OBAMA'S CHURCH DECISION
Speaking of religion and politics, as I will be below, a writer in a journal of African-American thought has done this intriguing piece about the recent decision by Sen. Barack Obama to leave his church. By the way, I'll be talking about that decision at least indirectly in my column this Saturday. I think Obama is not done dealing with the question of his church membership.
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REVISITING FAITH-BASED INITIATIVES
As the second George W. Bush administration begins to draw to a close, various analysts are taking a look at what happened and why. In fact, What Happened is the name of the book about all this by former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan.
But as much as I'm interested in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I've also been wondering how to evaluate what (remember this?) Bush called his "compassionate conservatism" and, growing out of that, his "faith-based initiative."
The latter, as you may know, was the president's attempt to funnel public dollars to charities with religious roots to do some of the social work that the government seems not to have done very well, if at all. I always liked the idea of these groups existing and being effective, but it worried me (and still worries me) when tax dollars are spent to advance any kind of religious ministry. That's not what public dollars are for.
But we don't hear much about compassionate conservatism these days and we rarely hear about the faith-based initiative programs, though they continue to exist in one form or another.
So I was intrigued to find this piece about all of this in a Templeton Foundation publication called In Character: A Journal of Everyday Virtues. The author, John McWhorter, works for a think tank called the Manhattan Institute. I hesitate to label such places "conservative" or "liberal" because I think such labels are misleading. You can poke around on the institute's site and decide for yourself.
But McWhorter defends Bush in this piece -- perhaps a surprising stand, especially for an African-American. I am always engaged by people who go against our suppositions. I may not agree with all McWhorter says here, but I think it's a useful vehicle to revisit the question of what role the government should play in supporting or even funding groups that have a religious base. (Pay special attention to what he has to say about programs aimed at preparing prisoners to live successfully on the outside.)
I don't want the government to be hostile to faith-based groups, and I would hope there could be areas in which they could cooperate. But, as I say, I think it's important to remember the constitutional barriers that are designed to prevent the government from directly subsidizing religious activities.
So read McWhorter and, if you're of a mind, support him or argue with him here on the blog.
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P.S.: If I'm slow publishing your comments the next few days, hang in there. I'll get to them. Thanks. Bill.
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here.