NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Richard Land wasn’t surprised when he heard that John DiIulio was planning to step down as director of the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Yet the head of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission was disappointed.
Land expressed hope that the work that DiIulio accomplished would not be lost and that President Bush would find “an able replacement” who can guide the “expansion of a constitutionally correct faith-based initiative to a successful implementation.”
“It was explicit from the beginning that John had agreed to come for only a limited period before returning to his academic pursuits at the University of Pennsylvania,” Land said.
Land said he knew within a week of DiIulio accepting the position that DiIulio was not going to be a long-term fixture in Washington. DiIulio is a “well-respected academic,” Land said, adding he always expected the Philadelphia resident to time his departure to the academic calendar.
Press accounts said DiIulio was leaving because he felt he had accomplished the goals he established when he took the position. The House passed a version of the president’s faith-based initiatives, called “The Community Solutions Act,” July 19.
DiIulio’s impermanence in Washington, D.C. was made clear to Land this past spring when the SBC executive bumped into DiIulio outside the White House early one morning. Land was at the White House for a meeting; DiIulio was coming arriving for work-straight from the 4:05 am train from Philadelphia.
“He had his suit bag over his shoulder and was pulling his wheeled luggage behind him,” Land recalled. “He was commuting from Philadelphia to D.C. He had no intention of moving. He was a regular fixture on the early morning train.”
Land praised DiIulio for his work on the faith-based initiative issue, explaining that DiIulio had secured “a hearing of the president’s faith-based agenda in places others could not have reached.”
While Land remains “skeptical” that the president will achieve his goal of “empowering religious groups to meet human needs more effectively” by using government money in a constitutionally safe manner, he said DiIulio was making “significant strides” to that end.
Admitting that DiIulio had “some rocky days” to begin his tenure and did “ruffle feathers of a lot of evangelicals, including me,” Land said DiIulio made “an extraordinary gesture” in initiating a meeting with Land and the ERLC’s director of government relations, Shannon Royce, in March.
“It was just the three of us,” Land said, adding it is “unheard of that you get an hour and a half private meeting with someone at that level in the government.” In the March 27 meeting, DiIulio expressed regret at his own earlier response to some evangelicals’ concern with the president’s proposed faith-based initiatives. He had characterized evangelical Christians as insensitive to the needs of the poor.
DiIulio made clear to Land and Royce that he wasn’t talking about Southern Baptists. Land presented him a 14-page document that detailed Southern Baptists’ work in urban and social ministries.
Land said the meeting was “very cordial” and that DiIulio was pleased to be able to set the record straight. Land recalled that at the close of the meeting he reached out his hand to shake hands with DiIulio but much to his surprise, DiIulio said, “I’m Italian. I’ve got to give you a hug.” So he brushed away Land’s hand and embraced him. “It was a real Italian American – WASP moment,” Land said.
DiIulio’s resignation was preceded by the release of a report from the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives the day before. The report, “Unlevel Playing Field,” was a compilation of the data gathered from each of the centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives President Bush has established in five cabinet-level agencies.
The report’s bottom line is accurately reflected in its title, Land said. “There is a huge funding gap between the government and the grassroots,” he said. “There is no question that local faith-based social serviced initiatives often are doing a better job than government agencies.”
“Too much is done that discourages or excludes good organizations that appear too religious. Too little is done to include those that serve with vigor locally but are not as large as the traditional partners of federal government,” Land said in quoting from the report.
The report found “blatant discrimination in the corporate culture of career bureaucrats in those five agencies against faith-based organizations in terms of giving government assistance in the delivery of charitable ministries,” Land continued.
“Much government reform will be necessary to be done to get a fair share of this money directed to those who are doing the job at the local level,” Land said.