Clinton Calls on Churches
to Hire From Welfare
-- with Taxpayer Money
by Cliff Walker
from articles by Alison Mitchell (New York Times)
and Conrad F. Goeringer (AANEWS)

Orlando, Florida (9-96) -- President Clinton on Friday called on churches to lead the way in hiring welfare recipients, saying "we cannot create a government jobs program big enough to solve this whole thing."

Clinton issued his challenge at the 116th annual session of the National Baptist Convention USA, the largest black church group in the nation, where thousands greeted him with repeated ovations and shouts of "Four more years."

It was the second time Clinton had appeared as president before the group, which represents 33,000 churches and more than 8 million congregants across the country. A Baptist himself, Clinton deftly mixed biblical references and campaign themes until he had his audience chanting with him, much as it had with a preacher who had preceded him on stage.

"The Scripture commands us in Nehemiah to rise up and build and strengthen our hands for the good work," Clinton said. "Today, I ask your help in building that bridge to the 21st century I have been talking about all across America."

Clinton's appearance here began the second day of a two-day swing through Florida, a trip that has demonstrated the benefits of having a double-digit lead in the polls two months before the election. Florida has not voted for a Democratic presidential contender since Jimmy Carter won the White House in 1976 and Democrats have generally written the state off after Labor Day.

But Clinton was not only working such core constituency groups in the state as black voters and retirees, he was also venturing into such traditionally Republican areas as Panama City, promoting his record on the economy, education and health care.

The Baptist Convention, however, was clearly Clinton territory. Its president, Dr. Henry J. Lyons, praised the president for his stands on education, health care and the economy. "When you've got a man in the White House who has those kinds of sensitivities you've got to stay right there and put him in," he said.

To thunderous applause, Lyons also called for a larger black vote turnout than in 1994 when the Republicans took control of Congress: "Two years ago we let something happen that never should have happened. We had the numbers on the books but we did not go to the polls. We can never let that happen again."

The president re-emphasized that message, asking his supporters not to be lulled into complacency by his high poll numbers. "We know that the only poll that counts is the one they take on November the fifth," Clinton said. "I ask you to remember that and help others remember it as well."

Clinton has been under fire by some in the liberal wing of his party for his decision last month to sign a law that reverses six decades of social policy and eliminates the federal guarantee of cash assistance for the nation's poorest children.

The law gives states vast new power to run their own welfare programs with lump sums of federal money. It also sets a lifetime limit of five years of benefits to any family and requires most adult recipients to work within two years.

The president, who had campaigned in 1992 on a pledge to "end welfare as we know it" was unapologetic Friday about the law but said that "to make that morally defensible and practically possible, there has to be work for those people to do."

He noted that the law allows states to choose to use welfare funds as subsidies to businesses and organizations that employ those who had been on the welfare rolls.

"Just think about it," he said. "If every church in America hired one person off welfare, if every church in America could get some work to do that, it would set an example that would require the business community to follow, that would require charitable and other non-profit organizations to follow. We cannot create a government jobs program big enough to solve this whole thing, but if everybody did it, one by one, we could do this job."

Clinton went on, as he does in virtually every campaign stop to every audience, to speak of the racial and ethnic diversity of the country and make a plea for tolerance.

"If we fall into the trap that is strangling country after country and think the only way we can amount to something, the only way we can be somebody, is to find somebody else to look down on, we're in for big trouble," he said. "So I say to you, no people in this country have suffered more or longer than African-Americans from discrimination, but you know you will never and can never become what you wish to be by returning that in kind."

As the president prepared to leave for his next stop at a community college a woman saxophonist in a white dress sent him off with a rendition of "Amazing Grace" and a hug.

President Clinton, continuing to coopt the Republican emphasis on "family values" and "faith-based" charity, told a religious group yesterday that he wants the government to assist churches in hiring people off of the welfare rolls. Speaking to the National Baptist Convention USA, a group representing over 33,000 black churches, Clinton asked: "Will you go home and consider hiring somebody from welfare to work if your state will give you some money to help you do it?"

The crowd seemed enthused, and chants of "four more years" reverberated through the Orlando, Florida meeting hall. Clinton now finds himself in bed with strange company, namely, the religious right which has pushed for government to "privatize welfare" by turning social services over to churches and "faith-based charities," albeit with taxpayer money.

The 1996 Welfare Reform Act included provisions which make it easier for government to "subcontract" social services, or give outright grants, to religious groups. Critics, including First Amendment activists, are warning that this new law blurs the distinction between state and church, and represents a government subsidy for religious organizations.

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"He did bow and receive a blessing ..."

President prays for
success in 'holy war'
by Stephen Robinson
The London Telegraph, Tuesday 6 June 1995

A ruthless holy war has broken out in Washington as the presidential hopefuls in next year's election take up position for the early primary battles this winter.

First to move was Senator Robert Dole, the powerful Republican leader and the runaway favourite to sew up the party nomination. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have defected from a Methodist church after conservatives complained their pastor was too trendy.

Ever since he formally declared for the presidency, Mr Dole has been assiduously wooing the Christian Right, which has significant influence in the primary process.

