Posts tagged with: PowerBlog Ramblings

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

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…


Blog author: jballor
Thursday, February 5, 2009

In response to the question, “What is wrong with socialism?”

In answering this question we could point to the historical instances of socialist regimes and their abhorrent record on treatment of human beings. But the supporters of socialism might just as well argue that these examples are not truly relevant because each historical instance of socialism has particular contextual corruptions. Thus, these regimes have never really manifested the ideal that socialism offers.

So on a more abstract or ideal level, what is wrong with socialism is that it promotes governmental tyranny. The state becomes the option of first resort rather than last (or no) resort in concerns related to economics, social institutions, the family, and the church. The state in its local, regional, federal, or global form coopts the roles of all kinds of mediating institutions.

On the basis of this critique we can then point to concrete examples where the socialist ideal has been manifest and we can observe what the effects are. In the Acton documentary The Call of the Entrepreneur, George Gilder discusses the “cuckolding” of the man by the welfare state, which preempts the role of the family’s economic provider. But in general the nanny state infantilizes its own citizenry.

Theodore Dalrymple’s recent book discusses the decline of Western civilization, and of his homeland he writes that there are

many people in contemporary Britain with very little of importance to decide for themselves. … They are educated by the state (at least nominally) … the state provides for them in old age and has made savings unnecessary … they are treated and cured by the state when they are ill; they are housed by the state if they cannot otherwise afford decent housing. Their choices concern only sex and shopping.

Maybe “sex” and “shopping” are still relatively free, but rest assured socialism won’t stop until it has undone even these last instances of relative liberty. See, for instance, talks not only about socializing procreation (a max of two children per couple?) but also the encroaching regulations on what can be purchased or consumed (e.g. “sin” taxes in various forms).

So there’s a sense in which what is wrong with socialism is that it has a faulty anthropology. But its anthropology is flawed not only in the sense that it fails to recognize and respect the fundamental place of individual human liberty, but also that it substitutes an inauthentic, disingenuous, and ultimately corrupted form of social relations for those that form God’s orders of human sociality: marriage and the family, work and culture, the church, and divinely-ordained and -limited government.

Because socialism attacks all of these institutions, one or another of them becomes the focus of resistance in the midst of actual socialist regimes. So the church might be the truest bastion of freedom in one socialistic situation, while the family might be the outpost of liberty in another, and free enterprise the haven of flourishing in yet another.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, February 3, 2009

In response to the question, “What is wrong with socialism?”

I can hardly do better than Pope John Paul II, who wrote in Centesimus Annus, “the fundamental error of socialism is anthropological in nature,” because socialism maintains, “that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice.”

The socialist experiment is attractive because its model is the family, a situation in which each gives according to his ability and receives according to his need—and it works. Unfortunately, the dynamics of family life cannot be replicated at the level of society.

The contention that socialism is unsustainable because of its inherent misapprehension of human nature is supported by the historical record. To my recollection, socialism has only been successful to any significant degree and for any significant amount of time in one institution other than the family: consecrated religious life (e.g., monasteries). Needless to say, there are some rather peculiar dynamics involved there as well, which cannot be replicated across a society.

This lack of success is not for lack of trying. We’re all familiar with the grand national attempts in, for example, the Soviet Union. But socialism has failed on smaller scales as well: in the communes of Brook Farm, Massachusetts; Oneida, New York; and New Harmony, Indiana, to name just a few American instances.

Can a socialist experiment ever succeed? History casts doubt.