The Common Good

A New Faith-Based Initiative

Sojomail - July 3, 2008


Property's not worth killing someone over.

- a 911 dispatcher trying to convince Joe Horn, of Pasadena, Texas, not to confront two burglary suspects with his shotgun. This week, a grand jury cleared Horn of all criminal charges after he shot and killed both men, who were undocumented immigrants from Colombia. (Source: The Los Angeles Times)

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A New Faith-Based Initiative

In 2000 I was part of a small group of religious leaders invited to Austin, Texas, to discuss a new White House faith-based initiative with George W. Bush before he came to Washington, D.C., as president. I was an early supporter of the initiative because I believed that partnerships between the faith community and government in alleviating poverty were both necessary and appropriate within the framework of the Constitution. For two years I was in regular conversation with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, under the leadership of John DiIulio and, later, Jim Towey, and Sojourners and Call to Renewal collaborated with the new office on a number of dialogues and initiatives. But my relationship with the White House ended after my public criticism of President Bush's path to war in Iraq. Yet I continued to support the idea and promise of the faith-based initiative.

But I was disappointed with the corresponding lack of policy commitment to reduce poverty by the Bush administration, and the eventual politicizing of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives along partisan lines. Instead of a partnership, this initiative became a substitute for necessary public policies attacking the causes and consequences of poverty within the United States. Despite this failure, my commitment to public-private partnership involving the faith community has never diminished.

I have hoped that both presidential candidates would re-commit the nation to this necessary and positive vision of partnership between the public sector and the faith community on the goals of poverty reduction. Today, Barack Obama outlined his plan to engage faith-based and community organizations from the White House in order to create "the foundation of a new project of American renewal." Obama affirmed the idea of a faith-based initiative on the solid foundations of both real partnership and the necessary commitment of government to sound public policy to reduce poverty. Prior to today, the danger was that Democrats might revert to old secular biases and end the faith-based program altogether, preferring only public-sector approaches as the remedy to poverty instead of also forging vital partnerships with civil society that include the faith community. It was good to see that the failures of the Bush faith-based initiative have not deterred Obama from proposing a robust vision of his own.

The key to today's proposal is that it is based on public and faith-based partnership, and will not become another replacement for sound public policy. To truly be successful, this initiative must utilize the unique resources and identity of the faith community, while at the same time recognizing the indispensible role that government and public policy must play in tackling the root causes of poverty. Obama's proposals also contain necessary protections for religious liberty, pluralism, and constitutional safeguards.

This initiative has the potential to unite people across partisan lines. I truly hope that a recommitment to engaging the valuable role of faith-based organizations doesn't get mired in the endless political debates of the past while God's concerns for the weak and vulnerable get ignored.

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Back to Square One for Zimbabwe's Ubiquitous Billionaires (by Nontando Hadebe)

People did not talk much because of fear, but there was a guarded hope that perhaps the elections would bring a change. The withdrawal by the opposition took many of us by surprise, but it soon became apparent that the escalating violence and suppression of the opposition made it impossible to have free and fair elections. The government went ahead with the elections. The outcome was predictable. As things stand now it feels like we have come full circle, back to square one! There is talk of possible negotiations between government and the opposition. Should such negotiations take place, there will be a need for mediators to guide the process. Please pray for the appointment of visionary and courageous mediators committed to justice and democracy who will provide clear guidelines and frameworks for the negotiations. Also continue to pray that the ongoing international, regional, and continental pressure on Zimbabwe would continue until a solution is found.

Jesus for President: Declaring Independence from Partisan Politics (by Becky Garrison)

Soccer moms, NASCAR dads, and now holy hipsters have been touted by political pundits and the mainstream media as the group du jour that political candidates must court in order to win the coveted presidential prize. Using select books and blogs, they conclude that these missional millennials have abandoned the political party of their parents and will be casting their ballots for Obama come November. However, as Jim Wallis wrote earlier this year, "This doesn't mean young evangelicals are automatically becoming Democrats (and I don't think they should). It does mean that their agenda is broader and deeper, no longer beholden to a single partisan ideology."

Faith-Based Initiatives Are Neither Democrat nor Republican (by Wes Granberg-Michaelson)

In the wake of Sen. Obama's proposals on faith-based initiatives, I listened to political pundits characterize this as simply another shift by Obama toward the political "center." All this knee-jerk analysis totally misses the point. I've followed the development of this idea for years. In September 2000 I was at a breakfast for religious leaders at the White House when President Clinton said that regardless of who was elected that fall (Bush vs. Gore), faith-based initiatives would be one of the new challenges to be worked on by any president. And the best speech on the subject was given by Al Gore during that campaign. So this never was seen as a "Republican" idea until Bush was elected, and then many more Democrats began to distance themselves from the initiative.

Low: Struggling but Hopeful (by John Potter)

Low is a band that defies easy characterization. Over their 15 years as lauded pioneers of the minimalist brand of indie rock they're so closely identified with (they're not crazy about the oft-applied term "slow-core"), the husband-and-wife team of guitarist Alan Sparhawk and drummer Mimi Parker -- plus a revolving roster of bassists -- has seemed to thrive on juxtaposition. At once reflective of their faith and steeped in the violence of the human condition, Low's music is anchored by the couple's haunting vocal harmonies.

