The Common Good
May-June 2001

The Complete DiIulio Interview

by Jim Wallis | May-June 2001

Web Exclusive! Extended content available only online.

John DiIulio: The thing people have been most surprised about with respect to this office so far is how much we welcome specific discourse, debate, and dialogue. It's democracy, small d, in action. I spent three hours in what was supposed to be a one-hour meeting with the Jewish Council on Public Affairs; we met until midnight. I enjoyed it. There are people of good will of many faiths and of all faiths and of no faith, as the president likes to say—Methodists, Muslim, Mormons, and people of no faith—who have ideas, who have perspectives, who have concerns. We're an office of the federal government and an executive office of the president. We're the office of faith-based and community initiatives. There are people in the independent sector who are not religious and represent major secular organizations. We're as concerned about and as interested in hearing from them. We've been with them as much as we've been with anyone.

Jim Wallis: So the dialogue that's happened for you can be a positive thing?

DiIulio: It is nothing but positive. The only qualification I'd make to that is under some conditions you get people who want to have the same exact discussion three and four and five times and don't appear to be mutually listening. The good news is that when you get this kind of dialogue, you get a tremendous amount of mutual listening going on.

Wallis: What have been the worst misconceptions about this office? One I can think of is that you have a huge pot of money to be doled out. People call our office and ask, "How do I apply for the money?"

DiIulio: That's quite right. There is not a huge pot of new money here. We have a tripartite mission. Number one, we're supposed to help the president figure out ways to increase charitable giving—financial and human. The president's financial plan is letting non-itemizers deduct for charitable contributions. That would open things up to about 80 million people. We the human giving side, we have the president's bully pulpit for volunteering, valuing volunteers, and celebrating people who give their time, not just their money. An underreported story is the president's request that former Mayor Stephen Goldsmith of Indianapolis become the chair of Americorp and help drive Americorp into productive partnerships with community-service ministries.

Wallis: Including faith-based?

DiIulio: Yes. Americorps has had volunteers with religious organizations, small community-serving ministries in the past. Sen. Harris Wofford had some tremendous ideas about how to advance that. The Republican Party traditionally was not very receptive to those ideas. The president thinks it would be a great idea to figure out good ways to have an economic public/private partnership to get some really well-trained college-educated folks. It's good for the college-educated people who are doing the service, and it's great especially for the smaller organizations, whether religious or secular, in the community who will benefit from them.

Mission two is making sure that religious and secular organizations in the community that traditionally haven't been part of the federal funding loops get to be a part of them, if they so choose, and that there aren't perverse rules and regulations that prevent them from doing so. Not every rule and regulation that makes it harder for certain groups to get funding or participate in a program is bad. But there are many rules and regulations that amount to mere credentialism, that make it difficult for people who haven't traditionally been in the network of governmental partnerships to partner.

Wallis: So you want to make sure faith-based organizations and other grassroots groups have access to money that's already out there—TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] money, welfare reform money, other kinds of monies that the government is already contracting with nonprofit organizations and other vendors—and maybe even to help shape welfare reform policy?

DiIulio: Absolutely. When you look forward to the reauthorization of TANF that's coming, when you look forward to the need to implement something like the existing law on Medicaid Pediacare, where in 2002, every 19-year-old who meets the financial eligibility requirements can be eligible for Medicaid, 19 and younger, that's a great thing. That to me is one of the good things that happened over the past five or six years, as far as social policy. But here's the mixed news: How do you implement that if you don't have a wider network of community health clinics? How do you mobilize people into public health care service delivery systems? We have an answer: It's called faith-based and community initiatives. We have an answer for after-school quality reading programs: faith-based and community initiatives. We have an answer for mentoring the over 2 million prisoners' children in this country: faith-based and community initiatives. It's the common sense of the subject, as well as the common compassion of the subject, that we're talking about here. And so the misconception is not that there are pockets of new money but that there are going to be more performance standards. There are going to be performance audits.

