Fishing School. It's right there at the Baker House, and it's right there at the Alliance for Concerned Me." That's the difference. I don't know if it takes religious idealism or commitment to do that, but empirically speaking, it looks like it does.

No one has made a better examination of this than our next speaker, who is, I'm proud to say, a colleague at the Manhattan Institute and the Jeremiah Project. Pastor Amy L. Sherman has collaborated on a book with the Family Research Council that puts down some of her thoughts and findings on the elements of effective ministry. Let me now introduce Amy Sherman.

AMY SHERMAN: I've had the opportunity to go around and look at an awful lot of wonderful things going on around the country, as well as learning just a few things, running a ministry called Abundant Life Ministries in Charlottesville, Virginia. Today, I want to talk very briefly about seven habits of highly effective faith-based ministries.

The first thing is that ministries that really make a difference inculcate in the children and the adults that they serve a particularized definition of human nature. This has two parts. Part one says, "You're special. You're made in the image of God. You have dignity." Part two says, "You know what, just like me, and all the rest of us, you've got a sin problem that you need to deal with." Both of these things facilitate positive transformation. The first does it by telling people who feel like they have no worth and no hope that they do in fact have a solid basis for hope and for a sense of self-worth. They are loved by their heavenly father who created them, knit them together beautifully in their mother's womb. Believe it or not, the second part — telling people that they're probably not good enough to make it on their own — is also a good thing because it makes them teachable and it makes them realize that it's not just up to me to get my life together. I can turn to the Lord to do that for me. I can turn to God for power to change my life.

The second thing that these groups do is that they anchor their people in a moral universe, an objective and knowable moral universe. At the risk of being politically incorrect, faith-based ministries that are effective do not encourage participants to just get in touch with whatever higher power they want to. They talk to people about the fact that there is a God, and there is a moral universe, and there is a knowable right and wrong. If you can get anchored in that, it can give you a sense of direction.

When I've interviewed a lot of people around the country, I have thought, “I wonder if these folks are going to feel like Wow, I went to that ministry and they just sort of told me what I had to do and I feel all constricted. That's not what they say. They say, "I've been aimless and drifting my whole life, and finally I've got some signposts: I've got an anchor to settle me down and to help me cultivate the virtuous habits I need in order to succeed."

Third, effective faith-based ministries emphasize transformation, not just rehabilitation. That is, they don't just say to the person who fell down into a pit of some sort — whether it be gangs or drugs — and say, "We're all about getting you out of the pit." That's rehab. Effective groups say, "You know what, we've got to get you out of the pit and make you a new creature, make you a new man, or you're just going to walk down and fall into the next pit." They emphasize true transformation.

Fourth — and this is related — effective faith-based ministries challenge the people that they work with to become people of service. They teach people "you are your brother's keeper." This gets back to the difference between rehab and transformation. Sometimes — I'm not saying always — but sometimes rehabilitation can be a very self-focused thing. "I'm in this program to get my head back on, to get me all back together for me. And when I'm done, I'm out of here." Transformation says, "Yes, you're in this program to get you back together, but not just for your sake alone. You're here to get yourself back together so God can use you to minister to the next guy." So, it's not just about personal responsibility, it's about community responsibility. It's the old Jewish adage, "If I'm for myself alone, what am I?"

Fifth, effective faith-based groups enfold their people into a loving, supportive community that legitimates the person's pursuit of a better life and helps them overcome the notorious "Crayfish Syndrome." There's a preacher down South who talks about how if you stick a bunch of crayfish in a bucket and one of them starts to crawl up out of it, the other ones are going to pull it back down. The ladies that I work with, and some of the folks that these gentlemen work with, know what that's all about.

People will decide, "You know, I'm tired of this life, and I'm going to go for something better." I'll tell you what, folks, it's not like everybody in their life stands up and cheers. In fact, a lot of them get kind of ticked off about it, especially the boyfriends. They get real ticked off about it. Effective groups help people get out of the bucket when everyone else in their life is pulling them down. You're there pulling them up, legitimizing their aspirations and saying, "You know, even though your own family is criticizing you for trying to get ahead and do better for yourself, we're going to say you're on the right track, and it's going to be a blessing to them."

