The Difference Jesus Makes

One of the issues figuring prominently in this fall's election campaign is the role of "faith-based initiatives." Polls show that a startling 76 percent of Americans favor them. Not surprisingly, both major candidates like the idea, making the argument that faith-based groups get the job done in ways that government often can't. But beyond the practical impact, there are profound cultural and spiritual issues here. Make no mistake: there will be controversy as well, as church/state objections are raised. But I think this is one of the most important issues in the 2000 campaign. The phrase "faith-based initiatives" refers to efforts by religious groups to address social problems like poverty, housing, and prisoners. What distinguishes these initiatives from their government counterparts is that most of these programs contain a moral or religious component. Directly or indirectly, recipients of assistance are asked to examine the way they live. Government-sponsored programs like welfare make no such demands. And if a person's behavior is the proximate cause of their problems, the government approach simply creates more dependence, and not freedom from poverty. Despite the best of intentions, government's way has failed, and both political camps suddenly see hope in faith-based solutions. Gov. Bush has seen this first-hand at Prison Fellowship's InnerChange program in Texas, where recidivism is being drastically reduced. And groups like Habitat for Humanity haven't just provided thousands of people with homes, they've helped turn entire neighborhoods around. These initiatives restore the fundamental principle that private institutions have a crucial role in society, and that government's role is not absolute. This is a profoundly Christian understanding, which Catholics call subsidiarity, and Protestants call sphere sovereignty. So Christians have a great stake in this debate—and just think of the witness we can make. Christian groups fulfilling Christ's command to care for "the least of these, my brothers" do so in the most visible way, a way the world cannot help but see. In today's post-Christian culture, Christian moral and social teachings are often considered irrelevant, at best, or a source of bigotry, at worst. But this new focus on faith-based programs repudiates those caricatures. It tells people they've had it all backwards: Disproportionately, it is Christians who are doing the acts of kindness and mercy that make a difference. And without Christian compassion, many people's lives would be far worse. The work of people like our Prison Fellowship volunteers is, most of all, a testimony to the power of Christ. Why would a white suburban housewife become involved in the life of a black inmate? Because of Christ. Why would a former special counsel to the President devote his life to working with inmates? Because of Christ. The power of Christ to transform the life of a man, his family, and even his community is in the end the most powerful argument of all. Every prisoner visited, every person housed, is a reminder of what we have, as Christians, that our neighbors need. Over the next week, I'm going to be telling you about the impact faith-based initiatives are having in the lives of millions of Americans. This is information you'll want to share with your neighbors. Because they need to understand the difference Jesus Christ can make, not only in one's life, but in the life of our nation.


Chuck Colson



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