Although the Bush administration’s goal for faith-based initiatives was political manipulation, the program’s failure at the congregational level was not a foregone conclusion. Duke Divinity School’s Mark Chavez, a professor of sociology and religion, performed an important public service in establishing that the program in fact had little impact.
He concluded, wrote Bob Allen of the Associated Baptist Press, that “the proportions of congregations that provide social services (82 percent of all houses of worship), that have a staff member who devotes at least a quarter of their time to providing social services (11 percent) and that receive government funding for such services (4 percent) did not change between data collected in 1998 and in 2006-2007. In both surveys, about 6 percent of social services performed by congregations were done in collaboration with the government in some form (although not necessarily financial collaboration), while 20 percent were done in collaboration with a secular non-profit agency.”
Everyone was warned before the second Bush term.
John J. DiIulio Jr., a domestic affairs expert and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who resigned in August 2001 as the first head of Bush’s White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said in 2002:
There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you’ve got is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis
David Kuo in an interview about “Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction,” a book he wrote about his experience as deputy director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, was asked if he were “the one to come up with the idea to use the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives for political gain in election campaigns.”
Jim Towey (the second director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives) and I did. All the protests to the otherwise are ridiculous and silly. I do not want to get in a tit for tat with the White House. There is a much broader point to Christians about politics. There is this idea, which Christians have perpetuated to Christians, that George W. Bush is, in some way, a pastor-in-chief. His faith is his soul to Christians. It is one of the most inviting things about him. The only problem with that is that he is the President of the United States. He is not a minister. He heads the GOP; he does not head a church. I think Christians have been seduced into thinking otherwise. . . .
That misdirected view helped inspire then-outgoing Southern Baptist Convention President Jack Graham to do more than accept Bush’s conversion via satellite uplink of the June, 2004, Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting into a political rally. Graham followed up with a tub-thumping stump speech, delivered only partly in the language of a sermon, calling for Southern Baptists to “look up, step up, stand up, wise up and gear up” for the culture wars.
The Bush team wasn’t grateful and did not regard Southern Baptists with respect as a result of their efforts. Conservative political analyst Tucker Carlson reached down to his journalist roots and found a clear characterization of it all for MSNBC’s Chris Matthews in October of 2006:
It goes deeper than that though. The deep truth is that the elites in the Republican Party have pure contempt for the evangelicals who put their party in power.
So it was from Bush’s “faith-based” outset. Use the people of faith while pretending to assist them in helping others. Result was coherent with purpose.
Long sidetracked. But there is still hope for it. Melissa Rogers is still on the advisory council. Those serving with her include Frank Page, a Southern Baptist. Ultimately enough breadth in the group, and perhaps clout, to make good things happen at last?
Susan Jacoby goes right to the core of the faith-based federal aid debate:
To require any religious institution to hire people who do not agree with and represent its principles is absurd. That is why the government should not be in the business of funneling money for social services through any faith-based organization, whatever its hiring practices.
This is not only my position as a secular civil libertarian. It is also the position of honest religious leaders, like the Rev. Albert H. Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. For Mohler, it is unthinkable that Baptists should compromise their religious principles–such as their mission to proselytize for Christianity–in order to receive federal grants. Therefore, understandably enough, he opposes the acceptance of government aid by churches. The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints has taken the same position.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has been asked to reverse the “constitutionally questionable” June 2007, Bush administration memo which held that RFRA could exempt certain religious organizations from federal anti-discrimination provisions.
Not enough, Jacoby says, and not a chance more than that will be done. Ever.
In a joint letter [.pdf] to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today, a broad coalition of organizations said the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed in 1993, was designed to protect religious liberty, not countenance discrimination.
The 58 signatories have asked Holder to beging the process of withdrawing the “constitutionally questionable” June 2007 memo which held that RFRA could exempt certain religious organizations from federal anti-discrimination provisions
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said:
The Bush administration twisted federal law to buttress its misguided policies and allow religious discrimination in taxpayer-funded ‘faith-based’ programs. It’s time for the Obama administration to correct this error.
J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee For Religions Liberty said:
Having helped to spearhead the RFRA effort, I know of no one in 1993 who thought the new law would ever be applied this way.
In a joint statement, Glen S. Lewy, ADL National Chair, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director said:
We remain deeply troubled by President Obama’s faith-based initiative. The president made it clear during his campaign that the Bush Administration’s faith-based initiative lacked essential safeguards against proselytizing. It is disappointing that he has not yet acted on his very clear commitments to ensure that grant money will not be used to proselytize or to discriminate against others on the basis of their religious beliefs.
