George W. Bush, Texas governor and presidential candidate, has placed government cooperation with faith-based initiatives at the core of his campaign. In July, Bush outlined his bold proposals at a policy speech in Indianapolis. As President, Bush says, he would dedicate $8 billion—an amount equal to 10 percent of the nonsocial security budget surplus—to provide new tax incentives for supporting charities. He also proposes loosening regulations to allow "charitable choice," which allows religious organizations to compete for welfare funds, to extend to all social service programs. He recently shared his ideas with Texas writer Deann Alford:
Why do some faith-based organizations succeed where secular or government programs fail?
It's because they change hearts. There are faith-based organizations in drug treatment that work so well because they convince a person to turn their life over to Christ. And by doing so, they change the person's heart. A person with a changed heart is less likely to be addicted to drugs and alcohol.
I've had some personal experience with this. As has been reported, I quit drinking. The main reason I quit was because I accepted Jesus Christ into my life in 1986. Billy Graham planted a seed in my heart, and it grew. I believe in the power of faith.
What does society lose if faith-based organizations are marginalized and excluded from partnership with government?
We lose the capacity to have a nation where the American dream touches every willing heart. We lose the capacity of a nation under God.
We have children locked into failing schools. We've got babies being born out of wedlock. We've got drug addiction. We've got 1.2 million children whose parents are in prison. They're six times more likely to commit a crime themselves. By excluding faith-based institutions from addressing these problems, we miss an opportunity to change people's lives for the better.
Should government get out of the business of providing social services and instead function as a supportive financing partner to private and faith-based programs?
No, but government ought always to ask the question first, Is there a faith-based or private institution that can do the job? And secondly, government bureaucrats must welcome, not intimidate or threaten, faith-based institutions being involved in changing people's lives.
Should taxpayers be allowed to designate a portion of their tax bill to certain faith-based services?
Yes, at both the state and federal tax levels. At the federal level, I've proposed that people who are not itemizing should be allowed to itemize their charitable deductions so as to continue to support charity in general.
How will government make sure that ineffective faith-based programs are held accountable? And what defines a program's success or failure?
There ought to be simple standards. This isn't bureaucratic oversight, it's results oversight. And how do you judge? There's a reduction in teenage pregnancy. Or children are less likely to get on drugs after having gone through the program. There's a number of statistics we need to look at to determine success or failure. People need to be held accountable.
Isn't there a danger of churches becoming dependent on government funding?
No, because we're not funding the church. That's important. We're funding programs managed by the church, or we're funding people who choose to have their needs met by a church. We're not just addressing Christian ministries; we're addressing ministries.
Won't this plan blur the line between church-state separation?
That's the big question. I don't think it will. And the reason is that we're funding people and programs, not institutions. Some of my opponents worry about proselytization. I believe the power of the church is its capacity to change the heart, and we should not force the church to change its mission. There's a big difference between funding religion and funding the pro gram managed by a religious institution.
Tell me about your proposal to remove federal funding from failing public schools.
I guess I am removing funds from public schools, but I'm not removing funds from the child in public schools. I am asking a simple question: Are children learning? Are we getting our value for federal money spent? Are there results?
It's not necessarily taking money away from the schools. The child may go to another public school. The child may go to a private school. The child may have tutoring. The child may get something other than the status quo, because the status quo is failing.
We'll give the schools time to adjust. But we expect children to be educated. And if schools are not meeting standards—if children aren't learning—I want to say to the parent, "Here's another option for you."
Is this part of charitable choice?
No. The two go hand-in-hand, but charitable choice really addresses people that could be on welfare. It's preventing people from getting on welfare and making sure children get educated. It's part of an effort to address the needs of many of the people who are likely to be left behind as we head into the twenty-first century.
Are you blaming teachers for the fact that Johnny isn't learning?
Not at all. As a matter of fact, I believe that one of the most difficult assignments in society today is to be a teacher.
I don't blame teachers. I sometimes blame teacher colleges for not preparing teachers on how to teach reading. I can under stand the frustration of the teacher whose workplace environment is threatening. I don't fault the teachers. I fault the system.
So the bottom line is that it doesn't rest with the teacher to make children learn. You've got to have student accountability and responsibility.
Parental responsibility as well. But there are myriad reasons why schools are not doing well. My only point is that, as opposed to letting the status quo continue, if children are trapped in failing schools, there's got to be a consequence. And that is allowing people to make different decisions. I'm not casting blame. I'm offering a solution.
Copyright © 1999 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more