Category: Effective Compassion

The second week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour is in the books. The second leg of the journey took the bikers from Kennewick to Boise, a total distance of 321 miles.

There’s a basic theme in the daily prayers from the “Shifting Gears” devotional. There is a fundamentally environmental focus, and by that I mean not just the natural environment, but the economic, political, and social environment of the areas through which the bikers progress.

For instance, the day 1 prayer (from week 1), notes the “controversial residential and building projects” that are faced by the community of Sultan “as its economic foundation erodes and the suburbs spread into the countryside.” On day 8 we are reminded to “thank God our provider today for the ability to produce and distribute food within a local setting.” On day 10, on the stretch between La Grande and Baker City, we are informed that “in areas like this, water runoff is a serious problem.”

One basic point this underscores is that effective compassion has to be fundamentally local, in the sense that it is intimately familiar with the local contexts of the problems that need to be faced. So far the devotional has maintained a somewhat neutral attitude about the various environmental problems, which is important because it is all too easy and simple to preemptively come in from the outside and tell communities what the solutions to their problems are.

One way to help communities around the world where we don’t have local knowledge is to partner with local groups who do have that expertise. Affiliation is the first principle of effective compassion, and we ought to ask of a program, “Does it work through families, neighbors, and religious or community organizations, or does it supersede them?”

The second week of the bike tour took the participants through the state of Oregon. To find groups that are focused on making compassion effective in these areas, see the Samaritan Guide’s listings for Oregon, including Salem’s “Mentoring Women in Prison and Released” program of Freedom in the Son, Inc., rated “excellent” in the 2004 Samaritan Guide.

Yesterday I was a guest on “The Jesse Lee Peterson Radio Show,” a production of BOND (Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny), to discuss the presidential election and the faith-based initiative, with a special focus on the proposals laid out by Democratic candidate Barack Obama. A streamlined version of the interview is available for download.

After the July 1 speech in Zanesville, Ohio, where Obama called his plan for a new Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships “a critical part” of his executive plans, he continued to campaign on this issue, saying that “faith-based” social service would be “a moral center” of his potential administration.

One of the groups that has faced the dilemma of phasing out faith after taking government money is the Silver Ring Thing, a Christian ministry dedicated to “offering a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as the best way to live a sexually pure life.” In 2006, the ACLU settled a lawsuit with the government over federal grants to the Silver Ring Thing (SRT), on the condition that appropriate safeguards would be implemented to separate out faith elements from programs that received federal dollars.

The success of groups like SRT have made in connecting human sexuality to spiritual and emotional life makes secularists cringe, who judge that the Religious Right “has warped our sexual politics and forced even the most hardened secular humanists to sing from the Christian hymnal.” You can be sure that secularists won’t hesitate to use government funds to undermine the integrity of groups that see faith-based messages like chastity being the biblical standard.

In the course of the interview I refer to a paper produced by the Acton Institute about the service areas that faith-based initiatives tend to focus on, “Faith Makes a Difference: A Study of the Influence of Faith in Human Service Programs.” I also borrow (with attribution) Joe Knippenberg’s witticism, referring to the Obama plan as the “faith-erased” initiative.

I also discuss what I have called “the fungibility phenomenon” and the way in which the White House office sets the tone for the rest of the country. But the coup de grâce of my argument, I think, comes when I liken the faith-based initiative to the sin of simony.

Simony is commonly defined as “a deliberate intention of buying or selling for a temporal price such things as are spiritual of annexed unto spirituals.” Think about this a moment. If what the government’s faith-based initiative boils down to is the appropriation of the vigor and vitality of a uniquely spiritual ministry by means of offering federal money so that this ministry can be controlled and absorbed by the temporal power, that sounds very much like a form of simony to me.

Here’s part of the story of Simon Magus from Acts 8: “When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.'” Peter answered: ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!'”

Weigh in on what you think ought to be done with the faith-based initiative in our blog poll question on the right side of the page, and share your thoughts in the comment section below.

And, honestly, I can’t say it enough. Visit the Samaritan Guide and find a charity that needs your support and give it to them.

One aspect of the recent discussion over the faith-based initiative, focused anew because of Barack Obama’s pledge to expand the executive effort, is the importance of the White House office as a model and catalyst for similar efforts at the state and local levels.

In the Spring 2006 issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, we published a Symposium with papers based on a discussion titled, “The Ethics of Faith-Based Policy,” sponsored by the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University on April 12, 2005. All of the papers are worth perusing:

The piece by Rush-Sisterhen, who was then director of the State of Ohio’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and Stalker connect the phenomenon that I raised at the beginning of this post: “In 2001, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives was created by executive order. Shortly after this event, offices of the same type began to appear within individual states, most notably in Ohio.”

They conclude the piece by observing,

Another topic that demands continued research is that of the effectiveness of faith-based initiatives in various states. Although the Ohio office was created with biartisan legislation, many of the other offices throughout the nation were created by executive order, giving them varying amounts of power and restriction. Each state’s program should be studied individually and compared to other states to continually improve the system. When one state is found to be successful, their methods should be shared and reviewed for conceivability in other states. This will help to keep the system fresh and adjusting to our changing society.

By 2007, a mere six years after the formation of the White House office, 33 governors and more than 100 mayors had established Faith-Based and Community Initiative offices or liaisons (the numbers cited by the White House for last month’s national conference are a bit different: “35 governors – 19 Democrats and 16 Republicans – have their own faith-based and community initiatives. Additionally, more than 70 mayors of both parties have similar programs at the municipal level.”).

The long-term trickle-down effect of the formation and orientation of the federal office on the initiatives at various other levels of government will be just as important as, if not more than, the direct impact of the White House office itself. As any expert on effective compassion can tell you, the more locally affiliated the effort, the more likely it is to be successful and effective.