Sixth, the supportive community that helps people get out, sticks around. Effective ministries are effective because they're incarnational. They're there. They're in the same zip code. They don't go anywhere. They're there over time. They don't leave when there isn't any more money.

And number seven, effective faith-based ministries build caring, meaningful and non-condescending relationships that begin over time to blur the distinction between the helper and the helped. They do this in two ways. They have the same moral message for everybody that participates in the ministry. You see, it's not just about the participants coming in and saying "You've got to get your life together by the book." The volunteers, the staff, and everybody comes together and says, "We've got to get our lives together by the book, and we ain't asking you to do anything that we don't expect ourselves to do." There's a position of equality and mutuality in that relationship.

They also talk about how the staff and the volunteers are themselves going to see their lives enriched and transformed by people of service. When you have that mentality, you're not going to fall into the “riding in on the white horse with all the answers and solving all the problems.” If you come in with the understanding of, "Yes, I'm going to offer something to this person, but I know I'm going to get something back. I know God is going to use that person to minister to me," that builds a humility and a mutuality of relationship that is truly caring over the long term.

There's a lot of wonderful ministries going on around the country. You can read about them in this wonderful book by Deanna Carlson called The Welfare of My Neighbor. A lot of the groups she talks about do the seven things I've talked about, and they would be great for anybody to look at so that other people can go out and start ministries on the same principles.

End of First Panel

Mr. DIIULIO: It's a privilege to give to you our closing speaker, who is best known as the husband of Elayne Bennett. It's actually an important moment here to note that Elayne Bennett's “Best Friends” is not a faith-based program. However, there are enormous numbers of non-faith-based programs out there, whether for teenage pregnancy and abstinence, or for mentoring, like Big Brothers-Big Sisters, that do enormous good in the world, often for precisely the kind of terribly needy children and young adults that we're talking about here today.

Dr. Bennett needs no introduction. I'm going to nonetheless inflict a brief one on him. He is the former Secretary of Education and the nation's first director of the Office of Drug Control Policy.

Again, I've been reading this thing called the Bible. It's actually a very interesting book. There's a line in there from James about dishonoring the poor: a warning about dishonoring the poor. I guess in our American political discourse people who are labeled as conservatives are often accused — sometimes even accuse themselves — of dishonoring the poor.

The thing about Dr. William J. Bennett is that no one in their right mind would ever accuse him of any such thing. Throughout the work that I've been doing there has been absolutely no major public figure who's been more supportive. He has come down to Philadelphia to 17th and Thompson, to the Gesu School, to help in fundraising for that school of 420 disadvantaged kids in the heart of north central Philadelphia. He provided myriad other kinds of help. It's a real privilege all the time, in every case, to have a chance to introduce him, so without further ado, Dr. Bennett.

Dr. WILLIAM BENNETT: Thank you, John. As a fellow Catholic, let me warn you, John, that's the second time you've mentioned reading the Bible on your own. You're the criminologist. Three strikes, John, and you're out.

I don't want to be the pessimist, but I want to alert you to the risk by way of drawing the moral for this story. There was a professor of mine, John, who said, you can identify an intellectual because an intellectual is somebody who, more than being right or wrong or rich or poor, wants to believe and say what all the smart people believe and say. There's a risk we run now that the use of faith-based institutions and the language of faith will become a great fashion in our time. That is, it will become a thing that will be invoked, talked about and then discarded as people go back to business as usual.

Well, with such advocates as we have here that's not going to be the case in their lives and their work. The question is what resonance this will have in the long term in the public discussion, awareness and action. Let me just say what an extraordinary thing it is to have a figure like John DiIulio. I don't mean a body like John DiIulio. I mean a figure.

But think about this. A tenured Ivy League professor who is a professing Christian, publicly professing Christian, and who is actually willing to say so and to live his faith, a very rare man walking the halls of academia, willing to live out his faith. One other thing about his faith. In our time you may have noticed that it is fine to be a searcher for the truth, but God help you if you act as if you have found the truth. Contemporary fashion blesses the searchers, but if you act as if you have actually discovered something that's true, be careful. The doubters are to be celebrated. Those who think they have found some truth are of course to be condemned to the fires of doctrinairism and the like.