The president rightly thinks of himself as a reformer who demands civic results. His heart for this is enormous. He's serious. He's not just thinking about politics, and as long as that remains true, we're going to be able through this office and in collaboration with our Cabinet colleagues to really drive the sorts of reforms that will grant equal access to community groups that have been doing housing rehab, especially religious ones, in communities for years and years and years, who can't get access because they parked the lumber in the church yard. They should be able to sing hymns while they hammer nails.

The third part of our mission is to identify, on a selected basis, model public/private partnerships involving religious and secular organizations that work across the usual racial and denominational lines to achieve key civic goals. We're hoping to do that on a city-by-city basis. We're hoping to identify a wide range of civic goals. There are many, many ideas. There's everything from Internet access addressing cyber-segregation and the digital divide to more conventional things like getting more quality after-school programs and reading improvement programs out there. That's what the so-called Compassion Capital Fund will do. So the misconceptions: I've heard everything from hundreds of billions of dollars that we're going to be grant-making. I've heard that we have hundreds of staff. I've heard that we're going to have tens of thousands more bureaucrats at the state and local levels to monitor these grants. All of that is absolute fiction.

Wallis: This third mission: Is it a pilot project, a model that you want to lift up in a bully pulpit kind of way and a funding way?

DiIulio: The answer is it's not a pilot project. We're trying to do something quite radical, and very much in accordance with the program of the president. On these issues, the president is radical. He talks about devolution. He has talked about it consistently since July 1999, his first major campaign speech, and he says devolution means not just to the states but also to the community helpers and healers themselves. That is radical. The Compassion Capital Fund will adhere to that definition of devolution, which means government can't, by any means, turn all of or even a large fraction or even a tenth of all it does now over to community groups.

An updated calculation that I'd done some years ago: You've got 353,000 religious congregations in America. In 1996 their annual revenues were something like $80 billion. Let's say you double their revenues to $160 billion. Let's say you wanted to take that $160 billion and let's say you cut by a fifth overnight the amount of funds just on the federal contribution to federal and federal-state social welfare programs. That amounts to about $160 billion bucks. That doesn't count the $70 billion the states spend on their share of Medicaid alone. There's no way that the churches or faith communities can do it all.

That's why the president says compassionate conservatism means programs that enlist government support but resist government growth. Armies of compassion that are out there need to be lifted up and celebrated, need to be supported financially and in other ways, but they are often "out-manned, out-gunned, and under-resourced." That's the understanding that's new, that's the understanding that's different.

So the Compassion Capital Fund basically exists to look city by city and see what programs, what initiatives out there exist to go to citywide scale. For example, in mentoring, where we have hundreds of thousands of kids in this country in good quality, really well managed mentoring relationships, best practices mentoring, good evidence of the tremendous positive impact it has on their lives, in all sorts of ways, and yet we haven't been able to get the scale. There are 15 million kids who might need it and want it, and whose folks might want to have them engaged in it, with a loving, caring adult in their life. How do you get there? You get there by going to mentor-rich organizations. What are they? They're colleges, community groups, and corporations—and they're churches, synagogues, and mosques. Where it's been tried it's been successful. So we want to get in behind and have local government support, let's say, a quarter in a dollar, federal government put a quarter in a dollar, the private sector, the philanthropies, the local groups that really have to be there on the ground to sustain it, to give it the political support that it needs.

For years folks on the Left have talked about empowerment; well, we're talking about empowerment from the standpoint of really making it impossible for stakeholders who really do care about these things not to participate. You're going to have to have a pretty good reason, if the federal government is willing to collateralize and leverage the doing of programs that have religious and secular partners that are public/private, that work across the usual racial, denominational, urban/suburban lines, that have a possibility of going to scale, why wouldn't the relevant local community leaders and philanthropies support that when they're spending tens of millions, if not billions, of dollars on programs that don't work? It's going to be very hard to stay out.

Wallis: How much money do you want in the Compassion Capital Fund?

