Is a program God-centered, fostering self-esteem not by pretense but by leading clients to their Creator and to an understanding of how they are made in His image?
"True philanthropy must take into account spiritual as well as physical needs," poverty fighters a century ago noted, and both Christians and Jews did. Christians worshipped a God who came to earth and showed in life and death the literal meaning of compassion - suffering with. Jewish teaching stressed the pursuit of righteousness through the doing of good deeds. Groups such as the Industrial Christian Alliance noted that they used "religious methods" - reminding the poor that God made them and had high expectations for themÜto "restore the fallen and helpless to self-respect and self-support."
Challenge that goes beyond the material is still essential to poverty fighting. In Washington, D.C., multimillion dollar programs have failed, but a mile from the U.S. Capitol success stories are developing: Spiritually-based programs such as Clean and Sober Streets, where ex-alcoholics and ex-addicts help those still in captivity; the Gospel Mission, which fights homelessness by offering true hope; and the Capitol Hill Crisis Pregnancy Center, where teenage moms and their children, born and unborn, are cared for, are all saving lives. In Dallas, Texas, a half-mile from the Dallas Housing Authority's failed projects, a neighborhood group called Voice of Hope invites teenagers to learn about God through Bible studies and to work at renovating deteriorated homes in their neighborhood. During the past decade, crime rates among the boys involved with Voice of Hope and pregnancy rates among the girls have been much lower than those in the surrounding community.
Giving by itself, we need to remember, is morally neutral. We need to give rightly so as not to impede the development of values that enable people to get out of poverty and stay out. When the preceding seven principles of effective compassion are widely understood and practiced, antipoverty work can be effective. In 2000, as in 1900, the best programs offer challenge, not just enabling, and deal with spiritual questions as well as material needs. In 2000, as in 1900, there is no effective substitute for the hard process of one person helping another. A century-old question - Does any given "scheme of help make great demands on men to give themselves to their brethren?" - is still the right one to ask.
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