Category: Effective Compassion

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.

Here’s the key assumption in Michael Gerson’s piece from last week, “The Libertarian Jesus”:

Private compassion cannot replace Medicaid or provide AIDS drugs to millions of people in Africa for the rest of their lives. In these cases, a role for government is necessary and compassionate — the expression of conservative commitments to the general welfare and the value of every human life.

Private compassion certainly could do this, and much more. Private giving generally dwarfs government programs in both real dollars and effectiveness.

Does this mean that there is no role or never a role for government? No. But that role is one of last and temporary resort. The dichotomy that Gerson draws from one side (and many libertarians draw from another) is false.

Gerson also misunderstands the import of Coburn’s claims that compassion cannot be coerced, “that true giving and compassion require sacrifice by the giver.” The divide between government programs and individual charity isn’t a public/private distinction, but rather a political/moral distinction, where the moral element may sometimes but not always necessitate political action. Poverty is simply not morally equatable with slavery or abortion.

Abraham Kuyper makes the point pretty well in his treatise on The Problem of Poverty. Read these two quotes in juxtaposition and you can see where Gerson’s errors reside.

First, from the main text, “The holy art of ‘giving for Jesus’ sake’ ought to be much more strongly developed among us Christians. Never forget that all state relief for the poor is a blot on the honor of your Savior.”

And second, from a footnote, “It is perfectly true that if no help is forthcoming from elsewhere the state must help. We may let no one starve from hunger as long as bread lies molding in so many cupboards. And when the state intervenes, it must do so quickly and sufficiently.”

With whom does the primary responsibility for care for the poor reside? Answer that question, and you can properly relate the political and moral claims regarding poverty.

Sure to be a significant issue in the presidential campaign going forward, the question of immigration reform continues to divide otherwise like-minded religious folks. Mirror of Justice sage Michael Scaperlanda penned an article on the subject for First Things in February. A raft of letters upset with what the writers deemed Scaperlanda’s unreasonably lenient view toward illegal immigrants followed in the May issue (not accessible to non-subscribers), along with an article-length exchange between Scaperlanda and attorney William Chip. Scaperlanda’s initial article as well as part of the subsequent debate revolves around statements made by Catholic bishops on the subject.

Scaperlanda wants to see tighter borders in the sense of eliminating illegal immigration, but he also advocates a path to citizenship for currently illegal residents as well as a significant expansion of immigration quotas. Chip thinks large numbers of immigrants depress American wages and observes that most illegal migrants (specifically, Mexicans) are gainfully employed in their native country and not as desperately poor as they are sometimes portrayed.

Both Chip and Scaperlanda make valid points. The former on the possibility of enforcing the law:

The specter of mass arrests and deportations is a red herring. Approximately 500,000 aliens legally cross the border every day. They come to shop or to sightsee, to attend university, to conduct business, to work for an embassy, or to fill a temporary job. If we are to enjoy the benefits of these international visits without being overwhelmed by overstayers, it should be obvious that we cannot depend on the “hard power” of arrest and deportation except as a last resort.

We depend instead on the “soft power” of allowing legal visitors the means of a comfortable but temporary stay (including free emergency medical care if they ­cannot afford to pay for it) while withholding from them the means of taking up a comfortable permanent residence. Denying aliens who are not eligible for permanent residence the opportunity to hold a regular job, to drive a car, to draw nonemergency public benefits, and so forth is such an effective deterrent to breaking the law that 99.8 percent of aliens who enter the country each year return home of their own accord.

And Scaperlanda (in his response to the letters):

One commonly held myth is that illegal immigrants have cut in line ahead of others who are patiently waiting their turn to immigrate to the United States. In reality, no line exists for the vast majority of illegal entrants. The United States grants five thousand immigrant employment visas annually to low-skilled workers worldwide. Currently, we have more than ten million illegal immigrants residing in the United States. If they lined up today, and if we allotted all five thousand spots to Mexico and Central America, the one millionth would be eligible to receive a visa in the year 2208, and the ten millionth in 3008.

But the key question on which the debate hinges, it seems to me, is whether the United States possesses the economic capacity (and hence, for Christians and others who share a common moral view, responsibility) to sustain large numbers of immigrants. On this point, Scaperlanda finds that the evidence suggests that the answer is affirmative. I’m inclined to agree.

A fight broke out this week between non-profit groups over fundraising. While not in direct competition for donor dollars, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance expressed its displeasure with Meijer, Inc. for participating in a fundraising event with the Humane Society of the United States. The program was set up to contribute money to a support Foreclosure Pets Fund, designed to give support to pet owners facing foreclosure.

Meijer suspended the program after fielding complaints from the Alliance that the chain was cooperating with an anti-hunting organization. What does pet foreclosure have to do with anti-hunting? An Alliance statement gets at the crux of the issue, pointing out, “The money donated to the HSUS through this promotion, while not going directly to its anti-hunting campaign, will free up money from the organization’s general fund that can be used to attack the right of sportsmen.”

We put the “fun” in “fungibility.”

That, my friends, is called fungibility, a fancy word that simply is used to identify the ability for money or funds to be transferred between sectors of a balance sheet and across budgets. I don’t want to adjudicate the dispute and attempt to determine whether or not the Humane Society really is anti-hunting, but the cogency of the Alliance’s argument hinges on a valuable lesson, what I’m calling here the “fungibility phenomenon.”

When you give to an organization and you earmark the funds to be used in a particular way, you may be inclined to think that your money is somehow isolated from the rest of the non-profit’s budget. Depending on the by-laws of the organization, that may or may not be the case. Unless there is a minmum set amount that the organization determines it will spend on an area irrespective of special and specific additional donation, any funds that are contributed to that particular area lessen the demand for money to come from other parts of the budget.

The fungibility phenomenon isn’t restricted to non-profits, of course. Corrupt governments have been taking advantage of this phenomenon domestically through state lotteries and internationally through government-to-government foreign aid for decades.

But for the discerning giver, it’s important to note that the fungibility phenomon means that when you give, whether or not you specify a particular need or area for the funds to be used, generally you are supporting the mission of the recipient organization in all its facets, some which you may not like.

And if you’re looking for a charity whose mission you can unreservedly support, the Samaritan Guide is a great place to start.

Blog author: jspalink
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
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The 2008 Samaritan Award opens today! If you know of a great charity or non-profit organization that directly serves members of a vulnerable population and receives little to no government funding, please encourage them to apply. The grand prize is $10,000 and there are several smaller awards for runners-up.

From the Samaritan Award website:

This $10,000 grand prize is awarded once a year to an exceptional and privately funded nonprofit that fosters deep personal change in the individuals they serve. A comprehensive application makes a program eligible for the Award and enters it in the Samaritan Guide.

The Samaritan Guide encourages effective charity within the United States by providing information on nonprofits that are supported primarily by private donations. Every charity that applies for the Samaritan Award is included in the Samaritan Guide.

Apply Now for the Samaritan Award!

This piece brought tears to my eyes…(not the commercial)