Obama’s faith initiative stirs left, right and academia
DALLAS – Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s promise on Tuesday of a more robust approach to faith-based social programs has been blasted from the left and the right — and raised some pointed questions from academia.
But it has also won support from the religious left and centrists, the groups it is aimed at as the Obama campaign seeks to woo wavering evangelicals.
On the left, Americans United for Separation of Church and State decried Obama’s promise to expand it, saying : “Rather than try to correct the defects of the Bush ‘faith-based’ initiative, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama would do better to shut it down.”
Obama did lay down one rule in his speech that has drawn some comment. He said: “If you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them — or against the people you hire — on the basis of their religion.”
This will be welcomed by many Americans who are uncomfortable with this mix of church and state but it has also raised some eyebrows.
“Certain religious groups in the United States are unabashedly focussed on converting others — it’s part of their faith. When the federal government stipulates that it will withhold funding from a group that proselytizes — as indicated by Obama’s ground rules above — is it not, ironically, discriminating against that group on the basis of its religion?,” asked Jacques Berlinerblau of Georgetown University in a blog on Wednesday.
The “Religious Right” saw Obama’s announcement as a “faith-based feint.” Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, asked if Obama’s reported opposition to efforts to ban gay marriage in California meant “that faith-based organizations that support (traditional) marriage will be disqualified from federal funding under an Obama presidency?”
“It shows that Obama is both comfortable and articulate about his faith and we haven’t always seen this from a Democrat,” he said.
If Obama has scored with the Religious Left then his faith strategy may be paying dividends.
Photo credit: Reuters/Matt Sullivan. Obama speaks at Eastside Community Ministry in Zanesville, Ohio, July 1, 2008.