Faith-based political follies

By David Waters Former “faith-based” officials of the Bush White House, which often sought the support of religious leaders for … Continued

By David Waters

Former “faith-based” officials of the Bush White House, which often sought the support of religious leaders for its policies, claim the Obama White House is using its “faith-based initiative” to enlist religious leaders to support the new health care law.

Obama officials claim the president’s conference call last month to talk to hundreds of religious leaders about the new law was purely informational. But Jim Towey, a former Catholic college president who directed George W. Bush’s faith-based initiative, has another interpretation.

“Do we really want taxpayer-funded bureaucrats mobilizing ministers to go out to all the neighborhoods and spread the good news of universal coverage?” Towey wrote in The Wall Street Journal last month.

We don’t want taxpayer-funded bureaucrats mobilizing ministers to spread the doctrine of any political party. But isn’t that one of the unintended consequences of the federal government’s 15-year effort to turn faith-based ministries into government-supported agencies?

Alas. If there was one issue on which we thought we could count on Democrats and Republicans to agree, it was the need for government to “partner” with faith-based organizations to help people in need.

Bill Clinton (D-Baptist) called it “charitable choice.” Your charity. Our choice.

Al Gore (D-Baptist) called it a “carefully tailored partnership,” as if church and state would wear matching uniforms.

George W. Bush (R-Methodist) turned it into a “faith-based initiative.” Love and other faith-based initiatives, sponsored by the Department of Homeland Eternity.

Barack Obama (D-Undecided) refers to is as an “all-hands-on-deck approach.” Support our policies with your people? Yes, you can.

It’s a noble concept, but ultimately a flawed one, regardless of which party in power is trying to use it to serve its own agenda.

The genesis of what we now call the government’s “faith-based initiative” dates back to the mid-1990s and a wonky policy book called “Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the Public Sector.”

Authors David Osborne and Ted Gaebler argued persuasively that government is good at figuring out what larger societal problems need to be addressed, but when it comes to fixing those problems, private organizations and especially faith-based charities — social entrepreneurs — are much more efficient and effective.

The solution: let the government do what it does best — make public policy. Then invite private organizations to apply for government funding to carry out those policies.

It all makes sense on paper, in stump speeches and academic white papers. Unfortunately, Uncle Sam doesn’t run a charity. Tax dollars are not donated; they are allocated, ruled, regulated — and heavily politicized.

Democrats accused the Bush administration of trying to turn government agencies into government-funded Christian missions.

“Many have observed that the previous Administration’s Faith-Based Initiative was focused squarely on dollars and cents — promising financial rewards for certain faith-based organizations,” Joshua DuBois, a Pentecostal minister and director of Obama’s White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, wrote in his blog last week.

“Unfortunately, critics held that many of those funds failed to materialize and opportunities to engage in non-financial ways were missed.”

Republicans are accusing the Obama administration of trying to secularize or politicize Christian missions.

“The key problem with the Obama administration’s intent to secularize the operation of religious charities is that there is no work from these charities without employees who share the spiritual and temporal mission . . . Whether religious organizations wish to court the danger of government influence by accepting such funds is another question,” Hunter Baker, a professor of political science at Houston Baptist University, wrote in 2009.

Maybe the problem isn’t the Obama administration’s intent or the Bush administration’s intent. Maybe the key problem is the failure of all recent administration’s to follow the framers’ intent to keep government out of the religion business — and vice versa.

Won’t the so-called “faith-based initiative” always be hopelessly entangled in the politics of whichever party is in power?

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  • jonswitzer

    I agree with this. In fact, this is one reason why I believe public education finds itself struggling. Education is inherently religious at its core, teaching what is “fundamentally” to be believed and understood. The choice of what books to read, which history to magnify, which science to teach are all inherently religious in nature. Even the atheist in his “secularist” fervor promotes a world view that is really his religious (anti-religious) perspective. All of that is Government funding of religion. And it is a failure.

  • Greent

    2+2 = Jesus? Is that what you mean johnswitzer? Do you mean that sometimes 6/3 = mohammed?Which science? What do you mean which science? Are you attempting to equate creationism (a religious doctrine) with the theory of evolution (a scientific doctrine)? A secularist does not necessarily = an atheist. There are many religious secularists, FYI.”Won’t the so-called “faith-based initiative” always be hopelessly entangled in the politics of whichever party is in power?” Yes, yes it will.

  • rogerlmeyer

    The Federal Government , under the Constitutional guarantee of Freedom of Religion has no business in the religion business. It has no business in making policy for or against such things as prayer in shcools, prayer at graduation ceremonies, or any other place. People of the United States are guaranteed the right to practice their religion of choice, except perhaps, the religions such as Islam, that preach murder and terrorism.

