Swarthmore’s political science department hosts an annual Charles Gilbert lecture, which always attracts high profile speakers. This year was no exception, as John J. DiIulio, Jr. came to lecture on “Forging a Faithful Consensus: The Past and Future of Faith-Based Social Policy in the U.S.” DiIulio is an extremely controversial figure; he warned the crowd at the beginning of his lecture, “I usually come to places twice – once to lecture and once to apologize.”
DiIulio was the first head of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Groups, a white house position created by President Bush. However, in 2001, less than a year after taking the post, DiIulio resigned. He later gave a now-famous scathing interview to Esquire in which he blasted many of the administration’s policies. However, DiIulio was not here to talk about partisan politics. He came to discuss the supplementary, and yet absolutely crucial role that he believes grassroots faith-based organizations must play in public service.
Any observer hoping that DiIulio had come to bash the President soon had his or her hopes dashed. He opened his lecture with two quotes from “a prominent politician,” illustrating their belief that faith and religion had a crucial part to play in America. However, the audience was surprised when DiIulio revealed that the quotes had not come from George Bush or Rick Santorum, but none other than Hillary Clinton. In addition, DiIulio mentioned more than once that he had advised and help write speeches for both Al Gore and George Bush in 2000.
Rather than partisan politics, DiIulio’s lecture focused on the role that religion should play in public policy. He said that his goal was to encourage America to think about it more, regardless of what side he or she comes out on. His main point was that faith-based organizations can be a vital supplement to the government and secular organizations when it comes to reaching out to people. He reiterated time and time again that faith-based organizations cannot and should not replace secular or governmental organizations. However, he lamented that small, grassroot organizations have traditionally been “treated as radioactive,” or completely marginalized simply due to their religious grounding. He notes that in Philadelphia, secular public service organizations serve twice the number of clients that faith-based organizations do, but they do it on more than ten times the budget.
DiIulio has been vilified many times for his opinion on the role of religion in public policy. He claims to be “The only person to be criticized by the ACLU and Jerry Falwell on the same day for the same thing.” However, he did not back down from his opinions, even at a campus where many students view any religious organization with extreme suspicion. He stuck to his guns and always provided the support, which any Swattie should be able to appreciate.