Success in the Shadows

In the shadow of the Capitol in Washington are a pair of monuments few tourists ever visit. But they ought to--because within their walls are clues to how we can reweave our badly frayed social fabric. Both of these monuments are homeless shelters. One is a symbol of failure. The other is a beacon of hope. The monument to failure is largely run with government funds and the rules are very loose: No drug testing, except in extreme cases; residents aren't held responsible for their behavior, and neither is the staff. A few years ago, a 60 Minutes expose revealed staff members dealing in crack and selling donated food. Just a few blocks away is another shelter, the Gospel Mission, run by the Reverend John Woods. But here there are strict rules and random drug tests. Along with the "three hots and a cot," the Gospel Mission offers homeless men "services" that are even more important: unconditional love and spiritual renewal. One drug addict came to the Gospel Mission after failing in several government-run programs. "[Government] programs . . . don't place anything within you," he told the Washington Post. "I needed a spiritual lifting . . .and Reverend Woods [was] like God walking into [my] life." Which shelter is more successful in rehabilitating men? The Gospel Mission enjoys a 12-month drug rehabilitation rate of about 66 percent. By contrast, government-run treatment programs are considered successful if they have a success rate of about 10 percent. The difference is dramatic, and it's evidence that when it comes to solving our worst social scourges, even the best-funded bureaucracies fail. But private, faith-based ministries that feed not just the body, but nourish the soul--these are the programs that truly change lives. Lawmakers are taking a close look at success stories like the Gospel Mission--and shaping legislation accordingly. They're proposing not just welfare reform, but welfare replacement--cutting government programs that don't work and using the money to fund private programs that do. The most ambitious of these efforts is the Project for American Renewal, launched by Senator Dan Coats and former Education Secretary Bill Bennett. The project would transfer government resources to the value-shaping institutions of our society: to private and religious charities and grassroots community groups. For more than 60 years, our government has operated on a liberal principle that is fundamentally flawed. If you want to improve individuals, the liberal line says, you must first improve society. Give people housing, health care, and welfare, and they'll become good citizens. But the biblical principle says just the opposite: If you want to change society, you must first change the individual. And if we want to strengthen civil society, government must help shore up character-building institutions: churches, neighborhoods, and families. Read on for further thoughts about the Project for American Renewal and how you can support it. Those two Washington shelters--one run by bureaucrats, the other, by the church--can teach us all a lesson: Real compassion can be found not in the Capitol building, but in the ministries flourishing in its shadow.    


Chuck Colson


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