[Hpn] Bringing faith to the West Wing

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Tue, 06 Feb 2001 14:37:26 -0700


Bringing faith to the West Wing
John DiIulio, who once spread fear about juvenile "superpredators," will now
run President Bush's faith-based charity programs -- and build an army from
GOP patronage.

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By Bruce Shapiro

Feb. 1, 2001 | Back in the mid-1990s, John DiIulio, an ambitious Princeton
political scientist and scholar of prison management and crime, made a stir
with what turned out to be one of the most disastrously wrong predictions in
the annals of public intellectuals. Relying upon reams of supposedly
irrefutable data, DiIulio predicted a massive coming wave of crime by
children and teenagers -- crime of unprecedented brutality. Situating this
prediction in the erosion of family and faith, DiIulio warned of a
"generational wolf pack" of "fatherless, Godless and jobless" teens wreaking
havoc on the American landscape. "Superpredators," he called them.

The tidal wave of superpredators never arrived. Instead, juvenile crime
plummeted. But seizing upon DiIulio's incendiary predictions and
prescriptions, politicians in both political parties created their own tidal
wave -- a tidal wave of unforgiving punishment. Harsh juvenile prison
sentences, the incarceration of teenagers, massive expansion of juvenile
prisons: All were propelled forward by DiIulio's superpredator theory.

Now John DiIulio -- his academic chair shifted from Princeton to Penn -- is
back, in a public-policy role at least as controversial: He is director, and
the intellectual guiding force, behind the Bush administration's new White
House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. His job, as he put it
on CBS's "The Early Show" this week, is to cultivate "a little government
friendliness" toward social-service programs based in communities of

I have my own minor history with DiIulio. Back in 1995 I wrote a long
article critical of his "wolf pack" theory and his analysis of crime;
DiIulio responded with a furious letter to the editor, denouncing me as
anti-Italian because I compared his theories to the views of a liberal
police chief who also happened to be of Italian-American extraction. Then a
few months later I met DiIulio at a public-policy forum in which he talked
about finding common ground between liberals and conservatives on crime -- a
stance that startled me given his inflammatory rhetoric up to that point.
Afterward I introduced myself, expecting the usual sardonic dance between a
journalist and aggrieved subject. Instead he smiled warmly: "God bless you,"
DiIulio said, and it was without a trace of sarcasm.

I've watched DiIulio's evolution -- that search for common ground -- with
interest. By the end of the 1990s, he was disillusioned by the national
punishment regime he had helped inspire, arguing in the Wall Street Journal
and scholarly publications for investment in community-based youth programs
instead of more prison cells. His conservatism turned away from penology and
instead into research promoting the success of social service outreach by
African-American churches. Last year he edited a book on religion in
American life with the decidedly liberal Washington Post columnist E.J.

DiIulio's new White House appointment prompts an interesting question: Are
his new policy prescriptions -- for broader government partnership in social
services by churches, synagogues and mosques -- any better founded or any
more reliable than his wolf-pack predictions? What the new DiIulio calls "a
little government friendliness" toward religious charities has civil
libertarians -- and some religious denominations -- alarmed about breaches
in the church-state wall. DiIulio says the plan is designed to "level the
playing field" between sacred and secular; Laura Murphy, the ACLU's
Washington office director, calls the new plan "a faith-based prescription
for discrimination." The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans
United for Separation of Church and State, warns that the Bush-DiIulio plan
threatens to create "a giant, new kind of conglomerate bureaucracy of church
and state sitting in the White House."

I'm a die-hard civil libertarian. But I've also lived and reported in inner
cities for the last two decades and find the question more vexed -- and
vexing -- than either DiIulio's reassuring rhetoric or the ACLU's abstract
invocation of principle.

