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PBR: Public Good and the Faith-Based Initiative

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In response to the question, “What is the future of the faith-based initiative?”

I have little confidence in the future of the faith-based initiative because conservatives who gain office are unwilling to take any fire at all in order to advance the cause beyond concept. At the same time, liberals will be unable to make productive use of the idea because of giant fissures regarding public religion in their movement.

In theory, President Obama would make an ideal person to attempt strong implementation of a faith-based approach. As a card-carrying liberal, he could steer money to a program with a group like Prison Fellowship designed to reduce recidivism without ever being charged with theocratic tendencies.

The problem, of course, is that his party’s umbrella includes church-state police who would prefer to marginalize Christian influence rather than help prisoners get their lives back together with religious help. Thus, the idea would be scuttled unless the Prison Fellowship program can agree to do its work without Christian workers and without Christian moral and spiritual content.

The only problem with this scenario is that THERE IS NO WORK from Prison Fellowship without the Christian workers and the accompanying content. The entire reason they are more effective in preventing recidivism is because they address the spiritual person rather than the merely material person.

My answer to the church-state police would be that they consider a new view of the word secular. Secular means “in the world” so I would propose that they consider whether the religious work results in any good “in the world”. If a ministry like Prison Fellowship can demonstrate effectiveness in their purely voluntary ministry, then they should qualify for government funding. Why should they qualify for “secular” funding? Because they have proven they produce “secular” goods like reduced recidivism.

Just a suggestion. If policymakers would take it, they might find the faith-based initiative question easier to navigate.

Hunter Baker Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. serves as contributing editor to The City and to Salvo Magazine. In addition, he has written for The American Spectator, American Outlook, National Review Online, Christianity Today, Human Events.com, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and a number of other outlets. His scholarly work has appeared in the Journal of Law and Religion (“Competing Orthodoxies in the Public Square: Postmodernism’s Effect on Church-State Separation”), the Regent University Law Review (“Storming the Gates of a Massive Cultural Investment: Reconsidering Roe in Light of its Flawed Foundation and Undesirable Consequences”), and the Journal of Church and State. In 2007, he contributed a chapter “The Struggle for Baylor’s Soul” to the edited collection The Baylor Project, published by St. Augustine’s Press. He has also been a guest on a variety of television and radio programs, including Prime Time America and Kresta in the Afternoon. As a law student in the late 1990s, Hunter Baker worked for The Rutherford Institute and Prison Fellowship Ministries where he focused primarily on defending the constitutional principle of religious liberty. Prior to beginning doctoral studies in religion and politics at Baylor University in 2003, he served as director of public policy for the Georgia Family Council. While at Baylor, Baker served as a graduate assistant to the philosopher Francis Beckwith and the historian Barry Hankins. He assisted Beckwith in the editing of his landmark book Defending Life which has now been published by Cambridge University Press. He also provided research assistance to Hankins in his forthcoming biography of Francis Schaeffer. Baker currently serves on the political science faculty at Union University and is an associate dean in the college of arts and sciences. He is married to Ruth Elaine Baker, M.D. They have a son, Andrew, and a daughter, Grace.

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Comments

  • John Elfering

    I see the same thing with vouchers or tax breaks for parents who choose to educate their children in private or home school. If the “secular” good of an educated society is met (and many could easily argue they are surpassed) with these educational choices, then the denial of public funding for these choices is not separation of church and state, but institutionalized religious discrimination.

  • marc

    what he said. Amen.

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