The first week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour is in the books. The first leg of the journey took the bikers from Seattle to Kennewick, a total distance of 319 miles.

The first day’s devotional, “Shifting Gears,” sets the stage for the entire trip. Alluding to the biblical exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, we read that God’s people “had to learn dependence instead of independence, freedom instead of slavery, and obedience instead of rebellion.” These are things God’s people from all times and places must continually learn.

Day 4’s devotional concentrates on the freedom of movement that a bike represents. “For millions of poeople in the world a bike is an essential of daily life. It afford opportunity–to buy, sell, earn, shop, and play,” we read. They day’s text is Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

The devotion for the fourth of July includes a timely reminder about the ultimate loyalty of all Christians, whose citizenship finally is not of this world: “Jesus is the final authority. All other authorities are acting in his service, whether they recognize it or not.”

The final devotion of the first week puts the entire tour in perspective, as “the tour’s primary goals are to celebrate God’s faithfulness, to promote unity in the church, and to raise funds to end the cycle of poverty in North America and around the world.” I hope to see how these goals are concretely connected to the Great Commission as the tour progresses.

The first week of the bike tour took the participants through the state of Washington. To find groups that are focused on making compassion effective in these areas, see the Samaritan Guide’s listings for Washington, and take special note of Seattle’s Heroes Transitional Catering Business (rated “excellent” in 2007) and Yakima’s Housing for the Homeless (located in the Day 4 destination).

The 10 finalists for the Samaritan Award were announced last Thursday. This annual award was created by the Acton Institute to honor a highly successful, privately funded charity whose work is direct, personal, and accountable.

The finalists for 2008 are:

Citizens for Community Values, A Way Out Program, Memphis, Tenn.
Fresno Rescue Mission, The Academy, Fresno, Calif.
Guardian Angels Homes, Faith in Action, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Lighthouse Ministries, One Stop Care, Lakeland, Fla.
Panama City Rescue Mission, Residential Recovery Program, Panama City, Fla.
Promise of Hope, Inc., Recovery Program, Dudley, Ga.
Redwood Gospel Mission, New Life Recovery, Santa Rosa, Calif.
Restoration Ministries, Inc., Harvey House School of Ministry, Harvey, Ill.
South Side Mission, South Side Mission External Ministries, Peoria, Ill.
Union Mission Ministries, New Life Center Recovery Program, Virginia Beach, Va.

The winner of the $10,000 grand prize will be announced in early August. All finalists will be visited by WORLD magazine journalists and profiled in a special issue on August 15. Congratulations to the 2008 finalists!

Here’s a round-up of early reaction (to be updated as appropriate) to Obama’s speech about his proposed future for the faith-based initiative under his administration.

  • Rev. Richard Cizik of the NAE (HT): “Mr. Obama’s position that religious organizations would not be able to consider religion in their hiring for such programs would constitute a deal-breaker for many evangelicals, said several evangelical leaders, who represent a political constituency Mr. Obama has been trying to court. ‘For those of who us who believe in protecting the integrity of our religious institutions, this is a fundamental right,’ said Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. ‘He’s rolling back the Bush protections. That’s extremely disappointing.'”
  • Stanley Carlton-Thies of CPJ (HT): “Sen. Obama’s speech sketches the new approach he hopes to introduce. The speech does not make clear the radical restriction he intends to impose on faith-based organizations that receive federal funding.”
  • Joe Knippenberg at No Left Turns: “He doesn’t say much that he hasn’t at least hinted at before, nor much of anything that would jar the ears of the most hardened secularist Democrat. ‘Faith-based’–I’d say, faith-erased–groups are welcome partners with government as long as they’re virtually indistinguishable from the bureaucrats they’re assisting.”
  • Douglas L. Coopman, Calvin College professor of political science: “Sen. Obama’s version of faith-based initiatives creates a great first impression. But the closer one looks at its details and the senator’s defense of it, the more disrespectful toward faith and naive about old approaches it appears.”
  • Byron York at NRO’s The Corner: “I remember an NR cruise several years back in which Father Robert Sirico, of the Acton Institute in Michigan, expressed reservations about Bush’s faith-based program. As I recall, he wasn’t upset about anything specific that Bush was doing; he just didn’t look forward to an entirely different set of policies being given a faith-based gloss in a Democratic administration…”

And speaking of the long view of the issue, check out this piece by WORLD’s Joel Belz from 2001 as a valuable backgrounder (HT), “Go for the vouchers.” See also, “Hazards of Public-Private Partnerships.”

Update: One of the FAQ for the Acton Institute’s unique program, the Samaritan Guide (emphasis added–all of the FAQ are worth reading in the context of the discussion of the faith-based initiative):

“Why does Acton run this charities rating program?

Acton works with religious leaders and other shapers of the moral consensus, who are involved in charitable work. However, they are often unaware of the pitfalls of accepting government funding or of supporting government social welfare programs. They may also lack reliable information about effective charities. Acton Institute began the Samaritan Award and Guide to help connect the good intentions of these opinion leaders with charities that implement the principles illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan.”

Yesterday marked the beginning of the Christian Reformed Church’s two-month long Sea to Sea bike tour, whose slogan is “ending the cycle of poverty.” As a member of the CRC, I’ve been hearing a lot about how the denomination’s sponsoring agencies and various cyclists are “gearing up” for the tour, which began yesterday in Seattle, and will conclude on Saturday, August 30, 2008 in Jersey City, New Jersey. covering more than 3,800 miles.

I plan on going through the Shifting Gears devotional and tour guide over the following months. During this time I hope to offer some reflections here about what I read and encounter. I hope to find some sound wisdom about how to confront the problem of poverty over and above the obvious good intentions connected with this tour.