This whole panel consists of people of conviction, men and women who know what they believe, what they stand for, what they won't stand for. This is, as Shakespeare would say, to give to airy abstraction a local habitation and a name.

If you want to know what it's all about, visit The Fishing School, visit these places, talk with these men and you will see what it's about. We are here maybe making news, as John said. About $75,000 and a press conference in Washington, D.C.. But we are also doing some important social science. My definition of social science is the elaborate demonstration of the obvious by methods that are obscure.

We are discovering, lo and behold, that faith makes a difference in people's lives. Indeed, that faith can make the difference in people's lives. Why should this be news in a country where 94 percent of Americans say that they believe in God and that they believe we are moral and spiritual beings? Nevertheless, this can get obscured from time to time. So we are celebrating that truth and that faith.

The second point I'd make on this, and it's been made already by Amy and by others: Mother Theresa reminds us of the difference between welfare and Christian love. Welfare is for a purpose. Christian love is for a person. A welfare program can be a sound program, it can be an unsound program. It serves a purpose. It's about getting out of a hole. It's about keeping someone from getting into another hole. Christian love is about a person, so it has many of those attributes that Amy described.

Let me come back to the risk. It's a good thing — it's not a bad thing — that politics and politicians, even some very good and honorable politicians, are talking about faith-based charities. We now see with the upcoming presidential race that faith-based charities are a centerpiece in both the campaign of George W. Bush and Al Gore. That's a good thing. What we have to be sure of is that people stay with it, understand it, follow through on it, and that it's not just used as a mere political cause. This issue's been out in public debate for some time, and now more and more people are recognizing it.

There are lessons for liberals and lessons for conservatives to be learned from what we have heard about today. Liberals need to learn that not only does the Constitution not require an animus against faith, it does not require an indifference to faith either. Indeed, one can argue — and I think persuasively — that under any sensible interpretation it would require a hospitality and an openness toward faith: an embrace of faith.

For conservatives, they need to learn that limiting government — even bad government programs — is not enough. As John DiIulio has taught us in that very famous figure, if a victim has been stabbed by bad government programs, pulling out the knife is not enough. It's a good first step, but it doesn't heal the victim. Other things must be done as well.

So as we conclude today, I would just admonish everyone here who's read The Screwtape Letters, as you all have, that we don't fall into yet one more trap. One can imagine Screwtape writing to his nephew Wormwood, “Look, get everybody to acknowledge the importance of faith. Get everybody to pay lip service to the notion that faith-based institutions are very important. Put their spokesmen on the cover of magazines, put them on the cover of the Ford Foundation newsletter, and then go back to funding exactly what you were funding before.”

You will say, “Oh, we acknowledge that, we recognize that.” Yet we talk about the importance of stone rollers, but give more money to the Rolling Stones. The American public must put more of its wealth into these efforts. We must make it a fashionable thing. Praise it, but don’t allow things to go back to business as usual.

Never disagreeing with those cherubic voices and people who were here earlier, I would just conclude, if I might, with a brief commercial. Jesus is better, but these folks need silver and gold. So that is our charge as well. Thank you, John.

Mr. DIIULIO: A miracle just about happened. We have a good 25 to 30 minutes left for questions. So the floor is open. I would only ask that you identify yourself, be brief, and direct your question to the member of the panel who you would most like to answer it.

QUESTION: My name is Chris Roberts and I'm a reporter for the PBS. First for you, John. You said in your introduction that most recipients of faith-based ministries aren't members of the church. I'd like to know why those people aren’t members of the church, and why aren't they being integrated back into the organization which is giving care.

The second question for anyone on the panel is: is there anyone worried that when government funding comes to their program they will have to dilute their faith-based ministry.

Mr. DIIULIO: I hope I didn't misspeak. If I did, my apologies. Findings from the first and second generation Cnaan studies show that the primary beneficiaries — the single group that receives most of the dollars and does most of the charitable outreach work across all the cities studied to date — are groups of children and young adults who are not members of the church or nonprofit faith-based organization providing the help, the support, the services, and in some cases even the financial assistance.

