Fake contrasts

Compassionate conservatism works in the inner city

Issue: "Passing of a peacemaker," Feb. 20, 1999

Newsweek's 1998 year-end issue included forecasts of the news that "the press would like to see happen" in 1999, including a battle of "George W. Bush vs. The Christian Right: The Texas governor talks of a compassionate conservatism, reaches out to African-Americans and Hispanics, and doesn't define himself by fire-breathing positions on abortion and values."

The contrast in Newsweek's mind was clear: compassion vs. values, reaching out vs. breathing fire, the moderate governor vs. Christian conservatives. Some on the right, such as Florence King of National Review, also refuse to attend the wedding of compassion and conservatism. And yet, visit the inner cities of George Bush's Texas, and more often than not those who actually "suffer with" troubled kids-remember, that's the meaning of compassion-breathe fire when speaking about the importance of biblical values.

Look, for example, at the organization dealing with at-risk youth that I wrote about last month, Youth-Reach Houston. It has the theologically zippiest anti-poverty newsletter I've ever read. "Our top goal is not to meet the physical needs of the poor or oppressed," founder Curt Williams and his wife Shelley write: "Our philosophy is that for a man to die with a full stomach and enter hell is a great waste and a moral tragedy. For a child to have new clothes and keep an old heart is an example of misdirected energies."

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Youth-Reach does not shilly-shally: "We are unapologetically a Christ-based program seeking to mirror the image of Jesus." The Williamses understand that compassion means intensifying the full biblical message, not toning it down. Tolerance? The newsletter shows that, to be kind to kids, it is vital to "speak out against the growing sinful plague of homosexuality ... abortion, adultery, premarital sex, militant environmentalism, or any of the litany of liberal social issues."

Christians at the front lines of anti-poverty work tend to be intolerant of what gets kids into trouble: The newsletter notes that people settled in their lives can afford to be "'open minded,' more tolerant [of] abnormal or 'alternative' viewpoints." But for children who need to learn that family formation is vital, acceptance of either homosexual or heterosexual fornication kills.

That's the message also from Prince Cousinard, a former professional baseball player who in 1992 began to establish in Houston's rough Third Ward a sports, Bible study, and education program called Inner City Youth. Mr. Cousinard and his wife Sheila have made their home a refuge for kids virtually abandoned by "dealing dads, lesbian moms," and others whose supposedly victimless crimes have left a generation of young victims.

Only five of the 500 youths Prince Cousinard has helped over the years have had an ongoing relationship with their dad. The kids have no experience with a father who imposes discipline and shows love, which includes laying down the law. Mr. Cousinard gains initial respect by competing on the basketball court, the place "where manhood is taught in the ghetto. It's my pulpit. I can't let myself be run off." So toughness and compassion go together here: If Mr. Cousinard does not throw an elbow when necessary, he won't have a chance to bring wary kids to a freshly painted church building that, unlike its suburban counterparts, boasts beds for desperate kids and a row of curtained showers.

Newsweek is wrong in its selection of opposites, and maybe it is wrong in its characterization of future relations between Gov. Bush and Christian conservatives. Not that Mr. Bush will start sounding like bold inner-city Christians; after all, the governor works political precincts where talking about indecency sounds indecent. But he does seem to understand that intolerant poverty-fighting folks like Curt Williams and Prince Cousinard are the solution, not a problem as the PC police of the left contend.

After all, in his first press conference after a landslide gubernatorial victory last November, Mr. Bush declared that "government can hand out money, but what it cannot do is put a sense of purpose in our lives." That's the central point, and in backing organizations like Victory Fellowship and Teen Challenge, Mr. Bush-in the words of the Wall Street Journal's

Paul Gigot-has shown "solidarity with religious-minded social conservatives."

It may be time to redefine the political spectrum: With big government, pseudo-compassion folks on the left, then truly compassionate proponents of expanded church and civic anti-poverty action logically fit on the right. In that case, here's what's worth pondering: Are the "compassionate conservatives" placed by Newsweek in the center actually a lot farther to the right than those whose greatest desire is to preserve the economic status quo?

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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