Seeds of Liberation (Unveiling India's Apartheid, Part 2, by Adam Taylor)

The majority of Dalit children are either denied access to primary education or only receive instruction in Hindi or other native languages. The public school system has become a dismal refuge for the children of the lower and middle castes, where Dalit students face daily abuse by teachers and students. According to a government report, 73 percent of Dalit students drop out in secondary school. Instruction in English represents a passport to higher education and India's service- and high-tech economy. Already OMCC has set up 81 schools in rural villages across the country. The combination of educational opportunity and asset creation are planting seeds of social and economic empowerment.

Let Them Eat Bubbles (by Elizabeth Palmberg)

"Grain Markets Panic Buying, Export Controls, and Food Riots," trumpets the headline of one Web site I read while researching the world food price crisis for Sojourners' July issue. Was the site a moral critique of how our corporation-driven, anything-goes global economy has caused the cost of food to skyrocket, driving 100 million people into poverty? Actually, the "food riots" headline is geared to telling people how to profit from others' suffering. The next sentence reads: "Long-term global demand and supply trends in the agricultural sector remain very favorable for investors." Morally repugnant as that segue is, the real problem is that speculation probably helped cause the food price crisis (in concert with other factors such as agrofuel production, rising meat-eating, and the gutting of poor-country farm policy).

Unveiling India's Apartheid (Part 1, by Adam Taylor)

In the shadow of India's economic miracle lies a people often deemed untouchable, largely impoverished, and seemingly invisible. Bubbling beneath the shimmering image of a new India is a cauldron of inequality, caste-based subordination, and religious tension that could boil over into even greater civil strife and violence. At the center of these forces lies the Dalit struggle. While Dalit rights are often denied and hopes are crushed, growing political, economic, and spiritual empowerment is fueling a movement for liberation. The emancipation of the Dalits could serve as the key to securing India's nonsectarian, democratic future. However, this future collides with the ancient system of castes, which still confers profound benefits or burdens upon Indians simply because of their birth names.

Don't Shoot! (by Mary Nelson)

"Don't shoot -- I want to grow up," read the protest sign an 11-year-old boy held in the wake of 30-plus shootings of Chicago schoolchildren this school year. The Supreme Court's recent assertion of the individual's right to own a gun for self-defense stands in sharp contrast to the anguished pleas of the father of one of the schoolchildren to stop the tragic gun deaths in our community, and to get rid of the guns so available on our streets. His pleas reminded me of Jeremiah's account of Rachel weeping for her children.

Gundamentalism (by Rachel Smith)

Last week's headlines blared the news: The Supreme Court has ruled that there is a constitutional right to gun ownership. I'm not surprised -- disheartened, dismayed, disappointed, yes -- but not surprised. The photo accompanying the headline was of jubilant gun rights supporters carrying signs saying "Guns Save Lives." "The Great Object: Every Man Be Armed." "If guns kill people, do pens misspell words?" And that's the real problem with gundamentalism (and I do see this ruling as an offshoot of gundamentalism). Its adherents believe that nothing is as important as the right to own a gun. Or many guns. Or many kinds of guns. The fact that 30,000 people a year, 80 a day, are killed by guns is not nearly as important as the right to own a gun.

Forbidden Revivals and the Birth of Bluegrass (by Phyllis Tickle)

In the days of my childhood, summer was the season of the big-tent revivals. More than any other of the myriad things that summer could be and was, it was the revivals that were for me the major descriptor of what a complete and proper summer was. This rather peculiar fixation was, no doubt, due in large measure to the fact that I was forbidden to even get near the things. For my Ph.D., Presbyterian father, everything that happened under those tents was suspect, and most of it was downright dangerous.

D#@*$% Environmentalists! (by Brian McLaren)

A friend of mine recalls a dinner-table conversation one day when she was a schoolgirl. Her dad had come home unusually frustrated from his job as a city planner. "D#@*$% environmentalists!" he said over dinner. "Dad, I thought you were an environmentalist," she said. "Why are you so upset?" "All day long," he answered, "environmentalists come to me with problems and complaints, and business people come to me with ideas and projects. Why can't the environmentalists be proactive and come to the table with some creative ideas to make things better, instead of just trying to get in the way of things they don't want to see happen?"

Sacred Materialism (by Abayea Pelt)

As a convert to Orthodox Christianity, I have come to appreciate the strong connection in our tradition between spirituality and creation. Many of our great feasts, minor celebrations, and daily prayers involve joining prayer, blessing, and the material world. Unlike Western Christians who remember the three kings on Jan. 6, 13 days after Christmas we celebrate Theophany, the feast of the baptism of Christ in the Jordan. Part of this feast includes blessing water in our churches or processing to a nearby pond, sea, or ocean where a priest will toss a cross into the water, transforming the whole body into a holy water font.


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