That is simply because even in neighborhoods that have — as almost all the neighborhoods we're talking about do — lots of churches or faith-based organizations in them, the membership base of the church always tends to be a little better off on average, than the most poor people in that community. There are churches that are in poor neighborhoods that have a largely poor congregation and have all they can handle helping what is referred to as remnant youth. That is, the sons and daughters of their own congregants. There are churches that establish youth chapels and outreach ministries that are really ministries to the troubled youth of their own congregants.

What has been amazing to me and was even more amazing, I think, to Professor Cnaan, is that when you disaggregate all the data and follow the money and follow the services, it's the children of people who are not congregants — the kids who are hanging out in the park at night, the kids who are getting out of the government detox program but who are still troubled — who are being brought in and helped most as the primary beneficiaries.

Rev. RIVERS: As an additional note to John's point, in many of these ministries, the ministries follow the need. So the goal is to really serve the needs of those that are not well off. That's number one. That needs to be clear: that contrary to the image of sort of an Elmer Gantry that passes through the inner city, trying to fleece folk or proselytize, the vast majority of these people are trying to respond to pain and need.

So the folks who are better off are better off. The impulse in most of the cases is to deal with that kid who is really in bad shape — or the family — and to do it in such a way that you express disinterested concern. I'm here to serve your needs, and this is not a proselytizing walk. Social services are not a hook. These people genuinely want to do the right thing. We follow the need. As a result, we end up serving those that are less fortunate. However, that's not the quid pro quo for why we're going to try to reduce the suffering.

The second point is that at the point at which the federal government interferes with a faith-based institution's ability to remain, as Amy said, incarnational, the money's going to leave. In other words, when we do the work that we do, as is the case with others, we don't go in there and say that if you're poor, you must accept Jesus, and then we'll feed you. That's not the line. We serve the need.

In the vast majority of cases, people really don't have the church on their minds. We really need to clear this up. The church-state thing is a debate among elitists. It has nothing to do with people who live on the planet Earth. In all due respect to PBS, that's a PBS issue. That's for high liberals, God bless them, who watch PBS. But for most of us who have to be working during the time that your show is featured, we're dealing with some very basic needs. That debate is simply not on our screen since the needs that we're responding to fill the screen up.

Mr. DIIULIO: Just very quickly, one statistic that we have as a result of research conducted at the University of Arizona may be of interest to you. You may have already come across it. A congregational survey completed last year, and released at an earlier Manhattan Institute Jeremiah Forum, showed that 53 percent of all churches would not want to partner with other nonprofit organizations if language akin to the charitable choice provision of the ‘96 welfare bill was a condition. This language essentially puts religious organizations on the same footing as any other non-governmental provider in terms of receiving federal support for social service delivery. They said, “We'll have nothing to do with it,” leaving 47 percent of the churches interested. Forty seven percent of the churches said that they would be open to it under some conditions.

Dr. BENNETT: My point here about our politicians and elected officials being serious about this, would be to examine government, to see in what ways government is acting overly and unnecessarily hostile toward religion and religious institutions. My friend Sister Josephine, who runs St. Ann's Infant and Maternity Home, is told every year when she files her applications, by some clerk in the government, it would be easier if it wasn't St. Ann's Infant and Maternity Home. She said, “Would you prefer Ann's Maternity Home and Waffle Shop, for example?” The answer to that is, yes. She says, “We are St. Ann's and we will always be St. Ann's.”

Now Vice President Gore has indicated an interest in this topic. He is an expert on government, on streamlining government, on reforming government. You can go through the government to find out whether and where programs are operating with this kind of attitude of hostility or suspicion, where there may be an extra burdens for religious groups to overcome.

My first job in Washington was as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. I discovered when I got there that professors of religion were not getting grants from the National Endowment if they were not only interested in their project but actually believed in it, too. That is, if you were writing on Augustine and you were a Catholic and believed Augustine had it right, you couldn't get the grant because you lacked the requisite objectivity.

Personal commitment defined a lack of objectivity. That ruled out all believers. So the only people who could write on religion were people who didn't think it mattered very much, or who looked at it as anthropologists.

