Christian Community Development Association
Remarks prepared for delivery by
Secretary Mel Martinez
Thursday, November 29, 2001
Thank you for your very generous welcome. John, I
appreciate those kind words of introduction. Under Dr. Perkins'
leadership, the Christian Community Development Association has
grown from 37 founding organizations to more than 500 today, reaching
into 32 states. All in just eleven years!
Obviously, America's communities are hungering for the message
of Christian compassion that forms the foundation - the heart -
of your work
I am honored to join you here. And I am glad for the opportunity
to share some thoughts on the President's plan to inspire new acts
of charity by embracing the spiritual caretakers of our communities.
Before I go any further, I want to recognize Wayne Gordon for the
principled leadership he has brought to the CCDA as your president.
Thank you, Wayne. I also want to thank Kathy Dudley for her work
as host of this conference and president of the Dallas Leadership
Our prayers are with Dr. Bailey. He has been a strong voice in
the city of Dallas, and I know how much you want him back at work.
Thank you to the Dallas Leadership Foundation Host Committee. Also,
let me acknowledge the many corporate supporters who are helping
to make this conference possible. President Bush has called on corporate
America "to give more and to give better," and I am delighted
that you are.
Finally, I commend all the members of the CCDA. As caretakers of
our communities who struggle to touch the lives of society's most
vulnerable, you each have a special place in my heart, and maybe
you will better understand my passion for your work when I explain
It is a tremendous honor, and very humbling, to serve a President
who has such an unwavering faith. At a time when the strength of
the world is being tested, Americans have said over and over that
having George W. Bush in the White House at this moment is a great
There is no doubt about the source of his inner strength. He is
a spiritual man who begins each Cabinet meeting with a prayer. He
is a compassionate man who grieved openly for the victims of the
terrorist attacks. He is a family man who calls his wife "the
calming influence" in his life, a sentiment I can appreciate,
because my own wife Kitty has been an equally profound influence
I am not surprised at all that President Bush is reaching out to
those with faith in abundance and embracing their work - people
like the folks who run the Washington, DC soup kitchen he and I
visited last week.
So Others Might Eat is actually more than a soup kitchen. They
do provide 800 meals, twice each day, to the hungry. But they also
give them medical care, and shelter them, counsel them, treat their
addictions, and keep them clothed.
As we walked through the kitchen where volunteers were making lunch,
and had the opportunity to talk with them about their work, I thought
about a piece of advice St. Francis of Assisi offered: "Preach
the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."
These people preach the gospel every day - with their hands and
their hearts, and with very few words at all.
The same compassionate spirit that breathes life into So Others
Might Eat has been echoed across the country by the faith community
since the September terrorist attacks. Immediately afterwards, you
were there to offer physical and spiritual nourishment to a shell-shocked
Two of your members - World Vision, and Concerts of Prayer of Greater
New York - helped mobilize churches to serve and support those who
lost loved ones. Together, they established the "American Families
Assistance Fund." Donations are helping families meet the immediate
costs of funerals, counseling, and other expenses, and the fund
will provide long-term support, too.
Last week, volunteers at the "Here's Life Inner City"
mission prepared Thanksgiving boxes stuffed with turkey, canned
vegetables, beverages, and even pumpkin pie. These 16,000 boxes
went to feed the "hidden victims" of the war we now find
ourselves fighting, like the men and women who lost their jobs cleaning
the offices of the World Trade Center or working in its shops and
Motivated by faith, congregations and community organizations across
this country are helping strangers in remarkable ways. You have
prompted an outpouring of charity like we have never seen before
in America. This did not originate with the federal government:
it came directly from the hearts of people like you on the grassroots
level, often working through their churches and other houses of
Now imagine the number of lives we could change - and the impact
we could have on this generation and those to come - if we could
magnify these acts of compassion a hundredfold. This is why President
Bush is reaching out to America's faith-based community, with a
plan built around this very dream.
The President's plan and the CCDA itself both originated from a
simple idea: the belief that our best chance to ease suffering is
to tackle it from within, by breaking through racial, ethnic, and
economic barriers and coming together as neighbors concerned for
one another and the health of our communities. The most creative
solutions are found closest to home. The leaders most committed
to putting those solutions to work are part of the community and
understand the challenge.
Let me quote from the President, who spoke passionately on this
subject in a speech at the University of Notre Dame: "Compassion
often works best on a small and human scale. It is generally better
when a call for help is local, not long distance."
It is not a lack of compassion that keeps communities from answering
that call. Our cities are overflowing with compassion. The problem
is that government is standing in the way. Washington can and
must do more to promote new acts of charity in our communities,
especially at a time when charity is the only thing some people
have to hang onto.
On its own, a family in crisis does not stand much chance of being
noticed within the gigantic Washington bureaucracy. When government
is focused on only the big picture, individual lives can get overlooked.
But the federal government's weakness is your strength. Instead
of dealing with 281 million lives, the men and women on the local
level who minister to those in need work right in our neighborhoods,
on our blocks.
