Faith-Based Part II: Obama’s Expansion of the Bush’s Faith-Based Programs

sisteen chapel ceilingAs we approach the one-week anniversary of the Obama administration, it is a bit early to judge the level of true change brought by the 44th president. However, it is becoming increasingly clear what is not going to change (at least for the better) in the Obama administration. With all of the euphoria of the inauguration, many supporters fought back a strange and long-lingering sensation: doubt. There was little room for doubt in the collective celebration of our first African-American president and a new course after a ruinous eight years under George W. Bush.

Yet, given his tendency to avoid fights on issues like war crimes and unlawful surveillance, Obama seems to view “change” in terms of social programs rather than legal principles. On the principle of the separation of church and state, these doubts are particularly pronounced and personified by the man who delivered the invocation at Obama’s inauguration: evangelical preacher Rick Warren.

Warren is viewed by many as an anti-gay and intolerant voice of the religious right. Obama has insisted that Warren’s much-discussed role simply reflects his desire to be inclusive and show that all views are welcomed in his administration. However, Warren represents more than a preacher with controversial religious views, but one who actively seeks to shape society along those same biblical lines.

From the Rev. Jeremiah Wright to the Rev. Warren, Obama’s choices raise a concern that he (like his predecessor) seems to gravitate toward ministers who see little dividing the pulpit from politics.

The fact is that Obama has never hidden his agreement with President Bush on the role of religion in American politics. During the primaries, he proclaimed his intention to be “an instrument of God” and to create “a kingdom right here on Earth.” To be sure, past Democratic presidents also have sought religious advisers and incorporated religious organizations into federal programs as a political necessity in a largely Christian nation.

Expanding the Bush program

Yet, the intermingling of faith and politics was one of the more controversial aspects of Bush’s tenure. The centerpiece of that effort was the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives through which Bush gave billions of dollars to religious organizations to carry out a variety of public projects.

Despite the good work done in areas ranging from drug rehabilitation to disaster relief, it came at the cost of the government’s direct subsidization of religious groups. The faith-based office has been denounced by critics as an attack on the doctrine of the separation of church and state and a reward to the administration’s base of religious activists.

Many people assumed that any Democrat would restore the secular work of government and strive to remove religion from politics. But Obama has indicated that he intends to expand, not eliminate, the faith-based programs. Indeed, he has stated that Bush’s faith-based office “never fulfilled its promise” due to a lack of funding. This “lack of funding” cost this country $2.2 billion in 2007 alone.

Obama reportedly plans to change the name from the “Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives” into his own “White House Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.” The old office would become 12 offices to carry out the expanded program. Not exactly the change that many secularists and liberals were hoping for.

Obama has assembled an informal faith-based advisory group to assist him in plans to expand the incorporation of religious organizations into government at the cost of billions of dollars each year. Warren will likely be one of those advisers.

Warren leads a fundamentalist congregation of 20,000 in Orange Country, Calif. He was a central supporter of Proposition 8, which stripped gay couples in California of the right to marry, calling such unions an affront to “every single culture and every single religion for 5,000 years.” He was criticized for a statement that many viewed as equating the legalization of same-sex marriage to the legalization of incest, child abuse and polygamy. In the ensuing firestorm, he seemed to backtrack a bit and has even indicated that he’d be willing to consider civil unions instead of same-sex marriages, but the sentiment was already out there. He also has insisted that religious people must vote against anyone who opposes abortion, calling politicians who do so, such as the new president, “Holocaust denier[s].”

This brand of activist evangelism seems to appeal to Obama the Community Activist. Despite Warren’s rigid religiosity, Obama reportedly likes him because, among other reasons, he supports anti-poverty programs. Obama’s aides have dismissed same-sex marriage as a “single issue,” and Obama has said the choice shows that he is incorporating all viewpoints into his administration. Yet, this treats all viewpoints as inherently equal and worthy of incorporation. Warren’s narrow definition of marriage echoes the objections made by ministers a few decades ago to the marriage of mixed-race couples like Obama’s parents. Would those ministers be worthy of incorporation in the administration? In the name of inclusion, Obama added a voice of exclusion.

It is a simple matter of priorities: Obama just seems to be more interested in programs than principles. He views change in more concrete terms: helping families, creating jobs and expanding the social safety net. Worthy objectives to be sure, but what about restoring the core principles that define our government?

