Category: Effective Compassion

In his Townhall.com column, which also appears over at Human Events Online, Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky mentions the work of the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Award in defense of “compassionate conservatism”:

Those who think compassionate conservatism is dead should come to Samaritan Award programs in Richmond or Fairfield, California; Memphis, Nashville or Knoxville, Tennessee; Camden, N.J., or Chester, Penn.; Columbus, Ohio, or Hastings, Neb. or Marquette, Mich.

Why go there? Because those are the towns and cities that are home to this year’s Samaritan Award honorees:

These programs provide challenging, personal and spiritual help to jobless men, homeless women, feckless teens and fatherless children. Space doesn’t permit me to show their merits here, but World magazine profiled the 10, plus five others on Sept. 2. And these programs are just the iceberg’s tip. Acton has more than 900 groups in its Samaritan Guide, and thousands more are little-known.

What is conservative about all this? Olasky writes,

Few of the groups receive government money. They don’t spend their time and scant funds applying for federal grants or attending workshops on how to apply for grants. They are hands-on, and they use the hands of many volunteers. Most are purely local, but some that began locally have now expanded to other cities. Diverse organizational forms are developing as well-run small groups pass on to others the secrets of their success, and perhaps replicate themselves elsewhere.

For more information, check out the Samaritan Award website.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Friday, September 8, 2006
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Jeff Mirus of CatholicCulture.org flogs an address by Capuchin friar and dean of theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Father David Couturier. I share Mirus’s assessment that “one is at times unsure exactly what Fr. Couturier means,” but some of his points do seem at odds with the vision of charity articulated by, for example, Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est, as Mirus points out.

Especially perplexing is Couturier’s statement concerning the role of Capuchin Franciscans in world affairs. He minimizes concern about the impact of diminishing vocations on conventional charity and emphasizes the promise of progress through non-governmental organizations:

“It doesn’t matter how small we get,” argues Fr. Couturier. “It is our international character that gives us strength and influence in the world today.”

So, the fact that there may be no friars left at the local level to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless is relatively unimportant, as long as there are Capuchins working for “justice and peace” at the highest levels of U.N.-affiliated NGOs?

I have great respect for Franciscans all over the world who perform tremendous charitable and educational work, especially for those working in some very difficult settings. But I hope that the friars pay more attention to the writings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI than to the musings of Fr. Couturier when discerning their way forward.

I haven’t started Marvin Olasky’s new book yet, but here’s a bit from the abstract of a new NBER paper, “Rules Rather Than Discretion: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina,” by Howard Kunreuther and Mark Pauly. Speaking of property owners who suffer severe damage and don’t have the resources to rebuild:

To avoid these large and often uneven ex post expenditures, we consider the option of mandatory comprehensive private disaster insurance with risk based rates. It may be more efficient to have an ex ante public program to ensure coverage of catastrophic losses and to subsidize low income residents who cannot afford coverage rather than the current largely ex post public disaster relief program.

That solution doesn’t sound too promising to me, and it strikes me as a false dichotomy. Are the only two options government action before or after the fact?

Blog author: jballor
Friday, September 1, 2006
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Check out Jeff Cornwall contra “entrepreneurial welfare” over at The Entrepreneurial Mind.

In 1936 Congress passed the Aid to Dependent Children Act to help widows stay home and raise their children. From 147,000 families on welfare in 1936 the number rose to five million by the 1994, the peak year. Ten years ago today, August 26, President Clinton signed into law the Welfare Reform Act. Last year the number of families receiving welfare had declined to 1.9 million. Contrary to the cries against the bill in 1996, which were numerous, the reform in welfare promoted in a bipartisan manner by President Clinton and the Congress, has generally proven successful.

Various measures of success can be applied to the question of welfare reform. Here are a few. 69% of single mothers are employed today, up from 62% in 1995. In 2000 the number employed actually reached 73%. Another measure of the success of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act is the poverty rate among children. In 1994 the poverty rate among children was 22%, today it is 18%, still much too high I am sure. At the same time there are some numbers that show that we still have a major problem. An average of 1.2 million single mothers a month, who live in homes where there was no wage earner and no Social Security, received no welfare in 2003, up from 700,000 in 1996. Many of these have disabilities, or mental-health and/or substance-abuse problems, reports the Wall Street Journal. (more…)

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
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Anthony Bradley, a research fellow for the Acton Institute, looks back on the effects of the welfare reform of 1996. Many people criticized this legislation as it was being passed and predicted that the result would be increased poverty. However, the results of the legislation have been overwhelmingly positive.

