If you weren’t able to attend last week’s Acton Lecture Series event here at Acton’s Grand Rapids office, we’ve got you covered. we’re pleased to present video of Rudy Carrasco’s lecture, entitled “Business as Mission 2.0,” below.
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 Dynamics of Faith-Based Policy Initiatives: A Roundtable Symposium,” by Gerson Moreno-Riaño, a piece which introduces the Symposium.
- “Faith-Based Public Policy: A Defense,” by Krista Rush-Sisterhen and Ryan Stalker.
- “The Faith-Based Initiative and the Freedom of the Church,” by Stephen C. Veltri.
- “Government Support of Faith-Based Social Services: A Look at Three Potential Pitfalls,” by John P. Forren
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.
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.”
“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.”
One thing that President Bush’s formation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives did was lead the way for the formation of similar offices at various other levels of government.
For example, in Michigan, Gov. Granholm formed the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives by means of an executive order in March, 2005. And the city government in Lansing also has such an office, formed in August of this year, and has recently announced the agenda for the effort (HT: Religion Clause).
If David Kuo wants to portray the president’s faith-based initiative as nothing more than a political ploy with no substance, he’s going to have to account for all the work that is potentially being done at all these other levels of government. (I say potentially because there are of course questions about how these efforts have been implemented and what sort of work they are actually doing.)
Perhaps the formation of such community and faith-based offices at other levels were unintended by the Bush campaign, but even so they now mean that the work of governmental faith-based initiatives is no longer simply identical and coextensive with that of the White House office.