DiIulio: I would hope that we'd have at least several hundred million dollars a year, for starters. I'm not one of these folks who believe that success is measured by spending. I think the religious communities and other secular community based organizations have something to prove and I am 100 percent sure that given the opportunity and given the direction, the resources, and the help, they'll prove it, and that the Compassion Capital Fund approach will snowball. Once you see mentoring going to scale in big city after city all across the country, we'll have a tipping effect occur, a social dynamic you've never seen. Once you see quality basic reading programs being available at scale and being available within walking distance of children's homes or schools, once you see armies of religious volunteers being mobilized into Medicaid Pediacare service delivery, into elder care and home care service delivery. Once people get a taste of what can happen when you get these fourth sector initiatives—public/private, religious/secular, urban/suburban—the appetite will grow dramatically. We'll wonder why we didn't do it before, we'll wonder why we're not doing more of it now, we'll wonder how morally and in civic terms we can afford not to do more of it.

Wallis: So funding increases?

DiIulio: You bet.

Wallis: A lot of folks who are doing the work are worried that more of the responsibility is shifting to them, with fewer resources, having to "build bricks with straw," as it were.

DiIulio: If you go back to then Gov. Bush's July 22, 1999, speech, he says explicitly that we must not ask these community helpers and healers to make bricks without straw. They need and deserve our greater support, both public and private. Now there's a fine line between understanding that there are greater needs and stresses and demands being placed on community based organizations, religious and secular, on the one hand, and immediately having the old-line liberal response, which is "so let's just spend more money, let's appropriate more funds." There's got to be something between the impulse and the implementation, and that is concern for real results. Because it does the poor, it does the troubled, it does broken families, and the breadless families no good if we spend more money and that money goes through the same leaky buckets

And that's not a partisan statement. We've had Republican presidents and Democratic presidents. We've had Republican congresses and Democratic congresses. It's big, it's complex. No one's ever built a system of social welfare in the context of a strongly capitalist economy over a 50-year period before. We've got this unique system here. No other system in the world is like it. And it's not surprising that it has had its faults and its problems. What we're waking up to now, beyond the old debates of Left and Right, is if we focus on the needs of the poor, if we ask how much housing got rehabbed and how much abandoned housing is left after spending tens of millions of dollars, if we ask how many hot meals got delivered, if we ask how many children got mentored and what good did it do them, if we ask how many kids are actually reading at or above grade level as a result of the program, if we focus on the needs of the folks themselves and we're willing to be agnostic with respect to how we get from here to there, and we act in good faith, whether we're people of religious faith or just people of good will without any particular religious faith, we can get there.

And what this president is saying is, those who see and experience greater needs, those who are out there—the army ants of civil society leveraging many times their weight in social good, those who are out there as the paramedics of civil society, every day responding to emergencies, we are here. Wherever we see a need, the president said in his budget address, right before he turned and looked up to Mayor Street of Philadelphia—who, by the way, beat him by 350,000 votes in Philadelphia, it wasn't symbolic politics. It's not a smart thing politically to do, it's not like "well, this is going to turn the tide." It's not politics. He said we're not going to have the old, on the one side government cuts without regard to need and on the other side government spending without respect to performance. We're going to square that circle, or at least we're going to exhaust ourselves trying.

So the folks on the ground who are worried about being asked to do more with less, those who are in the networks, I'll say this, who have been in the funding networks for a long time, I don't care whether they're religious or secular, big or small, and who have not been serving the poor, have not been serving troubled populations, have not been getting the results, do have something to worry about. And they ought to have something to worry about. Those who are out there doing the work, where there are documented results, where there's a track record—many of whom have not traditionally been supported, publicly or privately—that's what we want to do. We want to mobilize social entrepreneurs, we want to mobilize those from the religious sector, we want to want to mobilize as much governmental support, and we want to make the federal government a force for helping local governments fine-tune their responses and their ability to partnership with these local community groups.

Wallis: What about the big, structural things that local groups can't do—like providing for the 43 million Americans who don't have health insurance?

