November 1, 2003

Lifting Up the Poor: A Dialogue on Religion, Poverty, and Welfare Reform

Mary Jo Bane and Lawrence M. Mead

Pew Forum Dialogues on Religion & Public Life
E.J. Dionne Jr., Jean Bethke Elshtain, Kayla Drogosz, Series Editors

People who participate in debates about poverty – and its causes and cures – often speak from religious conviction. But those underlying commitments are rarely made explicit or debated on their own terms. And rarely are the public implications of religious commitments brought to bear on specific policy choices. Two of the nation’s foremost scholars and policy advocates break the mold in this lively volume. They bring their faith traditions, policy experience, academic expertise, and political commitments together in this moving, pointed, and informed discussion of one of our most vexing public issues.

Mary Jo Bane writes of her experiences running social service agencies, work that has been informed by “Catholic social teaching, and the Catholic sensibility that is shaped every day by prayer and worship.”

Drawing from the various Christian traditions, Lawrence Mead’s essay discusses the role of nurturing Christian virtues and personal responsibility as a means of combating poverty. Theologians, he writes, are among the ‘unacknowledged legislators of mankind.’ Bane emphasizes the social justice claims of her tradition, and Mead draws from virtue theory. But both assert that an engagement with religious traditions is indispensable to an honest and searching debate about poverty.

Mary Jo Bane is professor of public policy and management at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. She served as cochair of President Clinton’s Working Group on Welfare Reform and assistant secretary for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Lawrence M. Mead is a professor of politics at New York University and has been a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford and at the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton.

The Dialogues are short volumes, published jointly by the Pew Forum and the Brookings Institution, that bring together the voices of scholars, journalists and activists engaged simultaneously in the religious and policy realms. These books will appeal to public policy specialists, university students, clergy, lay leaders, seminarians, members of religious congregations, and active citizens who regularly join in dialogue on public matters. Each volume is introduced by the series editors and consists of counterpoint essays, responses to each essay, and concluding reflections on current policy debates.