Posts tagged with: faith-based initiative

In a wide-ranging interview with Christianity Today, Rick Warren discussed his view of the new vision for the faith-based initiative. Here’s that Q&A:

Have you paid attention to the new faith-based initiatives released by President Obama and Joshua DuBois focusing on the four issues of responsible fatherhood, reducing unintended pregnancies, increasing interfaith dialogue, and reducing poverty?

Those are great goals. My fear is that if all of a sudden you have to compromise your convictions to be part of the faith base, that will kill it. People will simply ignore it. Saddleback has never accepted government money for any peace Plan project because we don’t want the strings attached to it. While the faith-based initiatives have great promise, if it becomes an issue where you can’t just hire Christians in a Christian school, that will effectively kill them.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, February 13, 2009
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In response to the question, “What is the future of the faith-based initiative?”

Under the Obama administration, the faith-based initiative will increasingly become a means to bailout flagging mainline and liberal denominations and ministries, who will have no problem accommodating their religious practices to secular standards. And in this we will see even clearer manifestation of the theocratic hopes of the religious left.

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.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
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In response to the question, “What is the future of the faith-based initiative?”

Perhaps taking a cue from this week’s PBR question (or perhaps not), the On Faith roster of bloggers have been asked to weigh in on the following question this week: “Should the Obama Administration let faith-based programs that receive government grants discriminate against those they hire or serve?”

Notable responses include those from Chuck Colson, Al Mohler, and Susan Brooks Thistlewaite, the latter of whom has these wise words: “If your faith-based organization wants to discriminate because of its beliefs, there is a simple remedy. Don’t take the federal grant money.”

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

Jordan Ballor kindly asked me to offer a few words in response to this question, as I made it an area of expertise during the previous Administration. I’ve been working up to writing something more formal, but I’ll begin by thinking aloud here, as well as at my my home blog.

Without further ado, here’s what I posted over there:

By now, you’ve probably heard about the President’s attempt to tweak the initiative, renaming the office and expanding somewhat its mandate. If you leave aside the breathless media accounts of his efforts, the most measured response I’ve seen is this one, written by two prominent evangelicals long involved in these issues.

Candidate Obama called for an “all hands on deck” approach to our social problems, with government as the senior partner and the payer of the piper. He said much about the evils of religious discrimination and not much about the wonders of religious freedom. That was disheartening and led me to fear that he would follow the lead of his erstwhile Congressional colleagues and sacrifice religious hiring rights on the altar of equality. He may still do that, but not in one swell foop. Instead, we’re told, the new Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (so different from the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives!) will consult with the Department of Justice about the law and these rights on a case-by-case basis. Perhaps, then, the Obama Administration will nibble away at religious hiring rights somewhat out of the limelight, avoiding the public repudiation of them embraced by candidate Obama. And I have a hard time believing that the President will spend any political chips resisting the efforts of Congressional Democrats to promote equality and non-discrimination at the expense of religious liberty.

In other words, I think that the President is trying to extend his honeymoon a bit, but that, in the end, the only deckhands he’ll really welcome are those who are willing to serve secular governmental ends in a secular governmental way.

One last point: the new head of the OFBNP, Joshua DuBois, seems to get high marks from everyone. I can’t speak from any experience of him, up close or at a distance, which is only to say that he wasn’t involved in the substance of these issues during the Bush Administration. I will note that he comes to this position from the political side of Obama’s life (is there any other?) and that he lacks the stature and long-standing experience with faith-based social services that all those associated with the Bush Administration efforts had. Perhaps this is a good thing, on some level, for if this version of the faith-based initiative is closer to the political heart of the Obama Administration, perhaps folks outside the OBNP will take it seriously, which seemed always to be the problem in the Bush Administration.

But then let’s not delude ourselves about the nature of this initiative: its goal seems above all to be to keep the religious Left engaged (as opposed to enraged) and to charm those theologically and socially conservative evangelicals who are charmable.

We’re facing a genuine challenge to religious liberty here, one that can’t be managed just by withdrawing from government’s embrace. This government will almost inevitably embrace more and more, likely trying to dominate its partners and crowding out those who are reluctant to play.

And lest you think that this Bush Administration stepchild is the only program at risk, watch closely to see what President Obama’s actions reveal about how he’ll deal with other issues in which government and religion intersect. Consider, for example, how his Adminstration will treat healthcare providers who have conscientious objections to certain medical procedures and how it will regard those who have scruples about same-sex marriage. Stated another way, I’d bet that claims couched in the language of equality will almost always win out over those phrased in the language of liberty.

I’ll be watching.

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

As part of Christianity Today’s Speaking Out (web-only) feature, Stephen V. Monsma and Stanley Carlson-Thies, of Calvin College’s Henry Institute and the Center for Public Justice respectively, address the future of the faith-based initiative under President Obama.

Monsma and Carlton-Thies outline five “encouraging signs” and one “major concern.”

The encouraging signs include the naming of the office executive director (Joshua DuBois) and advisory council (including “recognized evangelicals” like Richard Stearns, president of World Vision; Jim Wallis of Sojourners; Frank Page, past president of the Southern Baptist Convention; and pastor Joel Hunter of Northland Church in Longwood, Florida).

The major concern? “The hiring issue. The status quo remains in effect but without a strong administration defense of it.”

Last week’s National Prayer Breakfast featured a speech by President Obama which was his most substantive address concerning the future of the faith-based initiative since his Zanesville, Ohio speech of July 2008.

In the Zanesville speech, then-candidate Obama discussed “expansion” of the faith-based initiative, and some details were added as Obama announced his vision for the newly-named Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The announced priorities of the office are fourfold:

  • The Office’s top priority will be making community groups an integral part of our economic recovery and poverty a burden fewer have to bear when recovery is complete.

  • It will be one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion.
  • The Office will strive to support fathers who stand by their families, which involves working to get young men off the streets and into well-paying jobs, and encouraging responsible fatherhood.
  • Finally, beyond American shores this Office will work with the National Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and scholars around the world.

With the developments in recent days and the formation of this new White House office, this week’s PowerBlog Ramblings question is: “What is the future of the faith-based initiative?”

Ramble on…

Ramblings:

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.

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.”