An innovative program to help abused children has gained the support of the U.S. Justice Department. Called “guardian ad litem” (guardian for the suit), the program recruits volunteers to be advocates in court for victimized children.

The guardian program caught the eye of the Reagan administration when a Justice Department official spent a day on a Miami juvenile court bench. “There must have been a dozen cases during the course of the day,” says Alfred Regnery, administrator of the office of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention.

Regnery witnessed the importance of children in court having a volunteer guardian from the community. For each troubled child, he says, there was a “well-informed woman who obviously had spent a number of hours visiting the family. It was really refreshing to have somebody there in the courtroom who had done some research.”

Since 1981, unpaid volunteers from Florida churches and service organizations have helped victimized children and overworked social workers. Similar programs are operating in five other states. Regnery envisions expanding it to all 50 states. His office prepared training manuals and arranged a session with 35 voluntary groups that could supply the estimated half-million volunteers that will be needed.

The expanded project is an example of how President Reagan’s profamily and provolunteer philosophy is emerging in federal policy. The program’s goal is to find a suitable, permanent home for children who are likely to slide into a life of exploitation or deliquency.

Regnery says active involvement by volunteers “increases the likelihood of these children being returned to the natural family, if that is possible, or put up for permanent adoption instead of being put in the foster-care system.

“One of the reasons children don’t find permanent homes is because when abuse and neglect cases get into the courtroom, they’re not very well represented,” he says. “Someone who works for the state or the county—and has a caseload of 50 to 100 kids—appears before a judge who has to rely on what other people tell him. Volunteers can give the judge an educated analysis of the problem and the solutions.”

In Florida, the use of volunteer guardians has cut in half the length of time that abused children are shuttled from one foster home to the next. The Miami project is sponsored by the National Council for Jewish Women and the Junior League. Coordinator Joni Goodman has trained more than 100 volunteers from those groups and others. The volunteer guardians spend 5 to 10 hours per week on each case. “They monitor the system as the child flows through to see that the child doesn’t languish,” Goodman says.

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One of the volunteers, Kathleen Langford, devotes almost full time to the project. She enlisted the support of her United Methodist church to start support groups for sexually abused children and their siblings, and for women who were abused when they were young. Her role as a guardian involves being a buffer between the child and the impersonal, sometimes hostile, court system.

Once, a prosecuting attorney wanted to call a 5-year-old girl to the witness stand to discuss a sexual abuse incident. “I went with her to the depositions, and I was the only one who spoke up and said the questions were inappropriate,” Langford says. “Had a guardian not been there, she would have been subjected continuously to the harangue of the lawyers.”

Attorneys sometimes resent interference by a lay advocate. But judges tend to support the program. An organization for juvenile court judges received a $4.4 million federal grant from Regnery’s office to promote and organize the guardian program nationwide. The Miami project was begun with $37,000 and has expanded to an annual budget of more than $50,000.

Regnery measures the cost of guardian programs against a grim statistic: It costs taxpayers $40,000 a year to house a teenage lawbreaker in a correctional institution. “Some 40 percent of serious crime is committed by juveniles,” he says. Overwhelming numbers of young offenders and runaways have a history of abuse or neglect, which often leads to a life spent drifting through foster homes.

“When you add all these things up, you realize that where there’s not a permanent home, you’re very likely to wind up with this kind of lifestyle,” he says. “No matter where you look, a stable family setting is the place where criminality and delinquency are prevented.”

A Jewish Scholar Calls Christ’S Resurrection A Historical Fact

An Orthodox Jewish scholar argues in a new book that the resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact. The author, Pinchas Lapide, a New Testament specialist who teaches in West Germany, denies that Jesus was the divine Son of God or the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews. He does, however, suggest that Jesus is the Messiah of the Gentile church.

The book, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, was first published in German in 1977. The English translation was released by Augsburg Publishing House late last year.

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Lapide says his work has rocked the boat in some Jewish scholarly circles. “I don’t know of anybody in the history of Judaism who has not gotten into trouble for saying something new,” he says. “But I have written that God raised Jesus from the dead because I’m thoroughly convinced it’s true.”

He writes that the New Testament account could only have been written by men “deeply convinced that this miserable dying of the Nazarene [was not] the last word of God.” He asserts that dismissing the Resurrection as a vision or hallucination does not explain that revolutionary transformation that followed the Easter event.

The scholar says virtually all the witnesses to the earthly life of Christ were Jews, and that both before and after the crucifixion Jesus ministered only within his homeland. He thus describes the Resurrection as “a Jewish faith experience.” Lapide compares Christ’s suffering and martyrdom to the suffering experienced by Jews in Auschwitz, concluding that “the cause of Jesus is basically the cause of Israel.”

Lapide notes that the Old Testament reports the resurrections or resuscitations of several individuals. Judaism later came to believe in a future, generalized resurrection of believers, which became a tenet of Jewish Orthodoxy. While providing a context for the Resurrection in the Jewish faith, he criticizes modern theologians who seem “ashamed of the material facticity of the Resurrection.”

Has his acknowledgment of the Resurrection brought him any closer to embracing Christianity? “Certainly not,” Lapide says. “Every day I wait and pray for the coming of the Messiah.” Yet he affirms that God was behind the faith that sprang from the Resurrection. He writes that the “experience of the Resurrection as the foundation act of the church which has carried the faith in the God of Israel into the whole Western world must belong to God’s plan of salvation.…”

Lapide, 62, devotes much of his time and energy to Jewish-Christian dialogue. Some American religious scholars have hailed his book as a major contribution to that dialogue. United Methodist theologian Albert Outler says the book is valuable for its “illumination of the Jewish perspective on resurrection, its critique of Christian demythologizing of the Resurrection of Jesus, [and] its refocusing of the crucial issue of kinship and alienation between Jews and Christians.”


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