Barack Obama is taking it on all sides for his version of faith-based initiatives. Here's a news flash: The Christian Right didn't like the speech, and doesn't like Obama, who apparently has "scorned man-woman marriage." Somebody ought to tell Michelle.
More interestingly, Faith in Public Life rounds up some reactions, and does again here, including those from former Bushies At the Boston Review, Lew Daly criticizes his policy for disavowing the rights of religious groups to hire their own. Irene Monroe warns of the dangers of the policy for the LGBT community:
In terms of which groups get picked for funding and which ones don't, LGBTQ activists and our allies have also shown the slim likelihood of queer faith-based groups like Metropolitan Community Church or Dignity getting funding, compared to conservative Christian groups.
Meanwhile, Ira Chernus defends Obama's ideas as being an improvement over the current regime because
Obama does not treat social problems primarily as individual faults the way “compassionate conservatism” does. He treats them as political problems. His record is not in urging spiritual reform, as Bush’s was when he ran for president. Obama’s record is in organizing in churches, helping people see that their problems come from systemic abuse by the wealthy and the powerful, and teaching them how to resist.
Randall Balmer calls for a policy more truly radical, and conservative. Or is he just calling the bluff?
So here is my radical/conservative proposal: Obama should use the moral capital of his candidacy to call on religious organizations of all stripes to reassume the responsibility of social welfare in this country—poor relief, job training, credit counseling and so on. However, and this is the crucial component of the proposal, they must perform these functions out of their own resources, taking advantage of their long-standing tax exemptions (which amounts to a huge government subsidy) to do so. This reallocation of responsibility would remove these tasks from government and from the bureaucrats and allow religious organizations to act on their avowed principles of care for the disadvantaged in society.
Meanwhile, Michael Leo Owens historicizes the debate in his new work God and Government in the Ghetto: The Politics of Church-State Collaboration in Black America (University of Chicago Press). I had not run across this title previously; here's the author's brief description of the main argument:
Today, faith-based initiatives are underway in America's poorest Black neighborhoods. African American churches are central to them, but their involvement isn't always apolitical. There are political reasons why churches collaborate with government and vice versa. That's the biggest take-away. With an emphasis on the political causes, character, and consequences of African American churches collaborating with government to serve the poor, my central argument is that church-state partnerships are a means for Black clergy to reaffirm their political leadership and reposition moral authority in Black civil society. In making this argument, I examine how Black public opinion, fueled by enduring poverty and weak political representation in Black neighborhoods, pushes activist African American churches to collaborate with government. I also explain how government, as it changes the designs of social welfare policies to rely more on nonprofit organizations and voluntary action to deliver public benefits to the poor, pulls African American churches to collaborate with it.