On May 20 President Bush was at Notre Dame trying to pump more gas into his compassionate conservative domestic agenda and his social welfare centerpiece, the faith-based initiative. He told the graduates, "Welfare as we knew it has ended but poverty has not," adding that poverty today "has more to do with troubled lives than a troubled economy." Turning to his faith-based-to-the-rescue theme, Bush cited Catholic Charities' work (failing to mention the group's opposition to his initiative). Faith-based programs, said Bush, "should not suffer discrimination when they compete for contracts for social services."
Ferreting out this alleged discrimination is the most pressing challenge faced by White House aide John DiIulio and at least five federal departments that have set up faith-based promoting offices. Not since Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis.) went Commie hunting in the late '50s has a government search so grand found so little. Says Carl Esbeck, in charge of the quest at the Justice Department, "We're awash in press clippings" about the initiative, but he couldn't name a barrier to faith organizations involvement, urging a reporter to await the completion of the presidentially ordered audit due on Bush's desk in late July.
But faith-based enthusiasts, especially on Capitol Hill, were already moved by the spirit.
On April 25, the Republican members of Congress held the House-Senate Majority Faith-Based Summit to promote the faith-based policies of President Bush and their Community Solutions Act (HR 7 and S 592) pending in Congress. Attending the summit were 200 delegates selected "based on their leadership work in faith-based efforts," 200 others chosen by the National Center for Faith-Based Initiative (NCFBI), and a Summit Advisory Committee of "31 key faith-based leaders from across the nation."
The clergy-dominated assemblage, which was about half African-American, heard much rhetoric about the alleged barriers blocking religious groups from receiving federal grants. Declared Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Republican Conference: "Faith-based organizations should not be discriminated against simply because they are comprised of people who believe in God."
The humdinger of the event was delivered by House Speaker Denny Hastert (R-Ill.), who railed against a "government run" drug treatment program with a "96 to 97 percent" recidivism rate, an almost statistically impossible outcome, while praising a faith-centered drug treatment program for its 36 percent recidivism rate. Calls to Hastert's office seeking the names of the agencies or evaluations cited brought promises to find out, but no results.
One of those 31 "key leaders" hosting the event was Bishop Harold Calvin Ray, pastor of the Redemptive Life Fellowship Church in West Palm Beach, Fla. The founder and CEO of the NCFBI (www.ncfbi.org), Ray organized the event with Bob Woodson, president of the D.C.-based National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. The charismatic Ray appeared on Pat Robertson's "700 Club" TV show in 1999. There, he declared ominously that the Y2K computer problems were "absolutely deliberate" in order that we "have the one-world government [imposed], that we can worship that religion of government that will protect us, provide for us, take care of us."
Ray's Orwellian paranoia is tame compared to that of another would-be "advisor," Bishop J. Delano Ellis, who was fired as Cleveland's police chaplain in 1995 after a radio sermon proclaiming that Jews were "carnal, selfish ... dirty, lowdown and wicked," adding that "God allowed Hitler to rise up and make you all suffer." That was too much for the summit organizers, who dumped Ellis in early April. The "31 key" people suddenly became, in a Watts press release, "nearly 30 religious leaders." Still advising is former NFL star Reggie White, now living in Cornelius, N.C., who among other vignettes told the Wisconsin Legislature in 1998, "Hispanics were gifted in family structure. ... They can put 20, 30 people in one home."
Also advising is Louis Sheldon of the Washington, D.C.-based Traditional Values Coalition, who in a January fundraising letter warned of a "homosexual invasion" which could lead to the "stealing of our children."
Chuck Colson, the former Watergate conspirator who founded the well-regarded Washington, D.C.-based Prison Fellowship after his 1975 release from prison, is also on the advisory committee.
Phyllis Berry-Myers, a 1990 character witness for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and executive director of the Center for New Black Leadership, is another summit advisor. The upshot of the April 25 event, says Berry-Myers, is that "an alliance has been formed" to serve as a "clearinghouse" for supporters of the Community Solutions Act, introduced by Watts and the summit's other congressional co-chair, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). The new Community Solutions Alliance, says Berry-Myers, has "thousands of supporters" and will soon open an office. Berry-Myers will serve as "project director."
With allies like this, the president's main man, DiIulio, was looking mighty uncomfortable at a summit "press conference" with the advisory board and their congressional sponsors which, by the grace of God, lasted only five minutes.