Faith-Based Initiative 2.0

Print More

Yesterday, WaPo’s Michelle Boorstein and William Wan commemorated the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s version of President Bush’s faith-based initiative with a story and a blog post suggesting a measure of unhappiness among the members of the advisory council that has been the most distinctive element of the Obama version. The charge, in a word, is that 2.0 is mostly window-dressing.

I’d put it this way. Under Bush, the initiative had a clear idea and purpose. The idea was that social service provision could be done more effectively by faith-based organizations (FBOs) because they were, well, faith-based. The purpose was to make it easier for FBOs to have access to public funds to do their good works. In fact, the idea remains unproven and the purpose was based on the largely false premise that FBOs didn’t have access to public funds already. There were legal problems. There was politics. But still, you knew what the thing was.

Under Obama, the idea of FBO superiority has been jettisoned, the money-funneling purpose shuttled aside. In their place is generalized outreach to the “faith community”–understood in a much broader way than the Bushies did. It’s all about motherhood-and-apple pie…make that fatherhood. Controversial sticking points like the Bush permission for FBOs to hire only their own co-religionists with public funds have disappeared into the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Council, never to be heard about again.

Advisory council member Jim Wallis told WaPo: “I want him to listen to faith groups as much as he listens to people
on Wall Street. I want him to listen to faith groups as
much as military leaders on Afghanistan.” Ain’t gonna happen.