Thursday, August 18, 2005

GW and Faith-Based Initiatives

So, who's poor these days? The Census Bureau tells us that the poverty threshold for a family of 3 is $15, 205. The overall poverty rate stands at 12.5%.

*Race matters a lot. Blacks have a poverty rate of 24.4%

*Location counts. It's better to live north than south. The lowest poverty rate is in Anoka County, Minn. (1.7 percent); Hidalgo County (38 percent) and Cameron County (36.5 percent), both in Texas, have the highest poverty rates in the country. In the north, though, you might want to avoid the Bronx and Philadelphia; they have high poverty rates as well.

*And you probably don't want to be female, particularly not an indifferently-educated one. The poverty rate in 2003 for all adult women was 12.4%; for men, it was 8.9%.

So, it's clear that we have to do something. And the question isn't really whether or not religion and religious people can play an important role in reducing poverty. They already do. Nor is it a question as to whether or not faith-based service organizations should receive financial support for their service work. That's been going on a long time, too. And, as a practicing Catholic, I fervently believe that a robust faith demands addressing issues of social justice. I would say that religion and public affairs necessarily intersect. So, can it really be true that I agree with Bush and support faith-based initiatives?

Well, no.

Bush's "charitable choice" (does he now get to call himself pro-choice?) significantly alters previous practice. In a moment of true weirdness, charitable choice could well result in a net LOSS of revenue to faith-based organizations doing social justice work, due to the parallel deep cuts in community block grants, education, and affordable housing .

Moreover, warnings (frequently FROM the faith-based service agencies) that faith-based initiatives should provide a partnership with effective government anti-poverty programs—and not a substitute—have not been heeded.

To compound the problem, the bulk of support is going to the most conservative evangelical groups that politically support the administration rather than to the most effective faith-based initiatives regardless of political affiliation.

And there’s the endless and important question as to how much witnessing to their faith is acceptable from these well-funded groups. Then, too, what about just hiring practices? Can these funded organizations refuse to hire, say, gay social workers because being gay is, in their estimation, an affront to God’s will? Or could they refuse to serve such a person? Who’s going to provide services to these people falling through newly-formed cracks in the human service array?

So, I would say that in spite of the fact that Mr. Bush tosses the word “faith” around with great abandon, his actual program proposals lack moral vision almost entirely. Our nation deserves better.

And thank all that is holy, I don’t have to face the possibility that I actually agree with Mr. Bush about this!

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