O Ye of Little Faith

Jim Towey, who worked with Mother Teresa, served as George W. Bush’s director of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. He’s now president of Ave Maria University, where I’m on the board. 

I met Jim in the White House, and we frequently discussed one of the tensions in the faith-based initiative. On the one hand, I believe it serves conservative principles, if we are to have social welfare programs (and they are not going away), to have them administered by mediating institutions and not the government. In short, that someone trying, say, to beat a drug addiction might do better if he could turn to some clinic run by the Methodists than some bureaucracy. On the other hand, there is a legitimate worry about the effect on the integrity of the churches themselves, and the temptation to let Caesar define the mission.

This is a long way into Jim’s latest article in The Hill, where he discusses the HHS mandate but argues the faith-based office has become so politicized it should be abandoned. 

Here’s the lead into his op-ed

It seems George W. Bush’s “armies of compassion” have become Barack Obama’s armies of contraception.  

Many were surprised that when President Obama entered the White House he didn’t close the faith-based office his predecessor had created. As the man who led that office for over four years under Bush, I think I now know why. 

Complete article here

  1. Paul A. Rahe
    C

    Live and learn! I agree that the Methodists would do a better job than any government bureaucracy. But government money always comes with strings — not perhaps when it is first offered, but later when they have you where they want you. One reason that I think Mitt Romney’s tax proposals reprehensible is that they make it more costly for high-earners to give to those Methodists.

  2. EJHill

    “Many were surprised that when President Obama entered the White House he didn’t close the faith-based office his predecessor had created.”

    Surprised that a government created position didn’t disappear? I don’t think that’s happened since the OPA disappeared on June 1, 1947.

  3. Mollie Hemingway
    C

    I wrote about the double standards in how the media cover this office a couple of years ago for the Wall Street Journal:

    This scant media attention is all the more incredible given that, as Americans United for Separation of Church and State has noted, Mr. Obama has left “the entire architecture of the Bush Faith-Based Initiative intact—every rule, every regulation, every executive order.” More controversially, the office has become a major hub of political outreach. In frequent conference calls, the administration informs faith-based leaders of its policy initiatives, as when it recently asked rabbis around the country to give sermons on health-care reform during the coming high holiday season. Representatives from politically important religious groups have been appointed to a 25-member religious advisory council. The office was also involved in drafting President Obama’s June speech delivered from Cairo calling for alliances with ­Muslims.

    Even The Nation magazine complains that Mr. Obama’s faith-based office “is plagued by a lack of transparency and accountability and has seemingly already been exploited as a tool for rewarding religious constituencies with government jobs.”

  4. tabula rasa
    Paul A. Rahe: Live and learn! I agree that the Methodists would do a better job than any government bureaucracy. But government money always comes with strings — not perhaps when it is first offered, but later when they have you where they want you.

    I agree.  Leave the government out of faith-based initiatives and they will remain “faith-based,” as opposed to rent-seeking in the guise of religion.

  5. Tom Lindholtz
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.: …. Representatives from politically important religious groups have been appointed to a 25-member religious advisory council. ….. Even The Nation magazine complains that Mr. Obama’s faith-based office “is plagued by a lack of transparency and accountability and has seemingly already been exploited as a tool for rewarding religious constituencies with government jobs.”

    There are two problems here.  Lots of people comment, for good or ill, on the impact of the religious leaders on government and decrying the loss of separation and fearing the imposition of “moral standards.”  But, for the serious people of the respective faiths, perhaps a greater threat is the impact of the government on their major religious leaders, enervating their passion and vitality as a result of the all too human desire for prominence.  As someone has said, “Facing adversity is difficult, but there are 100 people who can handle adversity for every one who can handle prosperity.”  Our religious leaders face serious temptation when they enter into this sort of setting.

  6. Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    Bill McGurn:  On the other hand, there is a legitimate worry about the effect on the integrity of the churches themselves, and the temptation to let Caesar define the mission.

    Definitely. And it’s not just moral issues about letting Caesar define the mission, but logistical issues as well.

    I don’t have references handy right now, but I’ve read of private charities forced to expend significant sums of money complying with all the red tape that comes with accepting government money. Little stuff like having the government-mandated number of coffee breaks and electrical outlets. For some charities, it is small considerations like these that force them to abandon their charitable mission.

    As Dr Rahe says,

    government money always comes with strings — not perhaps when it is first offered, but later when they have you where they want you. 

    Longer I live, the more I think that government sponsorship of faith-based institutions is poison fruit. There’s a Biblical precedent for that sort of thing, I believe.

  7. Bill McGurn
    C

    The interesting thing here is that the Ricochet community in general appreciates the dangers and temptations for the religious outfits. That’s my inclination too. However, the fact is that when these outfits leave the field, they leave it to government, which is far less efficient and far more expensive to the taxpayer. And in many cases, the government simply prices the voluntary and religious out of the market by undercutting them. 

    One reason, for example, that Catholic Charities — to take a notable example — tends to win government contract is that when the government contracts with CC, CC throws in about a third of the money itself. That is more bang for the taxpayer buck. 

    In any case it surely is interesting that the man who pioneered this office during the Bush years now says it should be abandoned. And the people who complained about Bush injecting religion into politics utter not a peep of protest about the takeover of what was meant to be a more effective outreach to the needy and turn it into an office organized primarily for political ends.

  8. Fricosis Guy

    I can’t make up my mind: were these people fools or knaves? How could they believe that state support for churches would work out better here than in Europe?

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