Keep Your Money To Yourself
A Memo To the Next President
by David O. Treadwell
Knight Ridder Tribune Information Services

To George W. Bush and Al Gore, I have this simple, respectful message: Thanks, but no thanks.

As executive director of the oldest faith-based social service organization in Washington, D.C., I greatly appreciate that you have concluded that organizations such as rescue missions can and should play a key role in America's civic renewal. But please, keep your money.

I am thrilled that God has been welcomed into this presidential campaign.

But those of us who toil every day in faith-based organizations, delivering the gospel and a mix of social services, have no desire to welcome the federal government into our work.

Faith-based programs work because they tend to the social, health, economic and spiritual needs of the men, women and children we serve. For us, it is not social services with a bit of religion sprinkled on the side like some sort of garnish. It is mandated by the very foundations of our faith that we deliver social services to the poor. It is this fact that makes faith-based programs more successful than their spiritually sanitized, government alternatives.

Marvin Olasky, the University of Texas professor who coined the term "compassionate conservatism," notes that the most successful social services programs share three attributes. First, they are personal, providing as close to a one-to-one relationship as possible. Second, they are challenging, requiring effort on the part of the person being served. And third, they are spiritual, requiring those being helped to develop an understanding of something larger than mere everyday existence.

Yet, I am afraid it is their very spirituality that will make true faith-based programs anathema to government bureaucrats, no matter how strongly our presidential candidates may endorse them.

As Mr. Olasky writes, "Although politicians give loose allegiance to the concept that faith in God is part of the solution to social ills, many among our social elites consider it part of the problem."

Any doubt that Mr. Olasky is correct is quickly dispelled by the case of the Memphis Union Mission in Tennessee. An inner-city rescue mission like our own program, the mission serves more than 16,000 free meals a month. The program lost its federal surplus food deliveries because it required that clients attend chapel before dinner.

So Gov. Bush and Mr. Gore, please continue talking about the need for God to return to the public square, proclaiming that a naked public square is a harsh place. When one of you is elected president, use your bully pulpit to amplify the life-changing work of faith-based programs. Urge Americans to open their hearts and support faith-based organizations. Help our citizenry to understand that writing a check to a local homeless shelter or youth center that helps repair the mind, body and spirit is much more personally rewarding than cracking the checkbook only on April 15 to pay the bottom line on the 1040.

And that should be the crux of this newfound embracing of God in politics. The goal is not to send federal bureaucrats loaded with dollars to faith-based programs.

The goal should be to help all Americans understand and support the mission of faith-based organizations. For when all Americans realize that the spirit merits as much government attention as does the body, the public square will be a more hospitable place for everyone of us, whether poor or affluent, homeless or dwelling in a mansion.

Now that would be a campaign platform to take to the bank.

David Treadwell is the executive director of Central Union Mission, 1350 R Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20009.

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