As the school buses unload each afternoon, Hannah Hawkins-director of the Children of Mine after-school program in southeast Washington, D.C.-is in the kitchen preparing dinner for 60: today, spaghetti. As the children arrive with their backpacks, the discipline kicks in quickly. "Homework, right away," says Wanda Robinson, who has volunteered by Mrs. Hawkins's side for 15 years. The children are quickly warned if they fail to say hello as they enter. "You did not say 'Hello, Miss Wanda.' Go out and walk back in."
Within minutes, as Ms. Robinson applies dollops of love and discipline, the basement study area is a hive of academic activity. It's not fancy, but it's clean and colorful, and one entire wall is covered with six tall bookcases packed with books of all sorts, including several sets of encyclopedias. About 40 students are seated at tables, working with volunteers on math, spelling, reading, and how to tell time. The children without homework are expected to find a book from the wall of bookcases. A 15-year-old boy with a portable CD player is reading Call of the Wild as Ms. Robinson watches for stragglers. "Ebony, you didn't get a book yet. It's been two minutes."
When tutoring is done, children go upstairs to eat-in three shifts, because the small eating area has only three tables. Mrs. Hawkins insists "no talking, only eating," so everyone gets time to sit and eat. Daily devotions, Bible study, and spiritual exhortations are mixed in with the program-and the result is that, in a neighborhood viewed by outsiders as intractably poor and hopeless, these children do not seem hopeless at all in their three hours here each day. They are bright-eyed and smiling, enjoying their haven from the mean streets outside.
This is the type of faith-based program that President Bush's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives was set up to help. Office director John DiIulio, though, is facing not only the attacks expected from the left, but new criticism from the right as well. He increasingly resembles a circus performer with a foot on two horses. One horse wants faith-based help for the poor without wringing the faith out like a sponge. The other horse wants close government scrutiny of any religious program that becomes governmentally involved, with the goal of preventing or punishing any mixing of material and spiritual help.
Mr. DiIulio is communicating different messages to his two horses. He bluntly told skeptics at the National Association of Evangelicals convention on March 7 that they "should be careful not to presume to speak for any persons other than themselves and their own churches." He said their concerns "would persuade more and rankle less if they were backed by real human and financial help"-thus revealing a lack of knowledge about the extensive charitable work of many evangelical groups. He suggested that groups concerned about federal interference with their work should just "opt out."
To the horse on the left, though, Mr. DiIulio whispers. On March 13, he spoke in Washington at a conference put on by the Religious Action Center of Reformed Judaism, a group that has opposed the White House initiative as "woefully unwise." Here, Mr. DiIulio offered no remarks questioning this audience's commitment to the poor. When Hannah Rosenthal, a Clinton administration Health and Human Services official, read a list of her top 10 concerns with the Bush initiative, Mr. DiIulio did not refute her evident equation of proselytizing with coercion, but sweetly promised to send her answers to all 10 in writing. Ms. Rosenthal said, "If you got to make all the decisions, John, I'd vote for you to do it."
The White House is facing this dilemma: Can a faith-based assault on poverty and despair be successful when the armies of compassion are marching alongside an army of government accountants and lawyers? If religious charities worry that government help will compromise their spiritual identity, Mr. DiIulio insists they need not apply. If his interpretation of "charitable choice" legislation discriminates against some religious expression and orders charities to separate the mission from the missionaries except at designated times, what will the term "faith-based initiative" mean?
From the helm of her organization, the Capitol Hill Crisis Pregnancy Center, Barbara Johnson can't imagine serving the troubled women and girls who come through her door without the help of God. The center administers 100 pregnancy tests over an average month to its clients, 98 percent of whom are black. Half are considering or planning an abortion. That's a much higher rate than at other crisis pregnancy centers, like the one Mrs. Johnson used to run in Ithaca, New York. The District of Columbia has 256 pregnancies and 121 abortions per 1,000 adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 each year, according to Planned Parenthood's Alan Guttmacher Institute. That's nearly double the rate that pertains in any of the 50 states.
After a 13-year-old girl recently came in for a pregnancy test, Mrs. Johnson says she asked herself, "How do you face the depth and reach of these problems without the Lord?" In a culture that celebrates sexual pleasure and ridicules abstinence, Mrs. Johnson sees the aftermath. "I see girls pledge to remain abstinent, but when I ask them if they know others who've made the same decision, there's nobody they know to stand with them. That's where getting connected with Christ comes in. With everything else against them, God is what they need. That's where I get the hope."
The crisis pregnancy center keeps statistics on clients' reactions to counseling and notes this measure of success among others: 73 Christian conversions in the last year. Would Mrs. Johnson segment her emphasis on connecting with Christ from the center's other activities? No, she said emphatically: "We're a package deal. If you want this to work, you can't leave that part out. We'd be like any other social service agency, and we'd have their results." Mrs. Johnson and her team of counselors do teach abstinence in local public schools without referring to Christ, but she would not want to do that in her own center, particularly because the introduction during school time sometimes leads to girls coming later for explicitly faith-based counseling.
When Hannah Hawkins is asked about the possibility of federal funds for her faith-based program, she tells of how a friend persuaded her to try a Department of Agriculture meals program one summer. The program required strict menu plans, and inspectors sat in her dining room one day and told her she would be fined because she took back milk from children who said they would not drink it: She wanted to save the milk for others rather than have those kids throw it away. Government officials have "wasted billions of dollars," she exclaimed, "and there's no way around it." She fears this new initiative is just more of the same, except the inspectors will be crying about opened Bibles rather than unspilt milk.
Mrs. Hawkins said the difference between what she calls the "bureaucratic madness" of government agencies and her home-grown neighborhood haven is the difference between a career and a calling. A career is something people achieve for themselves. A calling comes from God, who then provides the vision to achieve it. She worries about charity careerists: "When Bush came out with this faith-based initiative, everybody came crawling out of their cages. They were coming for the money. I don't want it. God will make a way."
Evangelical concerns about government funds long predate President Bush's initiative, and one of the chief tasks of the White House office was to decrease the level of suspicion. Instead, the office's bows to the left have increased those concerns. President Bush himself has declared that the faith-based initiative will go forward, and that makes sense, because the compassionate conservative vision still retains considerable popular support-but the details are now being reexamined. In an attempt to repair the damage, White House officials and conservative leaders are exploring the idea of vouchers for community-based social services: If government does not make discretionary grants to religious organizations, the demand for all those accountants and lawyers decreases.
The congressional debate is developing along split-screen lines: The House bill (led by Republican J.C. Watts and Democrat Tony Hall) has all its faith-based legislation in one package, and the Senate bill (shepherded by Republican Rick Santorum and Democrat Joseph Lieberman) is splitting consideration into two parts-the charitable tax deduction for nonitemizing taxpayers first, then the contentious question of grant-making or vouchers.
The decision may come down to whether Congress wants to stick with ambiguous compromise language concerning religious groups adopted five years ago, when Republicans were worried about a Clinton veto, and whether Republicans are willing to create a class of untouchables (see page 66).