DiIulio: Right. And that's why in that 1999 speech, "Community of Hope," the president said the same things consistently. Explicitly in that speech, he paused and said, "You know, there are some things that government should be doing, like Medicaid for poor children," and that's right. While it's still very early in the administration, we're not out of the second month yet, but the president has a huge heart for these children, and he really does believe that he ought to address the problem at whatever level and by whatever means are necessary. And if that means an expansion of a national government program or federal-state program like Medicaid, you can rest assured. If it means expanding the education budget by 11 percent, you can rest assured; he's not allergic to spending government money. He's not allergic to doing the right thing, as he sees the right thing, if it means increasing governmental support. But what he insists on is that it not just be money to address a need, the old "throwing money at the problem." That he will not do.

Take Medicaid. Take the fact that we've had a little bit of a decrease in that 43 million, 11-plus million kids now down to around 10 million kids who are uninsured. Because of the children's health insurance program, because of the way that's been improved over the past couple of years, we saw the first-ever decrease in the number of uninsured kids. That was good news. But it's cold comfort to the 10 million kids who are still out there who don't have adequate health insurance. It's cold comfort to the kids who aren't getting adequate medical attention. And it's certainly cold comfort to the children youth and families who are poor in places like Philadelphia, where there is no public hospital; where Temple University is doing $70 million a year in uncompensated care and there's no game plan. The state, city, and feds have to think through the implications of a large growing elderly population of low-income and working poor people, and a large growing population of kids who are going to be turning into their teen years. We'll have the largest group of teenagers in 2006 we've had, 21 million of them in this country. They're coming into those years where health care becomes especially important across a whole range of issues.

How do you address it? The president's asking not only the policy question and the revenue question, he's also asking the implementation question. And the answer to the implementation question has to be greater civil society. It cannot just be government. These have to be, to steal Peter Drucker's phrase, fourth sector initiatives. Government at all levels: the private sector across the board, the nonprofit sector, religious and secular, large national nonprofits, small community groups. Everybody's got to focus on the problem. The problem has to concentrate the mind. If the problems of the poor and those in need are our first thought, we will all almost always come to exactly the same sets of solutions. There'll be disagreements. Liberals and Democrats will always want to spend relatively more and through government. Conservatives and Republicans will always want to spend relatively less and do more outside of government. But those differences have shrunk, they are shrinking, and I really do believe what the president has here is not so much a fourth way initiative as a fourth sector set of civic initiatives. That's what he's talking about.

Wallis: The money that is being spent on anti-poverty efforts, most would agree, has not solved the problem. Are you saying that you want to focus that money particularly on local and community groups who are doing the work on the ground, but that the government will also take responsibility for the big structural questions?

DiIulio: Absolutely. There's no alternative to that. And I'm not saying that one can hear John DiIulio and assume that I speak for the whole administration. I obviously do not. But I can tell that I would not be here if I didn't believe that both in terms of civil society theory and Catholic social teaching, we were very much on the same page of the hymnal. And by that I mean, this is not an administration and this is certainly not a president, on the public record and to the extent that I've dealt with him fairly well in private, this is not a person who is allergic to government. He is not. The era of Big Government may be over, but so is the era of Anti-Government. Because this president understands that there's a role, this is our government, this is our government, We the People. You know, these two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are still pretty popular tourist attractions in this town. And this era of cynicism and mistrust of government is over.

Government's going to be called to account for results, for performance. Government is going to have to partner more creatively with the private sector, and most especially with the nonprofit sector. Everybody across the board is going to have to pick up their game. That's what he's saying. So the notion that if you can't solve the problem individually and you can't solve the problem in your family, you can't solve it through your community or your church, you can't solve the problem through your city hall, you can't solve the problem with the state, and the problems should either go away—that's gone. There is not a trace of that that I've heard, seen, or witnessed in this administration. They will make the long-distance call, but they will insist, they will insist, that at the earliest possible moment, this is also the radical new departure, that the responsibility—there is such a thing as social justice and collective responsibility. Those words have meaning here. But there's also such a thing as subsidiarity.

Wallis: So you want to apply subsidiarity, a Catholic principle, to our social welfare system?

