An evangelical in the Department of Health and Human Services discusses his role.

The federal bureaucracy is probably the last place evangelicals would expect to find a strong profamily advocate. But the man who occupies a strategic government position for dealing with policies and programs that bear on family life is Jerry Regier, an evangelical Christian with 14 years of experience in a Campus Crusade for Christ ministry.

Regier, 37, is one of three associate commissioners in the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children, Youth, and Families. He heads the Office for Families, created under President Jimmy Carter to set in motion the recommendations emerging from the 1980 White House Conference on Families. With the arrival of the Reagan administration and Regier’s appointment one year ago, the Office for Families has steered a more conservative course, leaving most of the White House Conference ideas behind.

What Regier hopes to accomplish is to bring a whole-family perspective to problems that are often handled with individuals in mind, such as day care, teen pregnancy, and personnel policies that affect families. He has also given evangelical family experts better access to people who set policy in the administration and Congress. The agency he works for administers programs including Head Start, adoption assistance, runaway-youth shelters, foster care, and child welfare.

In an interview withCHRISTIANITY TODAY’SWashington correspondent, Beth Spring, Regier spelled out what “protecting the family” means to him and discussed his role as a Christian in government.

What was your role in the White House Conference on Families?

I was on the national task force that compiled the final report. I got involved by trying to bring some leaders from the religious community into the process, and I introduced the chairman of the executive committee to a group of about ten people, including James Dobson, J. Allan Petersen, and Robert Dugan.

Should Christians be alarmed about the so-called battle for the family?

Even though some trends are disturbing—such as the great increase in single-parent homes—to say, as Families magazine did recently, that the traditional family is dead is ridiculous. It doesn’t hold up statistically. Even Christian media pick up these things and go off on the family being destroyed. I don’t want to soften at all the fact that families are facing some very crucial issues, but at the same time I think it’s a bit of an overreaction. I’m here to do all I can to strengthen the family and preserve it.

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How will your office go about doing that?

One key emphasis is on parental responsibility and involvement, especially in programs that serve poorer populations. Many of these, like Head Start, already have a tremendous level of parental involvement. We’d like to see it increase. This office also analyzes family-oriented legislation to see how it will affect both families in general and our agency.

In our resource center, we’re letting people know what’s available from a broad spectrum of authorities on family issues.

Do you find that your faith has a bearing on your work?

I really think it does. A person is who he is, and my commitment to Christ is very strong. After my years of biblical training and sharing biblical principles with other leaders, now I need to practice what I’ve been preaching. It does bear very directly. A person’s view of human nature has a very strong part to play in how we approach social service areas.

Have you run up against resistance because of your faith?

I’ve heard through the grapevine that people are trying to figure out where I’m coming from, particularly since I spent so many years in Christian ministry. But people don’t talk about it; I think they’re afraid to bring up Christianity. My involvement with the Lord is so much of a lifestyle that to me it’s not separated that much. As I think about strengthening families across the country, I can’t think of it outside the context of the church, in addition to other areas.

It’s not new for the government to be interested and involved with the church as a major part of the private sector. What is new is that the religious people that I’m bringing into the process are from the conservative side.

Dr. Dobson is a good example; he’s very well qualified academically as well as being a strong Christian leader. And yet, I didn’t see anyone in government going to him previously, because they were not even aware of that world. Government has developed its own network, and if you’re not a part of it, your input just doesn’t hold that much weight. I am hoping to bring in a whole, new, fresh input.

Are critics of the administration from the political right damaging the opportunity for evangelicals to be heard in government?

Speaking in biblical terms, they play the prophet’s role. Many times they are the ones who can open the doors for those who really want to be involved in the system. There’s a great segment of evangelical Christianity that is academically credible and ready to step in and really do some substantive work within government. I don’t think many of the far-right people could function in government because the issues are too black and white to them. At the same time, I wish I had a little more of their courage and political expertise. As long as they attack the president on issues and not on the basis of saying “you sold us out,” then I can understand it.

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What can the government realistically expect from churches and other private groups in terms of picking up the slack from federal budget cuts in social services?

It’s a matter of individuals within churches getting involved with neighbors or adopting families. I think churches ought to be in the forefront in providing day care, and many are. Transportation is another area—assisting poorer people to be able to go to work. It goes beyond providing clothes and food, but those are important too. I got a letter the other day from a church in Chicago saying, “We’re serious about this. How do we go about doing it?” So I talked to them about counseling and providing other services.

What has happened in the evangelical world is that we have become very distrustful of social service agencies, because we think they waste too much money. In their hearts, evangelicals have a deep compassion for people who are poor and disadvantaged, but they just aren’t interested in giving to a secular-based institution.

Some people say the problem is so huge that to return to voluntaryism is not feasible. What do you think?

I firmly believe that the best social service is a healthy economy. Until we get a healthy economy, we are facing some hard times. That’s been misperceived as a lack of compassion on the part of this administration. The adjustment period between budget cuts and moving back to the private sector has come at the same time we’re trying to get the economy back on track.

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