The nation’s social welfare policy is changing dramatically, and the religious community will play a vital role in the transition to something new. Around the country, many church-based groups working with the poor are deeply concerned about the scale of need they fear we may soon confront.
Millions of poor people dependent on old welfare programs will soon be in desperate need of alternatives. Religious groups who haven’t worked (or even spoken) with each other for years are beginning to talk and cooperate. Why? Because they believe a hurricane is coming. And when a hurricane is coming and you’re passing the sandbags to the next person, you don’t ask if they are liberal or conservative.
In his February speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Clinton made a telling remark about welfare reform, perhaps responding to the atmosphere of spiritual introspection and self-criticism. Clinton said about the old welfare system, "We didn’t change it; we tore it down; we threw it away."
Indeed. Welfare has yet to be changed into something different; that is still emerging in states around the nation. Most religious leaders who opposed the welfare bill strongly believed that an alternative should have been created before the old system was destroyed, and are hurriedly trying to put those alternatives in place. Many of the religious groups who supported the welfare bill say that Christians now have a moral obligation to respond to those in need. If they don’t, the National Association of Evangelicals recently said, conservative Christians will rightly be judged as "hypocrites." Because those from both sides of the welfare debate are now vitally interested in creating alternatives, some common ground may be emerging.