The Magazine

Faith Works

A defense of the president's initiative

Jul 16, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 41 • By CHARLES W. COLSON and MICHAEL NOVAK
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But the mission of President Bush,s faith-based initiative isn,t simply to help private charities do what they do well. It is to change the way we deal with social problems in America. Critics on the left actually understand this better than many on the right. President Bush wants to replace the tangle of failed government programs with highly motivated intermediate structures: churches, community groups, and so on. The idea is to energize concern for the needy from the bottom up.

In empowering local, faith-based groups, President Bush is revitalizing public notions of moral responsibility. Such notions are not only good for society as a whole but for the individual in need of rehabilitation. One of us (Chuck Colson) has worked in the criminal justice field for 25 years and seen many programs fail precisely because they treat behavior antiseptically. They ignore the learning of real virtues and the turning of the heart against vices. And they leave out a man,s personal connection with his Creator.

Bureaucratic protocol makes it impossible to address the emptiness of soul that goes along with drugs and other forms of self-abuse. By contrast, Teen Challenge, which enthusiastically supports the president,s initiatives, labors under no such restrictions. Its leaders understand what moves people to change their lives. As Cipriano Martinez puts it, at Teen Challenge he found people who "gave me a reason for wanting to straighten my life out," people who "lifted burdens I,d carried for years, and gave me peace, joy, love, and hope."

Charles W. Colson, chairman of Prison Fellowship Ministries, was special counsel to President Nixon and served time in prison for Watergate-related offences. Michael Novak holds the George Frederick Jewett Chair of Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.