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No more misuse of force

For the Bush administration's faith-based initiative, just getting the words right may be the difference between the success or failure of the policy

Issue: "State of the Union 2003," Jan. 25, 2003

The Clinton administration lost support over a presidential attempt to fudge the tiny word is. The Bush administration may increase support as it returns to a precise definition of a bigger word, proselytize.

The word apparently first appeared in 1679. It means to induce or coerce a person to convert. That's something the Bible opposes, because an expression of faith is a lie if it's made without faith. Evangelicals especially don't favor that kind of proselytizing.

Liberals, however, have often stretched the definition to make it seem as if any mention of God to a person seeking to turn around his life is proselytizing. The Bush faith-based initiative began floundering on the day it began, Jan. 29, 2001, when its key spokesman, John DiIulio, told Peter Jennings on ABC's World News Tonight that "I certainly wouldn't be a part of [the initiative] if I thought for a minute we were going in the direction of funding groups that were going to proselytize."

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Mr. DiIulio thereafter regularly said that the Bush administration opposed participation in the faith-based initiative by religious groups that offered Bible-based teaching as well as material help to the poor.

WORLD, though, explained the restricted meaning of proselytize (March 3, 2001) and argued that coercion is wrong but the freedom to discuss spiritual needs is crucial.

Now, judging by remarks President Bush made last month and conversations with administration officials, White House staffers who use the word proselytize at all will use it in the accurate, restricted sense. For example, the president went to bat for Victory Center, an evangelical homeless shelter that offers the needy a chapel service and Bible studies, and for that reason had a federal grant taken from it by the Clinton administration (see WORLD, Jan. 20, 2001).

President Bush has also ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to "revise its policy on emergency relief so that religious nonprofit groups can qualify for assistance after disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes." Organizations that incorporate religious teaching, such as the Seattle Hebrew Academy or Christian groups, will be treated like other social-service providers that suffer damage.

President Bush also signed an executive order establishing new centers for faith-based and community initiatives, including one at the Department of Agriculture. That's important, because the Clinton administration cut off the long-established flow of surplus food to many faith-based homeless shelters and did not allow long-term residents in job-training programs to use food stamps at religious centers (see WORLD, Sept. 30, 2000, and June 2, 2001.).

The State of the Union speech (see p. 14) may include a reference to other steps that, in the president's words, will "help clear away a legacy of discrimination against faith-based charities." In 2001 the faith-based office lost conservative support by stating that proselytizing groups, broadly defined, could not receive any governmental help. The new understanding that opens participation to all except those who coerce the poor should give the faith-based initiative new life.

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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