DiIulio: I don't know any other way to think about it. I mean, if I tried, I couldn't think about it any other way. And that's the way I've thought about it. When I've written things about compassionate conservatism—I did it in the summer of '99, I did it again in the summer of 2000 at the time of the Republican convention—to me what's exciting about what the president's proposed, what's exciting about the speeches he's given, if you look at the actual words that have been said—a lot of people sort of dismiss it, but he's been consistent, and he's steadfast. What he's saying is, we're gonna follow, essentially, I mean, he doesn't call it subsidiarity, that's not his particular tradition, but I call it subsidiarity, which really says always, always, always it's best to keep the response as close to the person as possible. If I can help you as your father or your friend or your neighbor or your local community leader or your clergy person or your mayor or your governor, it's better that I help you there.

But when San Francisco has that earthquake and if people in San Francisco were watching it on the World Series and the ground is shaking, there's not a single American who says, "That's San Francisco's problem. That's California's, that's Sacramento's problem." That's a human problem, that's a citizenship problem, that's an American—that's why we have a federal emergency management agency. That's also why we have a federal program for Medicare. That's why we have a federal program called Social Security. And those programs, by the way, were not disasters. They have been among the greatest successes in the history of social welfare anywhere. We have tremendous successes here of dealing with—the federal government's role and record is not a record of constant failure. There have been successes, but there also have been checkered stories and there have been some failures.

Wallis: So you solve it on the scale that's necessary.

DiIulio: Solve it on the scale that's necessary. Demonstrate that it can be done. Produce models that can be franchised. Use faith and community initiatives where possible. But let no one suppose that, for example, the desire to double the number of community access clinics, as the president has proposed, to 1,200, that the desire to engage religious volunteers, the way the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in the conference at Duke University earlier this week that the John Templeton Foundation talked about doing, let no one suppose that's considered a substitute for Medicaid. It's a supplement. It'll make Medicaid work better and cost less.

Wallis: That raises the prophetic question. The other issue is these are people who know that you can't just keep pulling people out of the river, you have to go upstream and see what or who is throwing them in. So how does the faith in the middle of a partnership not have its prophetic voice muted? And what is the role of that prophetic word?

DiIulio: The church's prophetic voice—when I say the church here, I'm talking about all religious people. I'm not just talking about the Christian church. The church's prophetic voice is, if you will, what calls us to the better angel of our nature. To me, the most important Christian, trans-Christian, like in other social teaching that comes out of Christianity and other faiths, too, but it comes across pretty loud and clear in Christianity to me at least, is that there are no strangers. They don't exist. There are no strangers in Washington, D.C. Just brothers and sisters. Now, if you believe that and you show up with a prophetic voice—Here's where the Church has gone wrong in the past: all prophecy and no action is futile.

Prophetic voice has to be backed by prophetic action. And the action can't just be "let's have a rally, let's have a bonfire, let's write a really nasty article." Where the prophetic voice has been backed by action, it moves government, it moves philanthropy, it moves the private sector. Where the prophetic voice is all talk and no action, where it's faith, quote unquote, without works, you know, not to be too Catholic about it, where it's faith without works, it's dead. As long as the Church remains prophetic by showing up, the government doesn't have a chance.

There is no power on earth that we know of for the past 5,000 years of history, for good and ill, greater than people of faith moving out to claim space in the public square. The issue is do they move out on behalf of brothers and sisters they haven't met yet, don't know yet, haven't come to love yet? Or do they move out for narrowly self-interested, self-aggrandizing political purposes? Do they move out to divide and conquer or do they move out to conquer with love? When they move out for real to conquer with love—that was to me what the story of the civil rights movement was. It conquered by example. It conquered by works, not just words. The words soar when the works are good. The words, however can also get very far ahead of the works, and when they do, they ring hollow and everyone shrugs. So, I don't fear the prophetic voice of the Church will be stifled. I do fear that we've had too much over too many years of the prophetic voice being basically a voice of cynicism, of nastiness even, and really not a voice that encourages fellowship. When the Church does the right thing, there's no more powerful example.

