Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young talked about the positives and negatives of government-sponsored faith-based initiatives Thursday night at Lisner Auditorium as the featured speaker at the inaugural Richard W. Snowdon Lecture.
“Poverty is not a result just of economic deprivation; drug addiction is not a result of economic deprivation,” Young said in his address titled, “Faith-Based Initiatives: Promises and Pitfalls.” “We’re going to have to deal with (these problems) not only as religious institutions, but as religious stewards of both government and business.”
Young said the government has taken on many social problems traditionally handled by religious institutions, and government can work with churches to eliminate social ills.
“The idea of social welfare is essentially a Judeo-Christian idea,” Young said. “I think we have an opportunity to fulfill some of the tremendous promise that a democracy in a free market economy offers in the 21st century.”
Young said the government alone cannot rid America of social problems like homelessness, because people afflicted by these problems lack self esteem.
But Young, who is president of the National Council of Churches of Christ, said separation of church and state is still a worthy goal.
“I believe in faith-based initiatives and I believe in government support for faith-based initiatives,” Young said. “But when I look at the churches of Europe and I see that they all are funded by the government and on Sunday morning they are almost all empty, I worry about dependence on government for maintenance of the spirit of religion in our midst.”
Young also spoke about his diverse political career, which included terms as mayor of Atlanta and as a Georgia congressman.
In an interview before his address, Young, who worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during the civil rights movement, said race issues are still a pertinent problem facing America.
“The color line has been exaggerated by class and economic deprivation as well as problems of gender and ethnicity,” Young said. “It’s even more complex than color, but still color is a dominant problem in our society.”
The event, which was held in honor of Snowdon, a GW Law School alumnus, was sponsored by the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington.
Young’s lecture coincides with President George W. Bush’s creation of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.
GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said the University was honored to host the event.
Richard Carew, a freshman economics major, said after Young’s speech he thought the former ambassador’s outlook on the Bush administration was too optimistic and “a little naive.”
“He was a little easy-going about the Bush administration and the role of the federal budget,” Carew said.
Carew agreed with Young that it is important for the private sector to get involved in the community and said the event was worthwhile.
“I thought he was a very powerful speaker,” Carew said. “It was pretty informative.”