Last week the Reverend Jessie Jackson made headlines by uttering an epithet under his breath that was not very reverent. He was near a microphone, and not realizing that it was ‘hot’, made a remark concerning the way he felt about Barack Obama at that particular time. His “trash talkin’ ” words created the predictable media frenzy, but not as much has been made of what caused the immediate tension between Obama and Jackson in the first place.
Obama has taken to courting the “Faith Based” charity industry in his quest for more conservative votes. Since the faith based initiative is one of George Bush’s pet projects and is greatly supported by conservative Evangelicals, this is seen as a solid move to the right for Obama. This has upset many among his liberal support base, including Jackson; but this was not the only issue here, as reported by the Los Angeles Times:
As an Illinois state senator, Barack Obama once arranged for a $200,000 grant to jump-start an urban venture capital fund for a nonprofit group (CEF) run by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
CEF spent much of its grant on consultants, including a firm tied to former national Democratic Party chief David Wilhelm.
I think this could possibly be construed as an example of one politician, using his ability to allocate federal dollars, to curry favor with another political leader’s constituency. I seriously doubt that any politician, from the White House on down, is oblivious to the votes that these dollars can buy. (Not that any preacher would tell his congregation who to vote for.)
Then, just when you think Obama might be making headway among conservative Christians, he takes heat for some of his ideas about how these Federally funded charities should be regulated. According to an editorial in the Washington Post, Obama said;
“If you get a federal grant you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them — or against the people you hire — on the basis of their religion.”
The editorialist at the Post doesn’t think this is something to be concerned about;
“Groups that believe hiring only members of their own faith is essential to their social service mission would remain free to do so as long as they do not take federal funds. Mr. Obama is right to want to tap into the power of faith-based groups to deliver social services. He is also right to want to prevent government funds from being used to subsidize discriminatory practices. His position strikes a sensible balance in a delicate area.”
Of course many conservatives see this as just another way for Big Government to control our lives. Paul Jacob, of Townhall had this to say:
“Obama’s new movement is the same old socialistic usurpation as before, disguised as aid — and starting out as voluntary, except for the funding source — but now targeted at the most vulnerable section of society, the section that really does, earnestly, wish to improve things. Senator Obama is correct that “the American people are . . . the answer.” But not as cogs in some massively expensive federal program.”
What surprises me is that Jacob forgets to mention that that he is talking about a program that is directly the result of George Bush’s idea of ‘conservative’ government. As my Dad always said, any good conservative should know that when you make government your partner you will eventually be working for the government. That being said, the Bush administration has placed very few limitations on the religious organizations that take the money.(Something that Obama disagrees with.) The administration thinks that these groups have the right to control who they hire, based upon their religious tenets. Which makes perfect sense.
But when the shoe is on the other foot, even some fairly conservative people have taken exceptions with the Bush administration’s apparent double standard. From an editorial in the Wall Street Journal:
“According to an HHS memo leaked to the New York Times (July 15, Robert Pear), the Bush Administration wants to require that all hospitals and birth control clinics receiving federal health funds certify that they will not “discriminate” against nurses and other staff who object to contraception and birth control….
…Are these efforts truly intended to broaden the delivery of essential government services, or are they a thinly-veiled cloak for the imposition of religious ideology in the public sphere?”
Which is precisely what they are. If you are given money to offset your charitable activities that means that you will have more money available for evangelizing (or whatever). Plus, while I don’t think it would matter too much if the person ladling out the soup is atheist or Christian, it doesn’t make much sense to have a person working in a birth control clinic who is fundamentally at odds with the practice of birth control. Once tax money is used to fund a private organization then federal guidelines are sure to follow. Here’s what the Jewish Anti-Defamation League suggests:
Of particular concern, these safeguards should ensure that Government money does not fund religious discrimination in the hiring and firing of people who deliver these social services and that program beneficiaries are not subject to proselytizing or religious activities.
I understand that there are some good religious organizations out there doing some very good work. Many of them have been doing this work, without the aid of the government, for a very long time. I wonder if it is such a good idea for any faith community to accept the federal government as a working partner. I tend to agree with the Rev.Barry Lynn that “the Faith Based Initiative is an insidious intrusion into the separation of church and state that was established by the First Amendment to our Constitution.”.
The First Amendment was not only designed to protect citizens from overly powerful religions but also to protect the religious from the intrusions of government. History has shown that the more ‘help’ one receives from the federal government the more one is beholden to it. I am sure that many of our nation’s state governors wish that their predecessors had not be so accepting of Uncle Sam’s helping hand.
To paraphrase Tony Compolo, our government may be the best Babylon in the world, but it’s still Babylon.
What do you think?