And the place to begin, by the way, is with redistribution within the churches. I've talked about that to Christianity Today, I've talked about it in other places. That has to happen. It hasn't happened yet. Unless and until it happens, there's no good reason why taxpayers, well gosh, even if government by proxy networks can be improved this way, and even if there are perverse rules and regulations, and even if there are conditions under which it would be good, from a civic standpoint, why should taxpayers rally to be supportive of this? The answer really has to be, if the churches are showing the way, and the way to show the way is by internal redistribution. The Genie Index within the Church is as bad as between the developed and the undeveloped world. That's got to change.

Wallis: Let's talk about the people you love and care about who are doing the work on the ground. What advice can you give them as they approach a new administration about issues like the tax cut or the estate tax or this family tax credit that is refundable for low-income families, or getting Medicaid to those 10 million kids?

DiIulio: You've got to keep it real. Be specific and concrete. It cannot be getting together and saying, "Everybody, let's bash bureaucrats," or bash the Republicans or bash whomever doesn't cut it. It used to be perhaps, but it doesn't anymore. Nobody will listen. But if you step forward and say, "We have a problem and the problem is that the following children, who were eligible for health care and should have been able to get quality healthcare in these 62 square blocks, didn't get it. Here they are, call the newspapers." Be specific. Be specific as well in having a solution to every problem. And be specific as well and concrete in putting your own human and financial resources first into it. "Here's what we'll do" has to be the first thing that comes out of the mouth of the prophetic voice. The first words have to be "here's what we'll do." The community helpers and healers have to be community helpers and healers. They can't rest on their laurels. They can't say, "We used to do." They have to be ready, willing, and able to step forward and say, "Here's what we are prepared to do."

Human nature being what it is, even saints sometime have a bad hair day, and people will say, in effect, "Our misery is our merit. You don't know the troubles we've seen. You can't possibly understand us." That's what they'll do. You cannot accept the "our misery is our merit" argument. You cannot accept the "You don't know the trouble we've seen" argument, and think that that, in and of itself, is enough. You can't just say, "We've been out here on the ground, doing this work; you don't understand us." There are a lot of people in this society who are basically living lives that don't touch at all upon the problems of the poor and the needy. We've come to a point in our urban settlement system where we've sorted people according to income almost to a degree that no central planner could have imagined. You've got all the people with here, and all the people without terribly concentrated there. The way that society is structured today, it's possible for those of us who don't want to ever see or hear about the "there" to tune it out.

When I was a kid, there were three or four or five channels, so when CBS decided to dramatize Rachel Carson's Silent Spring or Unsafe at Any Speed, unless you were going to watch the rerun of the movie, you watched it. Now there are 300 channels. You can narrow-cast. For most people, you don't have to hear, see, taste, smell, go, do, or be anywhere you don't want to. That is part of the civic disengagement problem.

Wallis: There are people on the liberal-Left side of the spectrum who fear this initiative not so much out of church-and-state concerns, but because they're afraid it will replace government responsibility. But this focus on faith-based organizations and what they are doing might give them even more authority or influence. They can say, "We're working with kids every day, and we've done the numbers—if you made this tax credit refundable, it would help this many kids." Or "We get all these kids that need Medicaid." Or "We have a concern about the estate tax." If, in fact, this administration is saying "These organizations are doing good work, we trust them," then the organizations can say, "We appreciate that partnership, and we have concerns about public policy"—policy from below, if you will. This could enhance the prophetic role, and not diminish it.

DiIulio: I don't see any way in which this genuine desire to stimulate community and faith initiatives that serve the least, the last, and the lost can do anything other than improve the positioning of people who—whether they're Left, Right, or center—want to be able to have their voices and concerns amplified in the public square. Let's face it, when people have respect for other people because of things they've done, they're going to listen.

When the president goes through a community serving ministry in a poor neighborhood, it's hard to get him out, because he lingers and he talks and he listens. And what he hears sometimes is not anybody's party line, so surprising things happen. Surprising things happen when people hear, but if they were standing outside the governor's mansion gates in Austin, chained to the fence, that's a different story. That's just screaming. But when it's somebody who you know, who's done real work, it's a whole different feeling There's a newfound respect.