Program-centric governing

In a program-centric rather than a principle-centric administration, Warren is a perfect fit. While infuriating for liberals, the picture with Warren — as well as the reverend’s lengthy opening prayer — played well with religious conservatives and may lay a foundation for a mutually beneficial alliance with Obama. Religious organizations can help politically and practically with the New Deal-type programs that Obama wants to implement. The entanglement of church and state is dismissed as an abstraction and distraction.

Obama’s preference for practicalities over principles is reflected in some of the people he picked for his Cabinet (Hillary Clinton at State, for one), as well as by his voting record. Obama voted to grant immunity to the telecommunication companies and extinguished dozens of lawsuits aimed at the warrantless surveillance program. Obama previously indicated that he would vote against such legislation, but again the practicalities appeared to triumph over principle. It was treated as little more than a fight over abstract privacy.

When civil libertarians denounced Obama’s vote, he simply encouraged them not to get hung up on one issue. That issue, however, was constitutionally protected privacy. The concern is that if Obama does not fight for the separation of church and state, equal protection (his most recent “one issue” flare-up) and privacy, his administration would seem strikingly like the last one, in which principles were dismissed as nave abstractions.

Obama’s approach to religion differs from Bush in one respect. The latter appeared intent on lowering the wall of separation between church and state. For Obama, this is not about principle; it’s business. Warren is a good choice because he supports these programs, and churches like his can deliver needed political and practical support for their implementation. The end, not the means, drives the policy.

Obviously, important things are to be done in a host of other areas by Obama, but it is a dangerous precedent to have another president who treats constitutional principles as something of a distraction. Just as Bush dismissed abstract principles in his war on terror, Obama seems poised to do the same in his economic war. Again, it will simply be an inconvenient time for principle.

I joined millions around the world relishing the moment Obama took the oath and gave such eloquence and hope to a besieged nation. But there is a danger of a cult of personality developing around Obama, that supporters could, in all this adoration, confuse the man with his mandate. So, when Obama put his hand on the Lincoln Inaugural Bible, I silently prayed not for a president but for principle, and that Obama will be able to tell the difference.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s board of contributors.

For the USA Today opinion page, click here.

USA Today — January 26, 2009

91 thoughts on “Faith-Based Part II: Obama’s Expansion of the Bush’s Faith-Based Programs”

  1. I’m shocked, chagrined and laughing myself silly. Boy he told me didn’t he.

  2. Give it some recruiting flare! Come on. We’re all anxious to join a new group. Tell us why we should join yours?

  3. Herr Brownshirt,

    Come on out and defend PNAC, in detail, such as you are capable of. This ought to be HUGELY entertaining.

  4. Then simply you have identified yourself as the enemy. Congratulations for coming out in the open, you little American Imperialist Nazi. roflmao My but you are a piece of work. Not just stupid, but evil too. Excellent.

  5. Mike:

    You are about a stupid person. I agree with the PNAC web site. America is a moral country and should defend its values around the world. Most of the rest of the world is run by statists.

    And foreign policy in this country is run by liberal apologists at the state department. America bad everyone else good. Talk about monkey see monkey do.

    And if you dont think Turley is a card carrying liberal democrat you are a real moron.

    I wouldnt engage in any type of intellectual exchange with anyone on this web site I come from the America good and moral side of the spectrum most people on this site come from America force for all evil in the world side. You call me closed minded you all are much more closed minded.

    Bronnie Boy

  6. “Mike S:
    Please I am all ears/eyes. I would love to understand.”

    You are quite literally just another phony troll out for what you think is “some fun with the liberals.” Your understanding is so limited that you don’t even get that this is not a liberal site. I have no idea what JT’s politics are on the political spectrum, nor do I care. I admire the fact that he is a staunch defender of civil liberties and constitutional government. What you don’t get is that real conservatives, liberals, moderates, progressives, libertarians and radicals are able to discuss these issues in a constructive manner and that often consensus is achieved. You quite stupidly questioned my patriotism, among a litany of other insults, because you don’t understand that a commitment to civil liberty and constitutional government represents the highest patriotic ideals.

    In this instance you parrot the term “free market” without even the simplest understanding of how its’ creator meant it. You want to understand then do some research, rather than having propaganda spoon fed to you by propaganda outlets like Fox News and the three major TV networks. When you do put in the personal effort needed to learn and grow than perhaps you’d be interesting to interact with. Right now all you do is play out weak arguments, use specious sources (your mother-In-Law and a military friend….really!)and refuse to respond to the points people make when your propaganda conditioning fails you.

