The Children's Crusade

The Reverend John Bowie is trying to unite Houston's black churches into a single purpose to take care of their own

The Reverend Bowie has trouble finding the studio, but once he lands in front of the microphone a few minutes late, he has no trouble launching into his spiel. It's the same one he's been spinning to fellow ministers, to strangers, from the pulpit to his congregation, to anybody within earshot who'll sit still for a minute. It's that he wants black churches and black churchgoers to come forward and join One Church, One Child's effort.

"Adopting children, making sure they are in places of love and security is what makes a good child into a good adult. And the absence of it can make him into an adult we'll have to take care of later on in life," the preacher says as he leans into the mike. "Here we have children who are waiting for love. That's a great opportunity. If we miss it we really can't complain about the crime and violence that's out there. If a child is continuously exposed to rejection, neglect and a lack of love, we know what the consequences are. Here's a chance for the church to encourage those who have the love, space, time and commitment to take a life and love it into maturity."

As Bowie gets deeper into his subject, his talk begins to sound a bit like the prevailing don't-depend-on-the-government message coming from Washington. Indeed, much of Bowie's spiel isn't all that far from what new Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich might say. When this is pointed out to him later, Bowie laughs a hearty, deep-chested laugh. When he lets up from the laugh he admits that, yes, some of what he says may indeed sound like Gingrich, who in one memorable sound bite proposed orphanages as a possible solution for children in the limbo of foster care.

Bowie's approach may not include orphanages, but some of his rhetoric is positively Newt-onian. Try this: "You actually find more churches referring people to government when government should be referring people to churches." Or this: "The difference from Reagan-Bush is that this time the Republicans are not talking about trickle down, it's where there are problems, let's put the money there instead of allowing a bureaucracy to continue to address this. When you see every day the corruption of those in power, the closer you get the resources to the problem, the better."

Make no mistake; Bowie was supportive of many of the efforts of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, but he thinks the wheels have fallen off some of its programs. He voted for President Clinton, but he admits "disappointment" at his performance. He understands the call for welfare reform, but it worries him.

"Theoretically, the Great Society was a product of healthy, wholesome, decent people," he says. "But when you put a bureaucracy together and you haven't converted people, you are subject to get disastrous kinds of things in the system. Much of the bureaucracy began with the idea of helping people, but since we've tried it for a while, we know that sometimes even among our own people you can get caught up in the greed and the other kind of agendas that destroy the program."

If such comments go against the grain of what some liberals might think black ministers should sound like, the Reverend Bowie doesn't particularly care. He's got a problem to solve, and a message to get out. And as he rolls on at KYOK about the need for the black community to show it can truly take care of the weakest of its own, no one else can get a word in edgewise. Nor do they try. Though Bowie is now working as a pastor, when he speaks he's more reminiscent of the teacher he studied to be. Bowie is a teacher, and he has a lesson. And homework to assign.

"We're not just looking for Ozzie and Harriet families," Bowie tells the KYOK radio audience. "There are competent single people who would make beautiful parents. There are some things about the requirements for adoption that are mostly rumors. We want to make sure the truth gets out."

When the radio show is over, Bowie and Lee are all smiles. Everything seemed to go well. There was no dead air, no slips of the tongue. The message appeared to be delivered well. And yet there remained the nagging question of whether the message was truly heard. As Bowie was being eloquent, as Pat Lee was being understanding, host Rayna Davis was time and again giving out the number for the question and comment line. But for all her coaxing, one thing lays heavy as John Bowie gets ready to return to his church and his mission.

Nobody called.

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