Poverty, especially amongst single mothers, has declined significantly. Employment among people formerly claiming welfare has increased dramatically. The number of welfare cases has dropped from 4.3 to 1.89 million — that’s more than 50% fewer cases — and poverty has decreased as well! These results cannot be only attributed to economic factors (although a good economy obviously helps poverty). As Mr. Bradley puts it: “When our society provides incentives encouraging work, marriage, family, and accountability—which are central to human dignity—we see people thought to be helpless rise to the occasion.”

Read Anthony’s commentary here.

Blog author: jarmstrong
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
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Fox News broadcast a one hour special the other day titled: “The Purpose Driven Life: Can Rick Warren Save the World?” Accidentally, while channel surfing from the Red Sox vs. Yankees baseball game on ESPN to various news channels, I got in on the opening segment of the Warren special and was hooked for the whole.

Much of the Rick Warren story is widely known but some things came together in this brisk, but largely focused, video presentation. My admiration for Warren soared as a result of this broadcast. If “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God” is “to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27) then Rick Warren is practicing the faith of true religion. There can be no doubt that Warren’s faith produces Christ-centered works (James 2:14-26). And, to his great credit, he listens to his wife Kay’s counsel, who is plainly a major reason for his clarity in this and other areas. It is a wise man who listens to such a thoughtful and insightful wife!

Frankly, evangelicals who take shots at Rick Warren ought to be ashamed. But their number increases with everything this man does on an expanding stage of public opinion. I have heard many of the attacks. Warren is too shallow and promotes pop-religion. (If this is true we could use a great deal more of his kind of religion in many of the places where I’ve been in North America.) Warren doesn’t really understand “purpose driven” life theologically enough. (On one level I agree with this criticism, and said so in an article published in our quarterly journal a few years ago.) Warren is naïve about world problems. (I wish we had more naïve evangelicals who understood the relationship of faith and works the way Rick Warren does.) And, Warren is a typical mega-church pastor who doesn’t feed his flock well. (This criticism has a stereotypical view of “feeding the flock” that is rooted in categories that need to be seriously challenged.) Finally, Warren has not proven to be a loyal conservative in many contexts, especially in his open support for the Baptist World Alliance over against the conservative elements in the Southern Baptist Convention who defunded it and protest its “liberalism.” (His actions actually prove that he can rise above fundamentalist politics and seek the greater good of the church in the world.)

Warren’s biggest project right now is Rwanda. He is working closely with President Kagame, a Roman Catholic who loves both Rick and his book (Rwanda is predominantly Roman Catholic). President Kagame was introduced to Warren through Joe Ritchie, a Chicago-area Christian businessman with a degree in philosophy from Wheaton College whom I have known and respected for some time. Ritchie has been actively engaging hot-spots in the world with a clear vision for the kingdom of Christ and its advance for many years. He has a great deal of savvy in such matters. (Ritchie appeared several times on the Fox program.) President Kagame and Rick Warren have formed a partnership that is quite impressive. The goal is to make Rwanda a successful free enterprise context where jobs and wealth are increased so that multitudes can be clothed, fed, and allowed to vote and experience basic human rights and protection from violence. In addition, the ravaging impact of AIDS has to be faced in one of Africa’s worst contexts. Progress is being made on every front but the battle is far from over.

Warren’s next target will be North Korea, slated for a major “Purpose Driven” effort in 2007. I wish him well. I have my doubts about how this effort will work given the brutality of Kim Jong-Il, one of the world’s most deadly dictators. But I have no doubt that Warren will get good advice and seek wise counsel. Who knows, if God favors this man again, as he clearly has in the past, he may do more good in North Korea than all our diplomatic efforts combined.