Yes, the federal government has a role, and a solemn responsibility
to help meet the needs of poor Americans. When someone in need turns
to the government, however, the response is usually faceless, even
though true compassion demands that we take that person's hand and
look them in the eye. So our best hope of serving those who have
nowhere else to turn is for the federal government to work in partnership
with our community caretakers.
In January, President Bush created the White House Office of Faith-Based
and Community Initiatives and charged it with lifting up this nation's
charitable service organizations and encouraging their good works.
We need the President's approach because many faith-based and community-based
organizations that seek to partner with the federal government feel
excluded and discriminated against.
And they have been.
The roadblocks include outright bias, arbitrary and burdensome
regulations, and general confusion over the way the federal government
has addressed the separation of church and state. The bigger and
better-funded organizations have had an easier time, because they
have lawyers to handle the legal work and staff to manage the paperwork.
But these barriers prevent HUD and other federal agencies from expanding
our partnerships with America's smaller faith-based groups.
For example, there is tremendous confusion when it comes to deciding
whether a group is "too religious" to qualify for federal
funding. If HUD decides that a group is "too religious,"
that group will not receive a grant. Unfortunately, the terms that
HUD uses to make that decision have never been clearly defined by
any court in the land, or even by HUD itself. Some groups that deserve
to be funded never get a chance to participate.
A faith-based group can improve its chances of receiving a grant
if they minimize the role of faith in their work.
This is difficult to understand - the very reason so many faith-based
groups are successful is the fact that they are tied to their work
by their faith. Involvement with HUD, however, has forced groups
to water down their message and mask their religious nature, which
dilutes their effectiveness and is not constitutionally required.
There have been occasions where groups rooted in faith wanted to
participate in HUD funding - until they were told they would qualify
for a grant only if they revised their mission statement
to edit out any references to God. Such demands are heartbreaking
Instead of fearing faith, the government ought to embrace and encourage
the good work of faith in our society. Local charitable programs
should be judged on one central question: do they work? If they
do, and if they happen to work in part because they are anchored
in faith, then as the President put it, "the government ought
to say 'hallelujah.'"
Another problem we found is that HUD has not applied its regulations
with a single, definable standard. Too often, these inconsistencies
result in the "case-by-case determination," a response
that insures often unfair - and always unequal - treatment.
A decade ago, HUD enacted rules prohibiting the organizations we
fund from posting religious symbols, like crosses. Those rules were
on the books for less than a year before being repealed and replaced
by broader language banning so-called "religious influences."
Even so, the perception still exists that an organization has to
remove all religious symbols from the room when performing government-funded
services - even though we would all agree that the presence of a
religious symbol has nothing to do with how well an organization
performs any given service.
But looking to the bigger picture, that interpretation goes far
beyond anything mandated by the Constitution.
Despite good intentions and decades of outreach, the fact remains
that in the past, HUD discouraged the active involvement of America's
community of faith in lifting up our neighbors.
This must change - and under the leadership of President Bush,
The President's faith-based plan is critical, especially now that
we are engaged in a war we did not seek. The nation's charities
are straining to provide disaster relief at the same time they continue
to serve the less fortunate. I am troubled by reports that charitable
giving is on the decline. The President's plan provides a bridge
by stimulating giving through tax incentives. It will help eliminate
federal discrimination against organizations that provide faith-based
The President has called on Congress to pass a bill that he can
sign into law before Christmas. This would be a wonderful holiday
gift to the nation.
While the legislation is important, my staff is recommending specific
steps we can take within HUD immediately to break down the barriers
to faith-based groups. I know that we can streamline our regulations
and allow you to retain your independence and your religious identity,
while not running afoul of the Constitutional issues of separation
of church and state.
The fact that I am standing here today - a refugee from Cuba, richly
blessed by the goodness of strangers, who now serves in the Cabinet
of an American president - is a testament to the power of faith.
I have seen for myself the wonderful way in which faith motivates
people to open their hearts. I want every child, every man, and
every woman who reaches out a hand in search of a lifeline, to find
the same love that carried me into this country as a frightened
You remember, of course, the story of Esther. She became queen
of the Persian Empire while just a teenager herself. Her people
were scattered, threatened with destruction. Esther was called to
risk her life to save them, but she drew back, until her cousin
conveyed to her this message: "Who knows whether you have come
to the kingdom for such a time as this?"
There is a lesson for us in the story of Esther, one that parallels
the situation we find ourselves in today.
Our nation has been handed tremendous challenges in the wake of
the terrorist attacks. But a window of opportunity has been opened
to us as well. We know that these difficult events have generated
a spiritual reawakening and a new commitment to prayer. We see that
Americans are hungering for both spiritual nourishment and a way
to reach beyond their own lives to touch the life of somebody else.
We can feed that hunger, but it will demand a new way of thinking.
This Administration is willing to change, so that you do not have
to. We are committed to tearing down old walls and transforming
America. We encourage you to unite with us. There may never be a
moment like this again, and I ask you to consider the possibility
that God has brought us to this point for this very purpose.
This is a new chapter in our history. Let us write it as partners,
joined together "for such a time as this."
Thank you, and may God continue to bless you and your work.
Content Archived: March 11, 2010