It's a simple fact, for instance, that in New Haven, Conn., the city where I
live and the seventh-poorest municipality in the United States, religiously
affiliated outfits are the social-service providers of last resort, keeping
their feet firmly planted in the asphalt during the years that government --
thanks to Republican presidents and Congresses -- cut back and left the poor
to fend for themselves. Jewish Family Services provides post-traumatic
counseling to kids who've witnessed violence. My stepdaughter's Catholic
church runs a soup kitchen. Low-income housing construction, prisoner
re-entry, after-school mentoring: Religious communities are doing as much as
anyone to sustain a safety net. And many of them are already getting
government money to do so. I've seen no convincing evidence that religious
agencies do their job better than their secular counterparts; but I've seen
plenty of evidence that they often do their job alone.

But if my experience here in New Haven makes me appreciate the work of
religious charities and activists, it's no less revealing of a very specific
reason to find the Bush plan worrisome. Back in the 1980s, when I was a
reporter and editor at local newspapers, this city's chairman of the board
of education was an influential minister. Mysteriously, a disproportionate
number of jobs in the school system -- from cafeteria to principal's office
-- went to his congregants. And when that minister decided to back a mayoral
candidate, so did those people whose jobs he'd arranged. Another minister a
few years back got millions in city grants to build low-income housing. He
did the worst job of any nonprofit housing developer in the city's history,
but somehow the grants kept coming -- and somehow the minister's church
buses kept showing up to support the mayor on election day.

Both of these scandals, as it happens, involved Democrats. But they are a
minor-league preview of the scandals the Bush religious-aid package
threatens to unleash. Which churches and which denominations are rewarded
with funds that fit their profile is a profoundly political matter.

DiIulio goes to great lengths to describe the new White House office as an
equal-opportunity funder of religious and secular projects. "No one is
talking about funding religion directly," he said on CBS. "If that were the
proposal, I wouldn't support it. We're not talking about giving government
money to religious groups. We're talking about making it possible for groups
that are out there performing valued social services to compete, whether
they're faith-based or secular community-rooted nonprofits, on the same
basis as any other nongovernmental providers of those services."

But in fact, what Bush and DiIulio plan is a new funding stream specifically
tailored to fit the profile of religious charities: a multibillion-dollar
fund specifically going to small charities like those run by churches; seed
money to existing groups venturing into social services for the first time.
It's clear that those groups mean churches, not bowling leagues.

This funding stream may pay for some good programs. But it will also create
a massive expansion of the base of GOP political influence. What City Hall
jobs were to urban Democrats in an earlier era, church-based charities will
be to the GOP. Governors (2-to-1 Republicans these days) will see to it that
block grants flow to congregations whose church buses show up at the polls
on Election Day. Favored denominations will be rewarded with programs
crafted to fit their profile.

Mark my words: the greatest impact of the White House's faith-based outreach
will be to lay the groundwork for a national GOP patronage machine to rival
the old days of Richard Daley and Boss Tweed.

At the same time, it's also alarming that the very same religious lobbies
that want to breach the church-state wall when it comes to funding, want
impermeable First Amendment protection from public accountability. In both
George W. Bush's Texas and John Ashcroft's Missouri, churches claim the
First Amendment right to run their religious schools, daycare centers and
drug programs free from licensing and performance standards applied to all
other agencies in the education or social-service arena. Because of the
First Amendment, they claim they can discriminate in hiring against gays or
women or anyone else routinely protected at secular agencies.

Again, it's a question of patronage as much as principle: Can we really
expect the Bush White House, already bending over backward to grant the
religious right every symbolic victory, to hold the line against special
rights for religious charities?

When John DiIulio first started shifting his rhetoric from the wolf pack to
black churches, I found myself responding with some cynicism: He's shrewdly
recognized the end of the crime panic, I thought, and is changing the
subject, advancing his career in a new direction.

I don't think that anymore. Having read DiIulio's recent op-eds and
articles, I'm convinced that his affection for church-based charities is
genuine and often well-founded -- especially when it comes to dealing with
prisoners and their families, two groups to whom churches both black and
white have shown notable dedication.