[Hat tip to Dr. Bruce Prescott.]
Mark Silk believes Barack Obama was sidetracked by something along the way to implementing his Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (OFANP) promises. Something like the complexity of the governing law, division among religious groups and
[yes] the economy.
So, Silk concludes:
President Obama rushed the promised office into place in time for the National Prayer Breakfast; watered down its mission by internationalizing it; installed his religious outreach guy at the top; created three-fifths of an advisory board; and waved the tough questions in the direction of the lawyers. And then got down to the real business of rescuing the economy.
If that’s it, given the looming shadow of a potential international depression, sidetracking OFANP was the right call. Don’t you think?
Today is the anniversary of President James Madison 1811 veto of “An act incorporating the Protestant Episcopal Church in the town of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia.”
Rob Boston reminds us of Madison’s words:
“[T]he bill,” he wrote, “exceeds the rightful authority to which governments are limited by the essential distinction between civil and religious functions, and violates in particular the article of the Constitution of the United States which declares that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment.’”
. . .
“[T]he bill vests in the said incorporated church an authority to provide for the support of the poor and the education of poor children of the same, an authority which, being altogether superfluous if the provision is to be the result of pious charity, would be a precedent for giving to religious societies as such a legal agency in carrying into effect a public and civil duty.”
The Anti-Defamation League is similarly concerned.
Mark Silk writes, “The [ADL] letter goes beyond the hiring issue to make it clear that additional safeguards are needed, including separation of religious and secular functions, oversight, and the assurance of secular alternatives to faith-based service provision.”
Right on target, and this is the right day to remember it.
Much is made by the theo-politicians of their work across ideological differences. But this has been achieved by excluding from their ranks those religious leaders who are progressive and outspoken on gender, sexuality, and religion. It is then easy to stand side by side with Rick Warren and Joel Hunter, for they actually agree with these conservatives on sexuality and reproduction and have only minor differences on LGBT issues. Center-left theo-politicians are silent on the meaning of sexual expression outside of heterosexual marriage; they have no interest in the theological construction of a new moral and ethical standard of relationship, justice, and friendship that governs sexuality. They are silent on the morality of LGBT sexuality, limiting their support to “civil rights.” They talk about women only as victims, never as moral agents. They take on the easy religious issues—poverty and peace. They do so either out of political expedience or because they actually agree with the religious right.
Either way, they hinder rather than help the justice-seeking project of progressive religious feminists. And that it not good for religion or justice.
As a corrective, Kissling and others would like to see more than “one identifiable advocate for women’s sexual and reproductive rights” appointed to President Obama’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships to counterbalance the “several anti-choice supporters.”
A wish that will be at least partly granted, we suspect.
About those hotly debated hiring questions over the revamped White House Office on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Mark Silk writes:
If, in the usual democratic way, the federal government decides to fund certain programs for the general welfare; and if, because they share a commitment to those programs, certain religious institutions choose to act as secular agencies in carrying them out; then fine. But if they can foster their own purely religious goals via discriminatory hiring, then not so fine. Not only because the rest of us end up paying to support those goals. But also because our tax dollars will be out there tempting other religious institutions to change what they are.
Sounds right to us.
Addendum from J. Brent Walker is executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
Both an ordained minister and a member of the Supreme Court Bar, Walker wrote:
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of, among other things, religion; but it grants an exemption to religious organizations, allowing them to favor adherents of their particular faith in hiring. While this exemption clearly applies when the religious organization is using the funds of the faithful, the administration should not allow religious organizations to use taxpayer funds to discriminate in hiring against a qualified person based on nothing more than religious beliefs.
Doing so would, as he said, be “an unfair advancement of religion that also turns back the clock on civil rights.”
The right and constitutional path for the Obama administration is clear.
From the New York Times:
President Obama plans to name Joshua DuBois, a 26-year-old Pentecostal pastor and political strategist who handled religious outreach for the Obama campaign, to direct a revamped office of faith-based initiatives, according to religious leaders who have been informed about the choice.
From Religion Clause:
Among the many items in the proposed economic stimulus bill, HR 1, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, is a provision for funding of $100 million for grants to faith-based organization through the Compassion Capital Fund [at pg. 141 of bill].
Read it all here.