    You really want to learn? Then why didn’t you google PNAC when I
    admonished you on those who want an American Empire. It’s easily found and its’ signatories such as Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld are right there. Plus it came out more than 3 years before 9/11, when Bush wasn’t even President. However, with you it’s the lazy way. Just make a broad statement, learned from your propaganda puppet masters and leave it at that. After all that’s the way Rush, Sean, Bill and Carl argue and they seem to get away with it. If you wanted so much to understand I think you would get the point I’m making here, but sadly for you it goes right over your head. By the way I’m not talking about your education, status or social class here. This is about someone, you, who chooses not to think for himself, despite whatever innate intelligence he might have. What a pity and what a waste, but I don’t choose to play in your playpen anymore.

  7. Mike S:

    Please I am all ears/eyes. I would love to understand.

    I am quite willing to read what you have to say. This is actually a pretty interesting site. And I enjoy reading the posts so all bullshit aside please give me the overview. I probably wont agree and I know none of you agree with me. But if you are willing to write I am willing to read and ask questions where I dont understand.


    the theocraticanarchist troll

  8. Buddha,

    I think we’re talking across each other. I’m talking about a very specific instance: using theology to argue politics. Like I said, for the theology aspect to make sense both parties have to agree completely about their religion. I’ve never seen that happen.

    If someone is so far gone that they’re using their private beliefs on God to try and justify their politics, attacking their cherished tenants will just bring up an automatic reflex defense. Making them find fault in my argument is marginally more likely to get them actively thinking.

    I have no problem saying “here’s where your argument is flawed,” or pointing to factual errors, it’s just that Religion isn’t based on logic or facts. So rather than try a tactic that I haven’t seen work, I try one that I’ve seen work every now and then.

    I also don’t like to say “Religion has no place in politics,” and then use religion to prove what is at least partially a political point.

  9. Buddha and Mike S.,

    I agree that Bron failed to engage in actual argument. He absolutely revealed his true self with the, “you’re not a patriot etc.”

  10. Gyges,

    I’ll concede that approach is a valid and sometimes even often effective tool. I’m not saying your observation is invalid. I’m not saying that’s not a preferable tool. I’m saying not all tools are right for all jobs. Sometimes the goal isn’t victory. Sometimes the goal is preparation. Sometimes the goal is to create doubt, especially about the opponents foundations. Sometimes you use their language and precepts against them, sometimes you attack them on ethical frameworks, sometimes a combination of tactics – it kind of depends on the bent of the individual theocrat. Against the entrenched, the battle is rarely won in one fell blow. This is one of the reasons the face of victory is ever changing. It is a war of attrition and nerves with hardcore theocrats. Create vulnerabilities until the weather changes and an ideal tactical opening appears. By ideal, I mean one that you can present an opportunity that leads to them coming to a conclusion themselves. As you’ve noted, real change is an internal process. It’s the Jedi Mindtrick. Sometimes, however, this is impossible. Sometimes you are left with only nuclear options or induced self-destruction. You’ve just ran into the logic-proof. True, the stick you just saw me wielding was one of the nastier variety. Fairly pointed toward religion at first I’ll confess, but that’s what I thought I was dealing with – a zealot. I think review of past posts will show that’s not the only tool in the box. Once I knew I was dealing with the futility of the brainwashed I adjusted the tactic. In reality, I’d have been better served with an different initial tactic, but hey, life isn’t perfect. His passive-aggressive style sometimes made it hard to read if he was genuine troll or just misguided about religion and it’s relation to the State. He liked to escalate troll-style but his contrition sometimes sounded plausible. Upon seeing his escalation was never ending (Debate? I don’t think it’s arrogance to say that’s an obvious mismatch but I could be wrong, next he’d have wanted to fight like that twit a couple of weeks ago), I gave him a rope and sent him on his way. I gave him what he wanted. The chance to earn respect. And I must say he’s done a spectacular job of tying that noose. He could have tied a lasso. His choice. Instead, he showed he’s not a theocrat, but a simple Neocon zombie. Not even rising to soccer hooligan but a mere parrot. I do appreciate the point you are making, Gyges, but I hope this puts what you just saw into perspective vis a vis tactics. I brought siege ammo when I could have used troll repellent. An actual faux pas. Such is life. Either way, his game is up now – his true self revealed by his own hand.

  11. “Mike:
    that may all be well and good but bottom line is the government produces nothing, it is all overhead. no matter how you slice it government is a drain on the economy and taking resources that would be used more efficiently in the private sector.”

    Your understanding of government and economics is nil. Tell me what a Hedge Fund Produces? You want to talk about free market than read Adam Smith, who created the term and also believed that a market should be controlled by government. You’re just a sill Objectivist, who’ll be shocked out of his mind if the situation you fervently desire would come about. Your “Free Market” is a tool of enslavement for most and Democracy for none. Your understanding of these issues though is too limited to even try to clear up your misinformed minds.

