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Jewish World Review April 10, 2001/ 17 Nissan, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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The details -- BEFORE George W. & Co. arrived in Washington, it was easier to talk about sex and politics than about religion and politics. Like so much else in Washington, that's changed.

Religion is on the cutting edge. Faith is intellectually chic. Arguments over sacred vs. profane, virtue vs. vulgar, responsibility vs. raunch are in, in, in. Theology may not be as titillating as adultery as a topic for public discussion, but it's likely to have a more important influence on public policy.

There was electricity in the air the other day when the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank, held "A Luncheon Conversation'' with John J. DiIulio, director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives for the White House. Mr. DiIulio has been the moving target for those who want the wall of separation between church and state to be so high that you'd have to be an astronaut to see over it to find a little perspective.

Religious conservatives, who fear that faith-based organizations will become little bureaucracies preoccupied with paperwork and the pursuit of grants, are suspicious of him, too. They worry that religious organizations will become dependent on government subsidies, and thus vulnerable to presidential agendas when we get a less open-minded president than George W. Bush.

Those on the left describe John DiIulio as an ayatollah. Those on the right say he's creating a Humpty Dumpty who will ultimately fall off the wall and all the king's horses and all the king's men won't be able to put him together again.

Such arguments miss the point. When you listen to the man, he sounds like Mr. Common Sense with a sense of humor. "Our office does not make you hum hymns while hammering nails,'' he says. "When somebody sneezes it's all right to say 'G-d bless you.''' (Amen to that.)

The issue, as he sees it, is about creating a level playing field that doesn't discriminate against "G-dly people,'' the grassroots Josephs (and Josephines) whose religious faith inspires them to do the Lord's work. If they can perform as well as workers in secular programs in caring for the inner-city poor without proselytizing (this may be the big if), why not let them prove it? Those who make the cut will be closely scrutinized and if they mistake their mission to minister souls rather than bodies, they'll fail.

What should concern us is results. If every new program was judged only on its potential for failure, there could be no solutions for anything, secular or sacred. Are we so cynical as to believe that faith-based programs are incapable of following federal guidelines?

The tidiest approach to faith-based social services, it seems to me, is through vouchers, to enable a person in need to bypass the arguments over church vs. state and choose a program he thinks will serve him best, neutralizing the source of the funding.

Americans are among the most generous people in the world, the first to rush in with charity and aid in the wake of disaster around the world. The underclass in our inner cities make up our own permanent disaster area. Many of the men and women who want to help them are inspired by their faith to pursue human redemption through faith-based institutions. Why exclude them from receiving government support if they can meet the same standards as secular organizations? Their combined purpose, after all, is the same: to wean the poor from public Welfare to enable them to support themselves.

In his best-selling book of the '90s, "The Culture of Disbelief,'' Yale Professor Stephen Carter observes that we have become a "sophisticated'' culture hostile to religion. Liberals, especially, have forgotten that it was religious activists who fought against slavery and for civil rights. He quotes a Jewish scholar who observed that the trouble with America was not that it was a Christian nation, but that too often it was not -- meaning that the Christian majority often did not live up to the responsibilities of its profession of faith.

Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black wrote that the First Amendment had "erected a wall between church and state.'' That's a powerful metaphor. But as Stephen Carter suggests, "in order to make the founders' vision compatible with the structure and needs of modern society, the wall has to have a few doors in it.'' Finding the right key to unlock those doors is our responsibility.


04/05/01: News that wasn't fit to print
04/02/01: The devil in the legal details
03/29/01: Making marriage glamorous
03/27/01: Crime and punishment on the small screen
03/23/01: When speech isn't free
03/19/01: Russell Crowe doesn't wear a Black Beret
03/15/01: 'The little intimidator' of the breakfast table
03/13/01: "We are asking the Creator for clemency"
03/08/01: Saving El Salvador with dollars and sense
02/27/01: The last cowboys of their craft
02/23/01: When Bubba graduates to Bobo
02/16/01: Clarence Thomas addresses an imperfect world
02/12/01: Ariel Sharon, not by Steven Spielberg
02/07/01: Profaning the sacred with the political
02/05/01: What's the Creator got to do with it?
02/01/01: Live like the snopses, leave like the snopses
01/29/01: It's education, stupid
01/25/01: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows"
01/22/01: Poetry and religion in the Bush administration
01/18/01: Ashcroft can't dance (don't ask him)
01/15/01: Clothes make the First Lady
01/11/01: Pity Jerusalem in the 'peace' process
01/08/01: Laying the political race card
01/04/01: 'What women want' in the new millennium
01/02/01: This year, looking ahead is sure sweeter than looking back
12/21/00: Black power with a Republican face
12/21/00: First impressions of two First Ladies
12/18/00: Challenge for the 'better angels of our nature'
12/14/00: What we've lost sight of
12/13/00: Hillary in the lion's den
12/08/00: Return of the 'second sex' on campus
12/04/00: Politics as entertainment today
11/30/00: Winner vs. whiner
11/27/00: Measuring against history
11/23/00: Memories of Thanksgiving past
11/17/00: In defense of the Electoral College
11/16/00: More than one way to win an election
11/13/00: Sexual politics squared
11/09/00: A Middle East legacy
11/06/00: Filling in the dots at campaign's end
11/02/00: His own man in full
10/30/00: The Oval Office, through a glass brightly
10/23/00: There'll always be an England. Maybe.
10/19/00: The celebrity candidate
10/16/00: 'Ladies night' at the second debate
10/12/00: Gore vs. Bush: Volvo vs. Maserati
10/10/00: We weep for Rami for he is dead
10/05/00: Looking at Lieberman from inside the 'ghetto'
10/02/00: Campaigns, candidates, and kissy-face
09/28/00: Laughing and crying over Joe Lieberman
09/21/00: Targeting teenagers for money
09/21/00: Sexual politics in New York
09/18/00: Surviving the stereotypes and debates
09/14/00: Gloria Steinem runs cheerfully into captivity
09/12/00: Sex in the eye of the partisan
09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate