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E.J. Dionne, Jr., and Eileen W. LindnerDecember 18, 2001, NEW YORK CITY -- The Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, National Council of Churches Deputy General Secretary for Research and Planning and editor of the NCC's annual Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, is among contributors to a new volume, "Sacred Places, Civic Purposes: Should Government Help Faith-Based Charity?"

The book, edited by E. J. Dionne, Jr., and Ming Hsu Chen, evolved out of a 1997 conference, "Sacred Places, Civic Purposes," funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and sponsored by the Brookings Institution in cooperation with Partners for Sacred Places. 

The volume focuses on five specific challenges: teen pregnancy, crime and substance abuse, community development, education and child care.

Dr. Lindner, who 20 years ago undertook the ground-breaking study of church-housed child care, "When Churches Mind the Children," addresses the latter issue, offering church-housed child care as an important case study in issues related to faith-based initiatives.  These issues include quality and standards, resources to meet the needs at hand, liability, understanding of mission and so forth.  All elude generalizations and all require an understanding of the vast diversity among faith-based service providers, she says.

Religious organizations bring material and human resources and moral authority to child care just as they do to any social undertaking, she says.

"Twenty years ago we had a hunch that the church was playing a role in child care; we came to find out that we were the McDonald's of the industry," Dr. Lindner writes in her chapter.  Church-housed child care grew up in direct response to local needs all across the United States, she says.  "The fact that child care is so prevalent in churches is evidence that congregations are highly responsive to local needs."

"Because the church is the church, it wants to respond," she writes.  "If those children also are poor, it wants them to be fed.  And if the church is too poor to feed them, we want a program like Women, Infants and Children to be available.  Those are not programs with religious content, unless kindness and courtesy are considered religious content."

To mark the book's publication, Dr. Lindner, Mr. Dionne and other contributors to the new book participated in a "town hall" meeting on faith-based social action and the role of religion in public life, held on Monday, Dec. 17 at New York's Abyssinian Baptist Church.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton Addresses PanelSponsoring Monday's forum on "The Role of Religion in Public Life" were the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Brookings Institution.  Headlining the opening panel discussion were:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton: "Faith without works is dead," Senator Clinton commented, "but work without faith is hard."   She said she believes the government's partnership with faith-based ministries should be "value-added, but not a substitute" for either public responsibility or private support  Both are needed, she said.  Government policies on Charitable Choice "must not be a set of shalt-nots, but how-tos," Senator Clinton urged.  More than any other political issue, she said, the partnership between public and faith-based initiatives to help the neediest in our society "should not fall along party lines."

John J. DiIulio, former director, White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives: "The God of everybody is the God of the nobodies, the needy and neglected, the pimps, the prostitutes and the prisoners," he said.  "The God of everybody is not just the friend of the beautiful, the rich and the powerful but the least, last and lost as well."  He spoke particularly of the needs of the children of the two million people in U.S. prisons, and described the success of small faith-based programs that help find adult friends-mentors for the children.  Hailing faith-in-action, he said, "We need faith-based volunteers who are 'humming hymns while hammering nails."

Stephen Goldsmith, Chairman, Corporation for National and Community Service: "Often the church is the most respected, most effective organization in a neighborhood," he commented.  Government initiatives to assist troubled neighborhoods should be an exercise in common sense, "often requiring not a lot of money to get wonderful results, but a lot of listening to neighborhood churches who know what's needed and where."  Frequently, he said, what's really needed is for the government to do "simple things like enforce laws consistently, use power creatively, partner with faith-based groups who have the very best interests of the neighborhood at heart."  That, he said, is what the Corporation for National and Community Service seeks to do.

E.J. Dionne, Jr., Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution; Co-Chair, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and columnist for the Washington Post, served as the panel's moderator.


Photo Captions:

Top: E.J. Dionne, Jr., with Eileen Lindner at the December 17 forum marking the publication of "Sacred Places, Civic Purposes."
Center: Senator Hillary Clinton addresses the December 17 forum.  John DiIulio, center; Stephen Goldsmith, right.

NCC Photos: Wesley Pattillo

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