By Andrew Herrmann, Chicago Sun-Times
June 1995 – Religion takes different people to different places. For Star Parker, it’s taken her from the ghetto to Geraldo.
“Ex-welfare Mom Rips Handouts” is a typical headline that accompanies her visits to cities around the United States. The evils of entitlement is her thing.
Churches should be America’s safety net, not government, which has turned generations of blacks into “the permanent underclass,” she says.
The Christian Coalition loves her.
She’s a curious sort, though not thoroughly unique: urban, black, conservative, Republican. We in the media tend to quote blacks at the opposite end of the social-political spectrum. Too much time in the [Chicago Housing Authority], not enough time in Chatham probably explains it.
It was a fascinating hour on the phone with Parker this week. From her Southern California home, Parker told her life story in a thoughtful, sometimes joyous, sometimes bitter, but seemingly genuine way.
It’s a story that has put her on the dinner speech circuit, won her a book contract and captured the acclaim of the Rush Limbaugh-Pat Buchanan-Pat Robertson right.
Parker, 38, grew up in South Central L.A. Becoming a single mother started what she called “my welfare life,” a lifestyle, she said, “of no responsibility whatsoever.”
Wanting to supplement her government check with a little off-the-record income, she applied for a job answering phones.
“They said they didn’t pay under the table and, in order to work there, I had to be a Christian. I asked them what that meant. They said it meant I had to ask Jesus to forgive me and repent for my sins,” she said.
She “more or less” went through the motions, always with the plan to go back on welfare. But she was interested enough in religion to attend a church.
“The preacher said, ‘What are you doing on welfare? The government is not your source. God has a better plan for you, a plan that wants you to use your God-given gifts. You’re supposed to be dependent on the Lord.’”
Parker said the message “made sense.” Additionally, “It was the first time I heard an articulate, good-looking black man say it.”
That was enough to change her personal ways. She went to college and later started her own business, a Christian magazine called Not Forsaking the Assembly. It wasn’t until the L.A. riots – “when the hoodlums burned me down” – that she took her message to a broader audience.
“I saw these little vicious monsters going to Washington telling the world that it was not their fault, that it was somebody else’s fault they acted the way they did,” she said. “I was having to fire people – good, young Christian men and women who never hurt anybody – and I got mad.”
She started a group, the Coalition on Urban Affairs, and began speaking out against “the liberal agenda.”
Last [December] she was in Louisville, invited by local Republicans. She spoke at two universities, a couple of radio and TV stations and some high schools. Earlier this month she addressed incoming freshman congressmen in Washington, D.C. Before the November elections the Christian Coalition sent her to Louisiana.
Parker said that, at the start of her public career, “I spoke mainly to black people, but now I speak mainly to whites.”
“One of the reasons I am so popular with those Republican people is that I validate some of the things they have been thinking for a long time now: Welfare is a waste,” she said.
Parker, who identifies herself as “Charismatic/Episcopal,” is particularly irked at what she sees as the liberal preoccupation with separation of church and state.
“Churches have the best track record for helping people, better than government ever could. They believe in values. They can say straight out: Marriage is not a joke or something to be ashamed of but something valuable – the best way to raise children. Instead, we undermine the church in this country by telling young people ‘Do your own thing – as long as you’ve got a condom.’”
I asked her whether she ever felt as if she were being used by the religious right. She responded that she is the one doing the using, taking their money to fund the spread of her ideas.
“I think most black people – especially church-based black people – see welfare as destroying families,” she said. The biggest problem is that some black people don’t like me saying it to white folks in public. I say, ‘Too bad. It’s killing our people.’”