  12. Buddha,

    Sorry, I forgot to include the punchline of my comparison: The debates only makes sense if you all use the same rule book, and nobody ever does. When it comes to the Separation of C&S, we have a universal rule book. So why bother trying to figure out which edition of Christianity they believe in and then arguing on that turf? You can just point to the Constitution, various court rulings, etc. and say “you might not agree with this, but it’s the law of the land.”

    The other reason I tend not to point out theological inconsistencies is that I’ve seen a lot of people “witnessed to,” on topics from religion to politics to choice in fast food restaurants. I’ve yet to see anyone converted because their view was criticized, but I’ve seen several people that were brought around by stating “this is what I believe…” I have no problem pointing out factual errors, but very little about religion is based on fact, and quite a bit is based on interpretation.

  13. Gyges,

    I agree. I’ve seen that argument as well. It can be gruesome. I submit the discussion of PC vs. Mac vs. Linux – a contender in the ugly conversation category. Some topics lend themselves to compartmentalization. I’d prefer to keep religion and law discrete areas for debate. Honestly, the two don’t mix well. However, how do you have a choice when your opponents have created entire private education systems that geared to subverting Separation of Church and State? Private grade schools all the way to private law schools like Regents. Schools some of which are not ashamed that their mission is to put their version of Christ in government? Where do you think so much troll programing gets into the system? Not all of it is talk radio and FOX News. Some of it is nothing less that indoctrination. Ask Mike S., from earlier posts I am sure he’s probably seen some of these joints web sites. There are some truly bent zealots out there. Not all of them have our common good at heart.

    In a perfect world, the logic of Separation would stand on it’s own, self-evident for all.

    I prefer water and dirt but sometimes battle takes place in the mud. I don’t see a way to fight the creep of theocracy without getting dirty either. You cannot fight what you cannot name. If that means picking out a specific group’s beliefs, so be it. Which leads me to

    Mike A.,

    I’m sorry Mike, while I agree with much of what you said (especially re: optimal message target selection), I cannot agree with “arguments against faith-based initiatives must be framed in a manner precluding their characterization as attacks upon religion in general, or upon particular denominations.” Your solution smells a little PC. I admire it’s high mindedness and think your intention is pure, but it’s flawed. It values the feelings of one group or individual over the common good of preventing theocracy. When the conversation is pressed and your opponent is resting on theological reasoning or appeal, is there a way to undermine their flawed premises and not bring the underpinnings of those premises into question? Rarely if ever has been my experience. And it’s not always the hardcore logic proof cases that will rest on divine reasoning. Sometimes the only way to get someone to logic is to challenge their preconception and presumptions – if those are rooted in belief over reason and empirical fact, so be it. If you cannot label a subset as counter to Separation and subject why they are counter to scrutiny, you are avoiding the threat and potential problems. It’s like fighting lung cancer without talking about lungs or cancer. The same goes for eliminating discussion of the sets themselves. Your solution is equivalent of not talking about it – intrusive religion and the effects on Separation cannot be discussed without discussing the root cause(s): religions as a social phenomena, structures and various subsets – in specific for each has different characteristics, some adverse to this or other liberties and some not. It’s not Zoroastrians threatening the doctrine. The same can’t be said of Fundamentalist Christians or Fundamentalist Muslims. That’s not a statement on their values either, but a statement on actions of group members. If their values drive their actions, then are their values not valid targets? They have causal connection. Like I said, I respect where you are coming from with this. The intention of protection is almost always noble and just, even if it’s just protection from slight. I just don’t think it’s practical.

  14. Mike A.,

    Thanks for the clarification. I think you propose a sound stategy both ethically and practically! I’d like to hear your “origin theory” as well if you want to lay it out another time.

  15. Mike:

    that may all be well and good but bottom line is the government produces nothing, it is all overhead. no matter how you slice it government is a drain on the economy and taking resources that would be used more efficiently in the private sector.

    An HMO has to actually employ doctors and social security is in the hole for hundreds of billions of dollars, a private insurance company would be out of business.

    A freemarket sets the salary of any industry, why single out CEO’s if you were so competent you could have gone to work in the private sector and made millions.

    Personally I would dismantle all government agencies such as HUD, HEW, AG, etc and farmout necessary services such as police and fire to the private sector. It would be better service and cheaper. Then we would not need social security or medicare.

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