This thing can go awry and get politicized. There are certain people, and they exist in both parties, who want to be the gatekeepers and define who those real grassroots people are and who qualifies and who doesn't. Insofar as I'm concerned, the only thing that qualifies any person is their character and what they do. There are always going to be people who have better access than others. This whole sector now, to the extent that it can stand shoulder to shoulder, will have much more impact.

If I may say so without running afoul of the First Amendment, look at what God has done in this. You have Herbert Hoover Lusk to open the Republican National Convention—a minister from Philadelphia, a Republican, with a tremendous church outreach ministry, partners with white evangelical churches on the mainline, has a charter school, has a bank—he famously said they denied him a loan; now they own the bank—has a welfare-to-work program, has an after-school program. You have Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III, a Democrat and occasionally a radical sort of a Democrat, who gives the benediction at the Democratic National Convention. You have these two clergymen standing together saying identical things about what has to happen in community and faith initiatives. The clergy person who opened the RNC and the clergy person who opened the DNC stand together, talk frequently, and are working together to achieve the same civic goals. That has to say something. When they speak, they speak in one voice and are heard. That's new.

Wallis: It enhances the prophetic voice.

DiIulio: It enhances the prophetic voice.

Wallis: You drew some lines in the sand when you spoke to the National Association of Evangelicals.

What do you want to clarify about your position on the separation of church and state, the First Amendment, and so on?

DiIulio: The first thing is, we didn't draw any new lines. We just did a recitation of the lines that are there in public law, as a matter of federal anti-discrimination policy and with respect to extant constitutional interpretation. We just explained to folks once, finally, and for all, what President Clinton and Sen. Wellstone did four-and-a-half years ago when they came together to support charitable choice, when it passed again as Community Services Block Grant in 1998, when it passed again last year, and so on. We're basically just catching up with something that's already happened.

The lines that we drew are the lines in public law and policy and constitutional interpretation, which are: Public money gets used for public purposes. Period. It has to have a public purpose. Does it mean that a program can't have any religious content? Of course it doesn't mean that. That's what charitable choice is all about. It says you can be a participant in social service delivery and receive partial funding from the federal government on the same basis as any other non-governmental provider, provided that you follow the same basic regime of anti-discrimination laws, the same personnel protocols, and so on. Period. You can't discriminate against beneficiaries at all—not on race, not on color, not on national origin, not on disability, not on the basis of religion. If they show up and they don't want to participate in the religious component of your program, you can't require them to participate. Period.

It's not what John DiIulio wants or says, or what George W. Bush wants. The president has said at least a half dozen times over four weeks, explained and explained and explained, he loves the Constitution, he respects and will honor it, he took an oath to defend it, and we're not going to blink at that responsibility, period. With respect to every aspect of this, we just have to be clear that there are many kinds of faith that can motivate a faith-based organization. It can manifest itself in many ways. For the vast majority of people we're talking about, faith is the motivation that brings them to be the volunteer spine of civil society. That's what it's about: the great civic— didn't say spiritual, I said civic—comparative advancement. This is the federal government. We're about public policy. We've got Anabaptists and Baptists and Catholics and Jews and Jehovah's Witnesses and Zen Buddhists and secularists and atheists. It's about all of them. We're just saying let's welcome godly people back into the public square in a way that does not require them to be who and what they're not. Don't require the person who wants to be in the public square as a volunteer in an after-school program to pretend that they're not there because they have a religious motivation. Don't force them to take down the Star of David. Don't force them to take down the Crescent or the crucifix. Let them be who they are, but do not for one moment use public funds for the purpose of an indivisibly conversion-centered, proselytizing program.

