Friday, December 12, 2003

Without a Prayer

This is wrong in so many ways I can’t begin to count them.

Since joining the [Florida] Department of Children & Families, Secretary Jerry Regier has tried centralizing his administration, shifting management to private companies and developing a ”character-building” course for harried social workers.

Now he is floating a new proposal: prayer.

This past fall, the administrators of the DCF’s faith-based initiative began negotiating with an Oklahoma company to develop a program called ”Adopt-A-Worker,” which would link child-welfare workers with religious groups in their communities, records show. Though that contract fell through, a similar program is being implemented.

Among other things, the congregations would be asked to pray for the social-service workers they adopt.

”These workers have very stressful jobs,” said Regier, an Oklahoma native. “This is a resource, and these people will be there to encourage [them] and pray for [them].”

But critics of the proposal, including a former DCF secretary, say it could turn into a sideshow, diverting attention from the department’s critical needs — and failings.

”There’s nothing wrong with involving the faith-based community in helping to support children, such as providing computers or teaching children to read,” said Edward Feaver, a graduate of the Union Theological Seminary in New York and a 20-year DCF administrator who was secretary from 1995 to 1999.

”But we should not be using public funds for anything having to do with praying for people’s souls,” Feaver said.


”Prayer is the most important and powerful activity of the Adopt-A-Worker program,” a brochure sent to the DCF states. “Members of the faith congregation are given the opportunity to become Prayer Partners. Their mission is to provide prayer support for government social service workers and their clients.”

Leaders of the program, brochures say, must demonstrate an ”appreciation for the power of prayer to change lives and circumstances,” and be ‘willing and able to tell the ‘truth in love’ when it may not be appreciated by the hearer.”

On Nov. 26, a DCF contract manager cleared the way for ”Adopt-A-Worker,” which was part of a broader faith-based package, to proceed.

Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with “faith-based” groups working with public agencies to supply materials and manpower to help out. It’s a tradition that goes back to the beginning of this country, and cuts across political lines – the Quakers have made it part of their mission since George Fox walked the moors in England. But the idea of a “prayer support group” is arrogant and does nothing to meet the basic mission of DCF.

This is not the first time Secretary Regier has raised eyebrows. In his previous position in Oklahoma, he wrote articles for hard-right wing evangelical magazines that advocated inculcating spiritual teachings into public policy, and – on a rather kinky level – approved of spanking children to the point that it raised “bruises or welts” to get the point across. Yeah – this is the guy we have in charge of the Department of Children and Families.