Obama’s faith initiative stirs left, right and academia

July 2, 2008

obamajuly2.jpgDALLAS – 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.

Obama unveiled the plan in Ohio, pledging to beef up the faith-based community programs pioneered by President George W. Bush.

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?”

From the “Religious Left,” evangelical leader and Sojourners founder Jim Wallis told Reuters he welcomed Obama’s initiative.

“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.


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Mr. Ed Stoddard,

Good article.

Obama’s ‘nuanced’ speech pretty much nullified his ‘support’ for the faith based initiative simply because he wants to tell religious charities that they have to hire people that are not of their religion. What then are religious charities for but to be a representation of who they are and what they believe–which is a form of evangelization in istelf, ie, setting an example.

Mr. Obama won’t get any traction at all from the right and maybe even the left. The center will certainly applaud due to their ‘fence sitting’ character of not being all for one side or another, but a mix.

Posted by Tito Edwards | Report as abusive

Looks like my apathy gets my vote AGAIN !

Posted by Lefty | Report as abusive

So much talk…so much reckless and meandering talk and waffling, Mr. & Mrs. Reader.

I don’t know what is unclear about “this Constitution” and the Bill of Rights. I don’t know what is unclear about the President of the United States’ oath to protect and defend the aforesaid.

It’s all very clear to me.

Mr. Obama appears to be waffling on my first amendment rights and on separation of religion and government. Additionally, he seems to be waffling on getting Our Best & Finest…Our Sons & Daughters out of SW Asia.

I liked the democrat presidential candidate better when he was clear, concise and consistent. I am suspicious of him now.

OK Jack

P.S. I hope that Mr. Obama gets his act together soon…and that he chooses Jim Webb as his vice presidential running mate. While I respect General Clark, I think that Mr. Webb is the better choice. I like the fact that Mr. Webb personally stood up to Mr. Bush on the issue of Our Sons & Daughters in SW Asia (namely Mr. Webb’s Son). Incidentally, I saw nothing disrespectful about General Clark’s assessment of Captain McCain’s military career before and after the senator’s time as a POW. I think that Mr. Schieffer’s putting words in General Clark’s mouth was inappropriate. Of course, I was surprised that General Clark took the bait. I also think that General Clark was a bit self-serving on his differentiation between his wartime command time and Captain McCain’s postwar command time.

Posted by OK Jack | Report as abusive

The right winger who said that denying fund against a group who promot discrimination is a form of discriminatin itself is an insult.

It is like saying that the federal government can not denied funds to David Duke because he discriminate against minorities.

Either recieve federal government money and stop discriminating or do not recieve any money and discriminate.

the first amendment gives to the right to freedom of speech but that did not give you the right to yell fire in a crowded theatre.

Posted by lgrf4evr | Report as abusive

This is a delicate subject and one that should touch the conscience of all good Christians, whether Democrats or Republicans. In my opinion, Barack Obama seeks to unify and give Christianity a new face, overlooking the differences and getting Christians out of the pews and into the needy areas where people can see a living sample of Christian love. From my knowledge, he himself has been active in faith driven, community endeavours and it would be a good thing for the inter-faith movement to widen. Whether this is a political strategy on his part to win over undecided evangelicals or not, it is a policy to be respected. Once again, I believe its important to measure the positive impact and assistance that can be imparted to a great many underprivileged communities, and not view this simply through the eyes of politics.

Sophia Paloma Dow

Posted by Sophia Paloma Dow | Report as abusive

This faith-based stuff (or not) is hardly as important, Mr. & Mrs. Reader, as Mr. Obama saying that he needs “more information” so that he can “refine” his policy on getting Our Sons & Daughters out of SW Asia!

Mr. Obama…the only thing you need to know is that counterinsurgencies are unwinnable…and therefore the only thing that needs refining is how much faster Our Best & Finest can get home from SW Asia, i.e., from both Afghanistan and Iraq.

So, please get on with it and stop saying things that can be construed as reneging and turning republican red.

I can’t wait for November 4th, so that all this slip-of-the-tongue stuff can come to an end.

January 20th can’t come soon enough to suit me…and the 100 days thereafter.

OK Jack

Posted by OK Jack | Report as abusive

If faith-based organisations cannot determine how to run their organisations, why not just leave the government-sponsored charity work to the government where no bias is allowed. I cannot help but doubt whether it is one of the tactics of Mr Obama to weaken the faith-based organisations and try to inflitrate them. Later, he may have more regulations in what faith-based organisations can or cannot do. Or, he just simply tries to be everything and to please everyone in order to get elected.

Posted by chungmoyung | Report as abusive