Monday 1 November 2004

Putting Faith To Work...

Being a "freewheeler", I decided to delve into a controversial issue on my very first blog:

Has anyone else been noticing the excellent debate between Jim Towey and Amy Sullivan -- highlighting what I think should be one of the most important issues in this presidential election?

Mr. Towey, the current director of President Bush's Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, discusses the attempt to put "Compassionate
Conservatism" into action (see the news article "The Initiative Is Working" at:

A "must read" is Amy Sullivan's article, in the Washington Monthly, revealing reality on this issue. It's entitled "Faith Without Works":

This aptly illustrates both sides of an important argument regarding the Bush administration's priority to channel federal money to faith-based charities -- one of Bush's major campaign planks as a candidate four years ago.

Now its obvious that Jim Towey (a pro-life Democrat) is trying to put his own faith to good work after being asked by the Bush administration to come in to try to salvage the cause -- and I am personally for it. As I read the interview of Towey, I can appreciate that some progress has gone in the right direction. However, so far, the reality is only a fraction of the original vision expected by faith group leaders around the nation and from both sides of the aisle, politically speaking. Why is that?

There is a preponderance of external evidence that the President has not really increased the amount of money for the poor by his strategy of "leveling the playing field" and permitting faith-based organizations to receive federal funding. Instead, President Bush (by executive order) and his policy makers have merely redistributed existing money away from secular liberal organizations to "not-so-liberal" faith-based organizations. While this might represent smart politics, but it has not done very well in helping the plight of the poor in reality.

Have you noticed how both major presidential campaigns have artfully dodged the "P word" -- poverty -- and mislead voters with a myopic vision of terror? As Jim Wallis from the Sojourners said recently, "Whoever is elected, we had better be at their front door to make clear that poverty is the weapon of mass destruction for America. It touches everything else, in its social costs and connections to terrorism. Investing in a different future makes sense and is the right thing to do. But neither party seems to have that kind of vision."

What is most damaging to President Bush's credibility is that while he originally emphasized "results, results" in pushing for the faith-based organizations to receive the funding, he (ironically) actually omitted requiring that the impact of the faith-based organizations be measured and compared with prior recipients of federal funding. As a matter of record, NOTHING was budgeted toward finding out what those results really are! However, as Sullivan notes, certain private foundations have tried to study those "results" -- and their conclusions are bound to raise hackles.

Furthermore, its really quite sad, what happened in the back rooms of Congress to effectively derail the fast-track legislation -- which originally enjoyed broad bi-partisan support and would have spurred incentives to channel billions in charitable giving into faith-based organizations that really could (and probably do) make a difference. Amy Sullivan reveals all in recalling that history...and her conclusions are noteworthy.

A bus tour, going from Minneapolis to Philadelphia, was organized recently by a group known as Call to Renewal, which describes itself as a faith-based movement to overcome poverty." (One of those groups really trying to make a difference!) It brings together a wide spectrum ranging from evangelicals to mainstream Protestants to Catholics, black churches and peace churches and Pentecostals in an effort to get folks within faith communities to pay attention to issues of poverty in these last weeks before the election.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development does an annual survey of public attitudes toward poverty. Last fall, the survey asked how many people are currently living in poverty in the United States. Half of the respondents guessed 2 million or less. Compare that with the actual number: 35 million. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, voters do have worries about poverty.

That same Campaign for Human Development survey last November found that 89 percent of adults in this country said they were very or somewhat concerned about poverty. They rated lack of education and lack of jobs as the prime causes of poverty - not the perceived personal failings of the poor. And almost half - 48 percent - said that government had the prime responsibility to deal with poverty.

What the folks on the bus tour were trying to do is to ignite some of that sentiment in order to put some heat on candidates to address issues like housing for the poor, education for their children, adequate income, nutrition and health care.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could actually get our congress members' faith to really work -- together -- and put their money where their mouth is the next time around? Maybe its high time to remind everyone that God is neither a Democrat, nor a Republican!


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