Let me just elaborate. We have seen this kind of education take place around this country by people, Democrats and Republicans alike. I'm thinking of Governor Bush in Texas, who I believe did overturn a Texas department order that said Victory Fellowship could not receive money from the state because they were a religious institution. Their success rate with drug addicts was about 85 percent, about three times what it was in the other programs. That's how — through persistence and education — government can change its ways.

I think if you look at the last 25 or 30 years, you will see a kind of encrustation of attitudes about religion which are antithetical to everything that's been said today in many government entities.

QUESTION: Cheryl Wetzstein of The Washington Times. Pointing to whether this is going to be a fashionable fad or not, ever since welfare reform passed, there's been a growing chorus of people saying, “Prove and evaluate the reform. Prove to me that your reform is going to work.” Is there any statistical data to demonstrate that these programs really work: that they go beyond the anecdotes.

Dr. BENNETT: I would suggest that there is, but I would make a few important qualifications. One such document is one of the two Jeremiah Project reports we have available today: produced by Byron Johnson, a criminologist at Vanderbilt University, and David Larson, who really is the country's leading researcher in biomedical research sciences and public health on the faith factor in relation to public health outcomes.

Johnson and Larson examined over 300 studies of the relationship between spirituality, religion, and attachment to religious organizations variously measured. They concluded that all of the best scientific studies, that is, the ones that were more experimental than quasi-experimental, the ones that had better controls, that the stronger, the more scientific the study, the more powerful and positive were the findings: The more powerful the inverse relationship between religion and deviance.

Now this is by no means a settled question among researchers. But I don't think anyone who actually follows the data will say that a lot more research is necessary. Where's the beef on 35 years of secular outreach programs and mentoring programs? Only a very tiny fraction of which — Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America — works.

QUESTION: I’m here representing the Family Research Council. Following up on the faith-based programs, what is your understanding of Vice President Gore's proposal as far as how organizations would have to treat religion? Would they have to dilute it or purge it from their programs in order to qualify for federal funding?

Mr. DIIULIO: I read the speech. I was in Nashville a few weeks ago, where he talked about it a good deal more at this family reunion conference he holds every year. Rev. Rivers was there as well. My understanding, based on the speech and what he said in Nashville, is that he's talking about really vigorously implementing charitable choice. He's talking about both pruning and planting.

Gore wants to plant federal policies that would make it possible for example, for someone coming out of jail to enter a detox program administered by a faith-based ministry, without having to go through all sorts of hoops.

Everyone wants to talk about the big government dollars and make the issue a question of church and state and federal government money being allocated here. This is not really a church-state issue because most of the money that does exist now and will exist in the future to support the kinds of community-serving ministries we're talking about is going to come from corporate and philanthropic and other organizations and individuals.

Government's role really is to get out of the way. There are people who would point to large charities like Catholic Charities and Salvation Army and say, this is an example of what can happen when 60 or 62 percent of the budget comes from the government — and that's a debate we can have.

What we're talking about here today, what we're focusing on, are, grassroots ministries serving communities, that I don't think are in any danger of becoming the Salvation Army or Catholic Charities, for good or ill.

Mr. LEWIS: On this issue, I too was in Nashville with Vice President Gore, and he was in Boston Monday. I don't get any sense of a case of Big Brother sort of peering over my shoulder to make sure that I don't pull a Bible out, or that we remove all the Bibles from the center when we bring the kids in because we've got some Federal money. I don't get a sense of that.

QUESTION: Dr. Bennett, I'm interested in what you describe as a relentlessly secular city, and how St. Ann's got funded. Yet you now have the phenomenon of faith-based charities becoming almost the fad of the moment. I'm interested in your analysis of how and why that's happening, why is this secular city turning to this answer or this formula. What's your analysis?

Dr. BENNETT: I remember when Walker Percy was asked why he was a Catholic, he said, consider the alternatives. Vegetarianism, atheism, secular humanism. He said it seemed like a sensible choice among those.

There may be a sense of exhaustion about other options. We have, indeed, as John said, tried for more than 25 years a host of other things, and the results are fort many of them are in. We've reached the limits of most social interventions. John can speak to this better than I can. But if you believe — as I think everybody on this panel does — that the things that are being said through these ministries about human beings are true things — that humans are moral and spiritual beings — then these things will come to fruition. The truth will “will” out. The truth comes out. Despite efforts to obscure, certain truths always come out.

