For God and Country

For a South Oak Cliff church considered a model for mixing faith and government, the line between church and state is thin indeeda

"We are going to have to wait and see," says Brashear, who doesn't know if Evans would accept any federal funding the Bush administration might offer and the strings that come with it. (Evans declined to be interviewed for this story.)

Still, other Christian leaders worry about the diluting side effects of federal assistance. "I have a concern that government funding is going to neuter the passion," says Phil Strickland, the director of Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission. Strickland believes that churches will, in order get the government money, strip the outreach programs of their religious significance.

But the debate about how bold the line should be between church and state has little to do with school administrators' appreciation of the Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship outreach to needy students. Given the demands on teachers and the scarcity of similar secular programs, the students might otherwise drift unassisted.

Marvin Olasky, a UT journalism professor, is credited with fostering Bush's attitude toward faith-based service programs.
John Anderson
Marvin Olasky, a UT journalism professor, is credited with fostering Bush's attitude toward faith-based service programs.
One of Bush's models for faith-based community programs is the work of Dr. Anthony Evans, the conservative minister who leads the Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship Church.
Peter Calvin
One of Bush's models for faith-based community programs is the work of Dr. Anthony Evans, the conservative minister who leads the Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship Church.

"I wish it could just stay as it is," says Georgetta Johnson, a principal for the past three years at Dallas' Roosevelt High School, where one of Evans' ministers visits each week and mentors five or six children a year.

Joseph Brew, the DISD area superintendent who oversees the middle school, says the district will do whatever is needed to make certain its policies are followed, but he has seen secular mentoring programs come and go and is not keen to lose the aid the church provides. "That is one of our strongest resources here," he says. "We actually need all the help we can get."

Since founding his church in the early '80s, Evans has seen his congregation grow to some 5,000 members. A Baltimore native, Evans attended an all-black Bible college in Atlanta and came to Dallas in the early '80s to study at Dallas Theological Seminary, becoming the first African-American to earn his doctorate from the religiously conservative school. Eddie Lane, an associate professor of pastoral ministries at the school, says that as a student Evans was more politically conservative than his fellow African-American students and teachers and intended as a young man to become "the African-American Billy Graham."

While not yet a household name, Evans has written books detailing his philosophy on "rebuilding the community from the inside out" that have been widely read among Christians. He preaches weekly on syndicated television and radio programs. Web browsers can log onto and learn about his church and its outreach programs, which are endorsed by many white conservative Baptists. ("They love Tony Evans," says Gerald Britt, the minister of the New Mount Moriah Baptist Church. "He looks like what they think we ought to look like.")

In his writings, Evans rejects the notion that government can solve all ills and urges his followers to reach out to their community. "America is in trouble. Poverty, racial conflicts, disease, drugs, abortion, and broken families are all tragic realities in every state," he writes in a sales pitch on the Internet for his book America's Only Hope. "Despite considerable efforts by governmental and social agencies, these problems continue to grow, affecting more Americans than ever before. This book is a challenge to all Christians to face the reality that the nation is dying spiritually. It is an admonition to those believers who are not applying what they believe."

Heeding his own call, Evans four years ago launched the Alternative Community Development Services Corp., a nonprofit organization that administers his church's outreach programs. According to Internal Revenue Service records, the corporation received $354,000 in contributions in 1999, mostly from church members and none from the federal government. The organization spent $154,800 on social service programs and another $64,700 on administrative costs.

Holland serves as executive director of the nonprofit corporation, whose outreach programs have grown to encompass much more than mentoring schoolchildren. Referred to collectively as Project Turnaround, the programs range from self-help classes for new home buyers to prison ministry. The front cover of an advertising pamphlet published by Project Turnaround features a photographic collage depicting clean-cut young African-American men and women on the telephone, in a meeting, reading papers, approaching downtown offices, and carrying briefcases. On the back cover, a roster of the outreach programs includes emergency housing, food assistance, and an adult literacy program.

The breadth of Evans' good works has impressed other clergy members, even those who don't necessarily subscribe to all of his teachings. "He really has tried hard to reach people," Strickland says. His former professor Lane says Evans is an excellent teacher and a gifted evangelist. "They have a very effective ministry," he says. "I don't how they do it, but they do it. They make a difference. They cut down on violence in the schools. They keep kids off the streets. Evans really has a heart to serve people."

Others are less impressed. The Rev. Britt's much smaller congregation at New Mount Moriah has sent volunteers into the public schools through the Dallas Area Interfaith, a multidenominational and more politically driven effort. Britt says that the Project Turnaround program's yearly expenditures are modest, given the size of Evans' church. (The relative scale of Evans' efforts is hard to judge, since no church is required to open its books to the public--a potential problem for Bush's federal initiative.)

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