A coalition claiming to represent 250 Maryland congregations is thumbing its nose at Gov. Parris Glendening's call for help in moving welfare recipients off the dole. In what the Washington Post calls a "grassroots rebellion against welfare reform," religious leaders are accusing the government of abdicating its responsibilities and "dumping" the poor on the churches. "We will not participate in this dehumanizing, misguided effort called welfare reform," declares the coalition's leader, the Reverend Doug Miles.

It is difficult to imagine a more unhelpful response to the new welfare regime. Like it or not, the old entitlement system is dead, and it is not going to be resurrected. For churches genuinely concerned about the poor, it is time to redouble outreach efforts and creatively adapt to the new era.

Step one is admitting that the church's welfare system needs serious reform, because it makes many of the same mistakes that crippled the government's old system. Both have too often helped people to manage their poverty rather than to escape from it. Both have too often handed out Band-Aids—cash and commodities to meet immediate material needs—instead of offering developmental assistance that provides a hand-up to self-sufficiency. Both have too often been clinical, bureaucratic, and impersonal in their interactions with needy families. And both have engendered dependency.

The new welfare bill demonstrates that politicians have recognized the problems in the government's system. Now, as the state looks increasingly to civil society—and particularly to churches—to assume greater responsibility for the poor, church leaders need to re-evaluate and, in many instances, dramatically change their benevolence ...

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