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Revamped Faith-Based Effort Reignites Funding Question

Black Voice News, News Report, Staff Posted: Feb 18, 2009

President Obama won the praises of local religious leaders when he promised the new faith-based office would reach out to organizations that provide help no matter their religious or political beliefs.

He said the top priority of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will be making community groups an integral part of our economic recovery and poverty a burden fewer have to bear when recovery is complete. While most religious leaders across the Inland region welcomed the expanded and redefined office some Black clergy remain skeptical saying the new administration must restore transparency and accountability. Critics have charged that the Bush administration focused its faith based efforts too narrowly on evangelical Christian churches, while leaving Black churches out in the cold.

Rev. Paul S. Munford, pastor of New Joy Baptist Church and president of the Riverside Clergy Association says there is a perception among some Black clergy that the faith based office is just a financial watering hole for right-wing white evangelists. Bushs faith based program amounted to little more than a compassionate con game. It was a fraud that was shamelessly abused for partisan ends, said Munford. Munford claims despite all of his talk about inclusiveness Bush basically excluded clergy from the Congress of National Black Churches which represents the eight major African-American denominations and includes 65,000 churches and 20 million members. Instead said Munford he handpicked a few politically sympathetic Black ministers and featured them prominently in his public campaign. We felt used. Black churches were left out in the cold, said Munford.

In his 2003 tell-all book Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, David Kuo former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives said Bush figures openly courted Black ministers and never had any serious commitment to helping the poor. He said they used the faith-based office primarily as a partisan political toy.

That, of course, didnt stop the administration from lying about the initiative, said Kuo. He said Bush once asked for figures on how much money the administration had given to faith based-groups so he could cite the figure in remarks to a gathering of Black clergy.

When Kuo said the answer was virtually nothing, the former president decided to apply some creative math. Kuo said Bush chose to go with the figure of 8 billion dollars! That wasnt new money, handed out to new faith-based groups; that was the total amount of federal social spending that group could apply for, explained Kuo.

Said Bush, Eight billion. Thats what well tell them. Eight billion in new funds for faith-based groups. Kuo wrote, Bush laughed and said these guys wont know the difference.

Kuo resigned in December 2003.

Bush pledged to create a $700 million federal Compassion Capital Fund to help launch a faith-based program in the inner city. The initiative was supposed to help churches pursue their focused and noble mission of stamping out teen pregnancy, drug addition, illiteracy, and homelessness. To the outrage of many church leaders when Bush drew up his budget: it included not a cent for the Compassion Capital Fund There was never money put thereto acquire. There was a lot of frustration and disappointment that you had to jump through all the hoops in order to find there was no money there, says Reverend Joshua Beckley, pastor of Ecclesia Christian Fellowship in San Bernardino.

Beckley is optimistic however, that the new initiative will undergo a comprehensive review as promised and include a council of 25 people who have grass roots experience working in poor neighborhoods. For the Black faith-based community, the issue is not so clear-cut.

Many of these organizations remain ill-informed and ineligible for funding. They need to know the importance of establishing a separate 501 3c non-profit organization, said Beckley.

I think the presidents philosophy is dead on, said Beckley.

I am convinced that this new all hands on deck composition will provide our president with a diverse panel of community experts who will offer wise counsel and sage advice on matters of importance, said Reverend Larry E. Campbell, pastor St. Paul AME Church in San Bernardino. Campbell added, I am awed that the president intends to involve the religious community in issues beyond federal funding, including more traditional concerns like religious liberty.

The newly revamped office is reigniting a contentious debate across the ideological spectrum over whether religious organizations that accept funds from the government should be allowed to discriminate when hiring.

Critics argue Bush declined to address what for many Black clergy was the most troubling aspect of his proposal. Title VII, the provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that generally bands discrimination in employment, allows bona fide religious organizations to give preference to members of their own denomination in hiring.

To us, its not a matter of discrimination, its a matter of our faith ethos, said Reverend Raymond Turner, pastor Temple Missionary Baptist Church in San Bernardino. We have people in D.C. who are out of touch with the faith-community or the behavior of the people that they are trying to reach, said Turner.

They develop guidelines and tie federal funding around principles that conflict with what we stand for. If we have to change who we are in order to acquire federal grants, than we are no longer the faith community, said Turner.

I believe the president personally understands and embraces the churchs power of healing and understanding. But given the concerns and questions surrounding the initiative we are hopeful the new administration will meet with religious leaders before drawing up new guidelines.

We need to proceed with caution insisting on transparency and accountability. We all want to be certain the taxpayer dollars are used for secular purposes, such as feeding the hungry or housing the homeless, and not for religious evangelism.

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