But still. The last time John DiIulio rose to national prominence, he helped
inspire a national wave of prison-building he later claimed not to want. The
damage done by DiIulio's superpredator rhetoric in the 1990s wasn't really
caused by his bad data, or because it turned out to be a false prophecy. The
damage came because DiIulio -- judging from his subsequent regret -- failed
to see the cynical political uses to which his research, his heartfelt alarm
at social decay, would be put. The same, I fear, is true of his new
elevation to the White House. DiIulio wants to promote good works. Instead,
he's been hired as chief engineer for a patronage machine.

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About the writer
Bruce Shapiro is national correspondent for Salon News.
Copyright 2001 Salon.com


"Bringing faith to the West Wing" and "Base language"
Readers react to Salon's coverage of Bush's faith-based charities plan.

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Feb. 5, 2001 | Read "Bringing faith to the West Wing" by Bruce Shapiro.

As an evangelical Christian, I share Bruce Shapiro's concerns regarding
Bush's plans to give federal funds to programs run by religious
organizations. After all, it wasn't for nothing that Jesus warned us that
you can't serve both God and money.

-- David P. Graf

Bruce Shapiro nailed it. Everything he predicted in his article will come to
pass. What's worse -- to me anyway as a Christian -- it will cause further
harm to Christianity.

The fundamentalists, particularly the ones who marry their faith to the
Republican Party, do not represent the larger body of Christianity. They are
a vocal, very small minority who have achieved a power grab. So now their
views are in the forefront of the public gestalt due to the "Left Behind"
fiction series and the bended knee of the Republican Party (just whose
doobies have the fundies got in their grip anyway?), and so they become the
de facto voice of Christianity for now.

Christianity is about loving one another and loving God, not political
agendas and listing whom "God hates" (only fundies use those words
together). But, after this "faith-based charity programs" initiative, and
all the resultant scandals that will happen, the main body of Christianity
will receive a black eye due to the actions of its snotty, sociopath little
brother, American fundamentalism. And that really sucks.

-- Tim Hanson

Hey, let's give him a chance.

I didn't vote for the guy, and until he suggested giving the folks who are
already providing charitable care for those in need a helping dollar or two,
I was hoping he'd fall on his face.

But I've seen the so-called welfare agencies in action, and I've seen
federally funded social agencies try to do well by doing good. Churches and
temples, on the other hand, usually with much less money to work with, have
an added ingredient. They have people working who really care.

My grandfather once told me that in the Depression, neighbors helped each
other, and you gave a man a job in exchange for money. Whether it was a job
that you had to have done was beside the point. What was important was that
the man be able to hold his head up, and also to know that someone cared.

I know it's cool to be a cynic, and believe me, I'm pretty jaded myself. But
I'd like to see this idea get at least a fair try. As far as I'm concerned,
there is a lot of need out there, and things can't get much worse.

-- Dacia Adams

When I was a teenager, I was in a Baptist youth group that would "volunteer"
at a homeless mission. Our volunteer work consisted of us standing in front
of a group of homeless men and singing "praise songs" for an hour followed
by a long sermon. I felt so sorry for the men who had to be subjected to
this every night before they could have a hot meal.

The idea that this kind of activity is now going to be sponsored by
government funds completely burns me up. It is in no way constitutional, no
matter what kind of language is used to describe it.

-- Jenifer Geiger

Right now 62 percent of Catholic Charities' budget of over $2 billion comes
from some form of governmental agency, be it state, local or federal.

Get a grip -- faith-based organizations do a better job at helping the poor.
And if I have to write a check to the federal government by way of taxes to
fund some program, I would rather see a program that has results than one
administered by the feds.

Look at the low-income housing problem, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the
Federal Aviation Agency, etc. Government stinks at doing things -- the
liberals can't stand it because after eight years of a president who did
little for the poor we finally do have one that cares.

-- Risa Kaplan

There are those of us in the religious communities of this country who
disagree with President Bush's initiative. He aims to solve the anomalies of
capitalism by throwing money at religious groups who attach their religious
teachings to concrete, social actions (like soup kitchens).