There was a kind of stark quality to the Olasky book, Tragedy of American Compassion. Olasky poses the following question: suppose you have this broken-down wreck of a man who has impregnated three women, had seven children out of wedlock, has spent most of his career on alcohol and drugs. Does he need to be talked about in terms of a sociological category or social worker category or self-esteem? If you truly believe that this is a creature of God, doesn't he need to be grabbed by the back of the neck and told to pull his life back together and become the man he was supposed to be?

I don't know whether it's because we've tried so many things and they didn't work, or the truth has a way of coming out. In a free country and society it is interesting to see how the research done by a Larson, or the experience of a Freddy Garcia, is so irresistible. At the end of the day you'll say, “That works.” What is it you're doing that has this kind of efficacy?

You can have hostility, but as long as the truth can still be told then the story will continue to have resonance. That's the best I can do.

Rev. RIVERS: Can I pick up on your point? I think that we've exhausted the secular, social science engineering model. The case clearly demonstrating that is the black community. A whole series of top-down, utterly secular therapeutic models for social engineering were forced on the black community. They have failed. The black community plays a unique role in this discussion. What became clear after we had a 30-year run of these models, is that by the early 90s, late 80s, we had a crack epidemic and skyrocketing violence. All of the high liberals, all the high secular liberals who had from the top down dictated to the poor headed for the hills. So the cities were evacuated and the only folk left were bars, crack houses, and lots of young women and children in churches.

So at a theoretical level we've seen the exhaustion of a secular therapeutic liberal model that had some positive dimensions. This is not a right wing detraction of that. We've had a conceptual run for 30 years. It's exhausted itself. I'm not suggesting that that there's not going to be a whole lot of stuff that we've got to weed out of these faith-based organizations. There's going to be a new round of church-based poverty opportunists who are going to try to position themselves. So we're going to have the religious version of what the Great Society had with its version of self-serving opportunists.

So I don't want to stand here and suggest that the black church as I know it doesn't have its own set of problems as we navigate this discussion.

QUESTION: Why aren’t we accessing all the data that show faith-based solutions work?

Mr. DIIULIO: I guess I could answer that one. It was remarkable to me five years ago when I began the way you begin — if you have been trained as a professor — looking at everything that's ever been written and doing systematic literature reviews. What was amazing to me was, in works that purported to test the efficacy of religion, religious outreach, church, non-church, there were always the same four or five studies that were cited, even though the literature was spread across several different sources. It was much richer and broader and more meaningful, and more positive toward faith. Whether it was psychology literature, or the political or administrative science literature, or even the social welfare literature: it was all overwhelmingly positive.

This, too, by the way, was the experience of Dave Larson. It was the experience of Ram Cnaan in Penn's school of social work. When you look at the literature that was out there that went back 20 or 30 years, here was a gold mine of findings. Now again, not a massive literature that you could build a new discipline on or anything, but a lot of stuff.

It has been ignored. Why has it been ignored? I think Dr. Bennett has already spoken to that. My own experience maybe speaks to it a little. There are a lot of colleagues in the academy who thought I was a reactionary or worse. Now they just think I'm mentally ill because of this God talk.

On that happy note, let me just conclude with a quote. This is three strikes. "I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was in prison and you came to visit me. Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."

Please think about, read about, write about, and give time to those who are helping the least of these. The rest of us can do a lot to help those who are up close and personal in helping the least of these.

God bless you all. Thank you.

 


Center for Civic Innovation.

EMAIL THIS | PRINTER FRIENDLY

Center for Civic Innovation Jeremiah Project Event
Co-Sponsored with Empower America

SUMMARY:
Co-sponsored by the Manhattan Institute’s Jeremiah Project and Empower America, this event highlighted the work that small, faith-based youth ministries are performing throughout the nation’s capital.

REMARKS:

Dr. John DiIulio, Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow and Director, the Jeremiah Project

Tom Lewis, Founder, The Fishing School

Rev. Eugene S. Rivers, Pastor, Azusa Christian Community

Dr. Amy Sherman, Manhattan Institute Adjunct Fellow

Dr. William J. Bennett, President, Empower America

 


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