Mr Dole changed his church because Philip Wogaman, the pastor of the one he attended, Foundry United Methodist Church, frequently spices his sermons with pleas for tolerance of homosexuals, equality for women, and government intervention to temper the "brutalities and idolatries" of the free market.

These views may have found favour with Mr and Mrs Clinton and their daughter Chelsea, who also attend the Foundry, just a few hundred yards away from the White House. But they exposed Mr Dole to criticism from the Right.

Not to be outdone, Mr Clinton -- a southern Baptist -- yesterday went for a highly public jog around the streets of the capital with the Rev Billy Hybels of the Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, whom White House staff describe as a frequent spiritual adviser to the president.

After a leisurely run and stroll, Mr Clinton and Rev Hybels paused briefly at the front of the White House and in full view of tourists and press photographers Mr Clinton bowed his head and closed his eyes.

During next year's election campaign, moral and family issues are certain to dominate the debate

"He did bow and receive a blessing," a White House spokeswoman said, adding that Mr Clinton and the minister speak about once a month on the telephone "about spiritual things".

Despite America's formal separation of church and state, religion is rarely far removed from politics in the United States.

During next year's election campaign, moral and family issues are certain to dominate the debate, and candidates realise it is never too early to establish their credentials with Christian voters. Over the weekend, Mr Dole managed to land a blow on Mr Newt Gingrich, a potential rival for the party nomination.

A forthcoming novel by the House Speaker contains some steamy narrative, including a scene in which a "pouting sex kitten" rolls on to the hero, "sitting athwart [sic] his chest, her knees pinning his shoulders".

"It's troubling to me," Mr Dole replied solemnly when asked about the passage during a television interview. "Maybe it's not troubling to Newt Gingrich."

Meanwhile, Senator Phil Gramm, the most Right-wing of the serious contenders for the Republican nomination, has his own problems with the Christian Right following disclosures that he invested in a soft porn film in the 1970s.

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Americans Leaving
Churches in
Record Numbers
by Conrad Goeringer
©1996 by AANEWS from American Atheists


September 17, 1996

Despite high-profile political activism by religious groups across the political spectrum, the American people continue to abandon denominations in record numbers, according to yet another survey.

A study by Barna Research Group of California shows that church attendance has been slipping steadily for five years, and now sunk to its lowest level in two decades. 37% of adults 18 or over who were polled said that they attended church; the reported figure in 1991 stood at 49%. The Barna study noted "Increasingly, we are seeing Christian churches lose entire segments of the population; men, singles, empty nesters ... and people who were raised in mainline Protestant churches."

But the news gets worse for religious leaders, at least according to university researcher Penny Long Marler, who told Newhouse News Service that "actual church attendance is only about half of that indicated by telephone polls." That would place the real number of churchgoers closer to only about 19% of the population.

The Barna research also suggests that, in Marler's words, "Clearly something has been fishy about the (church attendance) polling." The biggest culprit may be the Gallup organization, which for years has released polls showing that church attendance was remaining steady. But Greg Carrison of Newhouse writes: "With the increasing population, a steady 43% church attendance should have resulted in a massive influx of people for the nation's churches." Marler notes glibly "That's clearly not been the case."

Another Barna investigator, Dave Kinnaman, suggested that the 1991 peak figure involved several factors, including the Gulf War, worries about the economy and even the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

"These types of issues formed a climate conducive to church attendance," Kinnaman said. He also cited the popularity of "mega-churches" which boast huge denominations and provide a "seeker sensitive" environment complete with day-care, bowling leagues, personal counseling and other consumer services. Kinnaman added that "even that model may have lost some of its novelty appeal."

Researchers agree that there has been a substantial erosion of support for traditional, institutional religions.


What's going on?

One indication may be found in the fact that for decades, religious denominations have inflated their membership figures. In her book Freedom Under Siege, Madalyn O'Hair chronicled the history of how church membership in the United States was measured. She added that in 1974, when her book was first published, "there are more than 77 million Americans who are not church members and who have never gone to any church, anywhere, at any time. Religious leaders call these people 'the unchurched.' In total, there are about 112.3 million Americans who currently do not attend church at all."

Surveys attempting to gauge church attendance have proven to be notoriously unreliable at times. O'Hair notes the first attempt in 1906 by the Bureau of the Census, saying that the agency "... began to encounter problems. There was a lack of accurate and complete lists, since churches that had become dead or dormant were still carried on the rolls ..."

Many churches, including the Roman Catholic religion, base membership figures on questionable statistics such as baptismal records. While the Vatican now claims over 60 million believers in the United States, other trends -- declining enrollment for the priesthood, closings of entire parishes for lack of funds and members -- suggest this number may be exaggerated . O'Hair noted that "Churches continue to list among their memberships more people than could possibly be accommodated in the church buildings."

While traditional, organized religion seems to be faced with an eroding support base, that does not mean that the culture is awash in secularism and the acceptance of Reason. So-called new religions, including cultish spiritual groups, are reportedly enjoying a comeback on university campuses. The Christian Science Monitor recently noted that "The move toward religion on college campuses is broad-based and includes everything from Judaism to New Age to Buddhism ..." Observers note that this trend emphasizes "spirituality" rather than institutionalized religious belief and ritual. There are also considerable social, economic and cultural factors which can still stimulate religious interest and participation. They include:

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