Scott Rosenberg would present a stronger case against such blatant disregard
for the separation of church and state if -- instead of showing us his left
knee jerking -- he had gone to the roots of that concept. It lies especially
in the historic contributions that Baptists have made to this nation.

A Baptist minister myself, I strongly oppose the president's initiative. To
gain some historical perspective on the separation of church and state,
visit the Web site of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. They
have been a watchdog for separation of church and state and will in the days
ahead be a major voice raised against Bush's efforts to tear down that wall
with vouchers and faith-based charities.

-- Michael Bledsoe

Kudos to Scott Rosenberg for his trenchant commentary on faith-based
organizations. It is symptomatic of our increasingly accuracy-challenged
society that we cannot see something for what it really is.

It boggles the mind that ever since George Orwell's "Politics and the
English Language" exposed the ridiculous predilection for euphemistic
verbiage so rampant in modern society that we continue to accept this
nonsense. Is it too much to hope that we might ever be able to see through
the empty-headed phraseology that obscures meaning? Have the thought police
finally established firm control over our language?

-- Conor Carlin

Isn't faith-based just Bush-speak for faith-biased?

-- Judy Licht

I'm not at all surprised that Bush has been favoring the term "faith-based"
over "religious" -- it's fewer syllables, after all.

-- Mary Burke

We learned from Clinton that words have no meaning except at the exact
moment they are spoken. And then, the word only means what the speaker wants
it to mean. 

-- Jesse Spurway

I share Scott Rosenberg's distaste for how euphemisms are used in Washington
to avoid saying "hot button" words.

But he seems to imply that George W. Bush started this trend. Long before
our 43rd president came to Washington, our political culture gave us
"reproductive freedom," meaning the freedom to kill unwanted children;
"alternative lifestyles" for homosexuality; "affirmative action" for racial
quotas; and "outside the mainstream" or "extremist" to describe anyone who
disagrees with you, whatever your beliefs.

Replacing concrete description with abstract "feel-good phrases" has been
with us at least since George Orwell wrote his essay "Politics and the
English Language." 

-- Matt Ward

I thought Mr. Rosenberg might like to hear about the time a politician in my
state said that there would not be a tax increase, but simply "an increase
in payroll revenue from the state's population." I laughed about that one
for days. 

-- Penny Clifton

Hooray for Scott Rosenberg. It is about time someone stands up to the latest
Bush hypocrisy. Faith-based my butt, it is just a weak-minded individual
caving in to the demands of the people who contributed the $200,000,000 it
took to get him elected. Now it is payback time.

-- L.D. White

Two questions: 

When did religion become bad?

And what is so hard to understand about President Bush's plan? If a secular,
non-"faith-based" charity gets buckets of money, why should a nonsecular,
faith-based charity get left out in the cold?

Regardless of what you believe, it's a travesty to let the government
discriminate against religious groups only because they'd make the
government trough crowded.

-- Bryan Bitters

I completely agree with the author that the separation of church and state
is a terrific idea, one that has served this country well since its
inception. And I too don't much care for the euphemism "faith based
organization." (It makes me think of "worship centers" -- don't people go to
"church" anymore?) But I do have to take exception to Rosenberg's
interpretation of the First Amendment.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." To the
founders, the word "establishment" meant something much different than
giving religion a place in civic life, or according religion a special place
in government. "Establishment" had (and has) a very specific meaning: state
support, state funding, lock, stock and barrel, of one particular religion,
making it the official national faith.

In England, taxes collected from everyone (Buddhists, Muslims, Roman
Catholics, atheists) were used to pay the clergy of the (aptly named) Church
of England. Our founders thought that was a terrible idea, and proscribed it
in their new country. I applaud that decision.

So the debate about the "separation of church and state" (a phrase not found
in our Constitution) can go on, but not necessarily based on the First

-- Gary Sullivan

" or the free exercise thereof."

I agree with the article, but please, don't edit the Constitution just to
prove a point. 

-- Jmar Gambol

Copyright 2001 Salon.com

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