Is God waiting for us to do something?

From remarks by President Reagan at a recent White House luncheon with national religious leaders.

Today America is in the midst of a period of reevaluation about the role of our fundamental institutions, what functions are within the proper sphere of government, which of those should be left at state and local levels, how much can government tax before it infringes on our citizens' freedom and damages the economy's ability to grow and prosper.

For some time now I've been convinced that there is a great hunger on the part of our people for a spiritual revival in this land. There is a role for churches and temples -- just as there has been throughout our history. They were once the center of community activity, the primary source of help for the less fortunate, with the churches that ran orphanages, homes for the elderly, other vital services.

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As late as 1935, at the depth of the Great Depression, a substantial portion of all charity was sponsored by religious institutions. And today, as we all know, the field seems to have been co-opted by government.

The story of the Good Samaritan has always illustrated to me what God's challenge really is, the injured pilgrim lying by the roadside, those who passed by and then the one man, the Samaritan, who crossed over to help him. He didn't go running into town and look for a case worker to tell him that there was a fellow out there that needed help. He took it upon himself.

Today, we've become so used to turning to government rather than taking the personal time and effort required to help those in need. Some even confuse charity as being the money that is given for lobbying to get more social programs passed.

I realize there is apprehension in the religious community about budget cuts, fear that we're trying to dump responsibility on others, including the churches, and I understand the concern. While we've quite justly, and out of economic necessity, cut some budgets, we have not, contrary to what seems to be the perception, abandoned America's commitment to the poor.

We must recapture the spirit of brotherhood, however, of family and community that once was the hallmark of this country. We're trying to get people, once again, trying to help others directly. Accomplishing this is not simply a matter of raising money; it's not just reaching into our pockets, but reaching into our hearts. I've established a task force on Private Sector Initiatives. It's coordinating a broad range program that's beginning to have a tangible impact. I appreciate that your presence here represents something of a commitment to provide the leadership necessary to build stronger working partnerships to tackle community problems throughout the country.

But I'm not suggesting, nor have I ever suggested, that churches and other voluntary groups should pick up the dollar for dollar cost of reduced federal programs. I just believe it would be a good thing for the soul of this country to encourage people to get involved and accept more direct responsibility for one another's health, happiness and well being, rather than leaving it to the bureaucracy.

Today, I'm convinced that with God's help the American people are capable of great things and that we'll be blessed beyond all expectation if we only try.

George Bush's wife, Barbara, told me of a church that she visited in Atlanta, St. Luke's Episcopal Church. In the early '70s this church was in decline. It was losing membership and attendance. And then, a few members realized that you only gain your life by giving it away. So some of them started a food program. At first, it was just sandwiches at lunch for the needy of the neighborhood. Now , it runs seven days a week and serves up to 600 people a day. The church has also opened a building to an educational program for high school dropouts which is jointly run by a nonprofit organization, the local school system, and members of the community. The church, incidentally, has grown tremendously in membership.

We have problems in our country and many people are praying and waiting for God to do something. I just wonder if maybe God isn't waiting for us to do something. And while no one else is capable of doing everything, everyone is capable of doing something.

This is the spirit that built and preserved our freedom, made a humane and God-fearing people. It lives among us still here in this house and across the land, and as long as it lives, so too will the America that we cherish.

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