Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Obama’s Faith Based Idea Will Work

Count me among those liberals welcoming Barack Obama’s announcement about giving faith-based groups a role in his administration.

Not the phony-baloney Office Of Faith Based Initiatives that President Bush used to varnish his Christian cred and shove tax money to his pet abstinence-only education programs that don’t work. But a real department that can work with faith-based community groups, do some oversight, help with coordination, and yes, offer funds:
"Every house of worship that wants to run an effective program and that's willing to abide by our constitution - from the largest mega-churches and synagogues to the smallest store-front churches and mosques - can and will have access to the information and support they need to run that program," Obama said.

The Obama campaign distributed a statement from John DiIulio, former director of Bush's White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, praising Obama's proposal as "a principled, prudent, and problem-solving vision for the future of community-serving partnerships involving religious nonprofit organizations."

I really don’t see why anyone would have a problem with this. Congregations of all faiths provide valuable community services, from drug and alcohol programs to day-care centers to housing the homeless. To give just three examples, my church houses the homeless during the winter, has an after school program for refugee kids, and houses Senior Citizens’ Inc.’s Meals On Wheels and Adult Day Care services. All of the clients receiving these services are low-income. No one gets religion forced on them, and no one is turned away because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, or for any other reason (indeed, most of the refugee children are Muslim).

The government can’t provide all of these services; the need is just too vast. I don’t have a problem with secular groups providing these services too, but I think it’s silly to shut faith-based groups out of the mix. Faith groups have always done service work, and in many instances, faith groups are the best equipped to provide certain services. City governments have contracted with the Salvation Army to operate soup kitchens for years.

The problem is when religious groups use their role as service provider to proselytize, discriminate, or further a partisan political agenda. That’s been a big problem for the Bush Administration. Not only did the Silver Ring Thing promote Christianity, the ridiculous program doesn’t even work! The Salvation Army was happy to take government money, but they didn’t want to abide by non-discrimination laws. Under Bush, faith-based federal funds became “slush funds for conservative interest groups.” This is how not to do a faith-based program.

Obama is right. Faith-based groups provide important services to our communities. But just because a group is faith-based doesn’t make it perfect. Not every program works, not every program is even legitimate. There are a lot of charlatans out there wanting to dip their fingers in the money pot. There needs to be oversight, accountability, and follow-up. You can’t just hand a grant out because a church asks for it.

Under a President Obama, I think a faith-based office would actually have a chance of functioning properly. I don’t see President Obama using this office to send money to buddies like Chuck Colson, or stage phony events to help swing elections. That’s the Republican way of doing things. Democrats know better. We know how to run government.

You know, we’re the party that believes government can actually work, remember?