  • beckley1

    Interesting constitutional interpretation, Rogerlmeyer. Seems to boil down to “the government shouldn’t do anything to interfere with my religion or my right to force others to accept it, but the government should make every effort to assure that no one is allowed to practice a religion that in inconsistent with my beliefs.” Did I get that about right?

  • lufrank1

    That’s all we need . . . religion meshed into government. Better look at the Vatican or Israel or Iran or Saudi Arabia to see the death of freedom such a marriage brings!

  • kuato

    Here is a suggestion regarding government policy on religion:1) religion will not be available to citizens until they have reached the age of understanding – let’s call it 18.wadayathink?

  • Javabean

    Religion needs to stay out of government, and vice versa. We’ve got the freedom to worship whatever religion we want. Yes, that includes ones that you, personally, might not agree with- but keep in mind that someone else might disagree with yours and demand that it be abolished too. Those rights protect everyone, as they should.Treasure the freedom to worship as we please, or not to worship at all. But never, never forget that the U.S. is not a theocracy. And it never will be.

  • bobbarnes

    I’d like to know when Jesus was for: But was against helping the poor or the sick?

  • littleoldlady

    Keep religion and government strictly separated … Render unto Caesar, etc.When the two get mixed, mischief results.

  • DwightCollins

    politics crucified Jesus…

  • bflorhodes

    Will someone please tell RogerLMeyer that if he’s concerned about religions preaching hate and murder, Christianity, once again reigns supreme. It is the single most destructive force the world has known. I whole-heartedly agree that it should not be given constitutional protection. Jesus died so they will kill (see Iraq – 2003).

  • KarenLS

    Excuse me…… holding a conference call to discuss the health care legislation is bad although for many their church is where they get much of this type of information. However, when the Bush cabal was holding meetings with religious ministers, pastors, evangelicals, etc AT the White House on a weekly basis and then holding secret what they were talking about that was somehow okay?Can we scream DOUBLE STANDARD? Obama and crowd in fact are not even on the same ball field as the stuff Bush et al pulled during their 8 yrs of trying to make over America into a theocracy.

  • morattico

    Faith-based initiatives are a huge mistake. Religous institutions are already tax-exempt, and there’s no reason to funnel more tax dollars their way, especially when some of that money comes from non-believers. It’s a sneaky marketing scheme though — using public funds under your religious banner — and probably wins them some converts.Every time I see I news story on one of those plush mega-churches, I wonder why those institutions that find themselves with more money than they can reasonably spend don’t pool their resources and work toward fulfilling these faith-based needs. It is, after all, part of their mission.

  • papafritz571

    The one thing more corrupt than politics is religion. Both are intertwined and both seek two things only: power and money.

  • amelia45

    “Won’t the so-called “faith-based initiative” always be hopelessly entangled in the politics of whichever party is in power?”Yes. But, maybe we should put up with it anyway. A lot of good can be done.But, watch it carefully. I would love to see a public accounting of money given to faith based organizations. How much each year. Which organizations each year and what are their religious affiliations. What was the goal to be accomplished and how well was it accomplished. It is all a game unless the information becomes public. The only way we can monitor “politicizing” public charity is by open, frequent, clear records.We don’t need to know the names of charity recipients, but we do need to know the names of the institutions, the charities, that received tax dollars, how much, what for, how many received help, how successfully were they helped. We need to know that money is well and effectively used.

  • thatpreacherman

    Once again some of my contemporaries have have gotten side tracked.The Church has no business seeking funds from the government. I challenge them to finance their endeavors according to scripture.The Church is to speak the truth of God to all at every turn on every subject and this can not be accomplished when we are the payroll of those persons the truth is to be spoken that results in a situation that mirrors the relationship of China (the lender) and the US(borrower). MOst would agree the lender is master and the borrower is the servant.I personally am saddened when I observe Pastors and other Christians who aligned themselves with those in government who promote agendas that are the antithesis of what the Bible teaches. I challenge those who call themselves Christians(2Cronicles 7:14), to be more Christian than they are Democrats or Republicans. Stop supporting politicians who have an agenda to silence the Church and continue to promote agendas that morally bankrupt the present, future and the unborn generations.Contrary to popular thought God is able to see the activities that transpire behind the curtain of the voting booth.Some one used this forum to ask when does God endorse torture, war,divorce and the death penalty? The short answers are :Jesus said it this way ” “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.I have an agreement with my banker if he want preach any sermons, I want make any loans.