The Supreme Court doctrine can be complexified—there are people who can make careers complexifying it—but frankly, it's really quite simple. If the primary effect is to advance a religious belief or creed, to get you to believe in what I believe, because I believe that then you will have life unto eternity, that may be from my standpoint as a Christian the most important thing in the world. In fact, from my standpoint as a Christian, it is. But from the standpoint of civil society and a pluralistic tradition and a constitution that rightly and wisely and benevolently separates church and state, it's not what you use public funds for. Period. And it's a broad tent. People who have programs that are, say, pure Bible studies, morning, noon, and night, and it's that Bible study program that they believe will not only have the spiritual transformation effect but will keep you from drinking again, or using drugs again, or being abusive again, or from falling down on the job again, those people have a right to step forward and say, "We think our program delivers on a civic goal and advances a civic purpose." If there's a state that wants to put that program on a state-approved list of state-funded vouchers—through state-funded programs that an individual coming out of prison or whatnot can use as a voucher—there's nothing in the world as far as we're concerned that says a state shouldn't be able to do that. But that and only that—vouchers for those individuals, state-approved programs where there are ample and equivalent secular alternatives, yes. Public funds for sectarian worship? No.

Wallis: So it's easy to fund showers for the shelter or lumber for the houses or food for the pantry, not as easy to fund a drug addiction program—the heart of which is leading people to Jesus Christ?

DiIulio: If the primary purpose is to urge people to accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior, that is a program that fellow evangelical Christians lift up and celebrate—that is a clear example of advancing a religious purpose. The primary effect is not to advance a civic purpose, not to advance a secular goal, it's to advance a religious profession. And it can be very complicated. I would recommend to all your readers the wonderful document that the American Jewish Committee, through the Feinstein Center at Temple University in Philadelphia, which of course is the center of the universe, put out a week or so ago, called "In Good Faith." You signed it, so I highly recommend it to yourself.

Wallis: How should people who are doing this work on the ground respond to the faith-based initiative?

DiIulio: To those people I'd say, get with the program, because it's your program, as people of faith who care about the poor, who care about racial reconciliation, who care about faith and justice. Get with the program and don't talk it to death. We've got enough talkers. We need some more doers. You step up and do, you can't be ignored. If you sit back and chat, you will be ignored. For 20 years we've had people saying, "It's going to devolve, it's going to be all on the private sector." There were people in government in the past quarter century who spoke that way. But if you find a person in this administration who talks that way, please let me know who he or she is, cause I'd love to take them to lunch and see if I could get them to have a conversion experience. I don't think you're going to find anybody in this administration who talks that way, because the man who runs this administration, who is the president of the United States and who is the leader of the free world, doesn't think or talk that way. That's not who he is. People have to stop at some point projecting and start listening, because otherwise it all becomes self-fulfilling prophecy: "See, nothing happened, it didn't work, they never really meant it." Why? Because we couldn't get anybody into a coalition well enough to really rock the nation.

Wallis: You want to build a coalition?

DiIulio: We think the exciting possibilities here are absolutely endless, and again I'll violate the First Amendment, if that's what I'm doing here, to say that nothing happens by accident, brother Jim.

Wallis: In the president's inaugural address, he said, "Most of us don't understand the pain of poverty, so we should listen to those who do." I thought he did listen.

DiIulio: I want to tell you just one last time, I think if he is able to govern so that he has people who can carry out his vision, we're going to surprise ourselves. I don't mean the Bush administration, I mean "we, the people" are going to surprise ourselves in the next three to four years. If we backslide into the old routines, the old adversarial postures, and the old pseudo-prophetic voice of all talk, no action, and the old partisan politics, and the old ideological wrangling, it's over before it starts. We might as well just pack up and go. He's got a tremendous chance, if he's able to get the support of people who listen to what he's actually said, watch what he actually does. Nobody's going to like everything this administration does; nobody likes everything any administration does. There are some good things, however, that are going to come out of this administration on a wide range of issues that most Americans would support. This is a signature initiative of the president of the United States. It's not just a political initiative. If it were just a political initiative, it wouldn't have the heart and character. Watch this man on television, or if you get a chance to see him in person, when he talks about these issues. He can hardly stay in his boots. It's not an act. It's real.

Wallis: Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and Barry Lynn have attacked you from the Right and from the Left. It's probably a sign that you're doing something right.

DiIulio: I'm so wide you can't help but attack me from right and left!

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