At the end of the television special Warren said there were four words he wanted on his tombstone when he died: “At Least He Tried.” I give him full credit, he is trying to make a real difference in this world and people who love Christ ought to love and support him in every way possible. We have far too few mega-church pastors with either the vision or integrity of Rick Warren.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: kwoods
Friday, August 11, 2006
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We’re working through the meaning of the tenth anniversary of welfare reform, debating important ‘next phase’ issues like marriage and fatherhood and what those mean to helping people leave poverty…permanently. That debate about government’s appropriate role in addressing social need is important. At least equally important is the work or private citizens at the local level, ‘on the street’–figuratively and literally.

In February, a blog post featured A Way Out Victim Assistance program in Memphis, one of Acton’s Samaritan Award winners, which was also profiled in WORLD Magazine.

A Way Out Victim Assistance, a program of Citizens for Community Values of Memphis run by George Kuykendall and Carol Wiley, is designed “to assist any woman, regardless of race or religious preference, who desires to leave her profession in the sex for sale industry, namely topless dancers and prostitutes, to permanently escape the industry and re-enter society and the work force with a value system that promotes a healthy lifestyle physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”

NPR’s program Marketplace posted an interview on Tuesday about this same great program (audio here): “Citizens for Community Values started as an anti-pornography organization in 1992 and began ministering to strippers three years later. Now it helps all sex workers leave the business. Carol and George get referrals. Sometimes the girls call them directly. And sometimes they drive right up to a hooker on the street and hand her a business card, which is dangerous. Both for them and for her.”

Local help on the street truly can make a life-changing difference for another human being.

“I’ve got a bunch of government checks at my door / Each morning I try to send them back / But they only send me more.”

–Nelly Furtado, “Hey Man,” Whoa, Nelly! (Dreamworks, 2000).

Here’s a question maybe our own Karen Woods can address: Does the second phase of welfare reform make it harder for people to get off welfare for good?

That seems to be the implication of this article in today’s WaPo, “Welfare Changes A Burden To States,” by Amy Goldstein.

Having grown up on welfare, Rochelle Riordan had vowed never to ask for a government handout. That was before her hard-drinking husband kicked her and their young daughter out of their house near Lewiston, Maine, leaving her with a $300 bank account, a bad job market and a 15-year-old car held together in spots with duct tape.

Maine’s welfare agency, she heard, was offering help for poor parents to go to college full time. With the state paying for day care and $513 a month in living expenses, Riordan, 37, has been on the dean’s list every semester at the University of Southern Maine, expecting to graduate and start a social work career next spring. But this summer, her plans — and Maine’s Parents as Scholars program — suddenly are on shaky ground; under new federal rules, studying for a bachelor’s degree no longer counts by itself as an acceptable way for people on welfare to spend their time.

A decade after the government set out to transform the nation’s welfare system, the limits on college are part of a controversial second phase of welfare reform that is beginning to ripple across the country. The new rules, written by Congress and the Bush administration, require states to focus intensely on making more poor people work, while discouraging other activities that might help untangle their lives.

In this Beliefnet interview conducted by Charlotte Allen, conservative firebrand Ann Coulter references the work of Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky:

Is it possible to be a good Christian and sincerely believe, as Jim Wallis does, that a bigger welfare state and higher taxes to fund it is the best way in a complex modern society for us to fulfill our Gospel obligation to help the poor?

It’s possible, but not likely. Confiscatory taxation enforced by threat of imprisonment is “stealing,” a practice strongly frowned upon by our Creator. If all Christians and Jews tithed their income as the Bible commands, every poor person would be cared for, every naked person clothed and every hungry person fed. Read Marvin Olasky’s “The Tragedy Of American Compassion” for further discussion of this.

Very often Coulter comes off sounding crazy, and her rhetoric would certainly be more at home in the sixteenth rather than the twenty-first century. Even so, I found this interview eye-opening on a number of levels, and in her answer to this question she makes a lot of sense. Ron Sider makes the same point about tithing a number of times in his recent book, The Scandal Of The Evangelical Conscience.

Also, Rod Dreher doesn’t approve of Coulter’s “schtick”.

HT: GetReligion