The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

The Faith-Based Bamboozle

This post is pretty much in the vein of the previous post about Iraq, because when I read the latest news of the upcoming book on Bush’s faith-based initiative I had the same eerie feeling of hearing someone who was “on the inside” saying a lot of what I’ve been saying from the outside. I’ve only been blogging about what I’ve read in books and the media. David Kuo is writing from the inside, as a former deputy director of Bush’s White House Office of Faith-Baseed initiatives, and he says the whole thing was a cynical, political faith-based bamboozle. But he’s got the conservative Christian cred that might make a few more people listen.

“Tempting Faith’s” author is David Kuo, who served as special assistant to the president from 2001 to 2003. A self-described conservative Christian, Kuo’s previous experience includes work for prominent conservatives including former Education Secretary and federal drug czar Bill Bennett and former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Kuo, who has complained publicly in the past about the funding shortfalls, goes several steps further in his new book.

He says some of the nation’s most prominent evangelical leaders were known in the office of presidential political strategist Karl Rove as “the nuts.”

“National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as ‘ridiculous,’ ‘out of control,’ and just plain ‘goofy,’” Kuo writes.

More seriously, Kuo alleges that then-White House political affairs director Ken Mehlman knowingly participated in a scheme to use the office, and taxpayer funds, to mount ostensibly “nonpartisan” events that were, in reality, designed with the intent of mobilizing religious voters in 20 targeted races.

Oh, but it gets better than that. Check out the video about Karl Rove’s derision for the Republican’s religious right base, which may be an example what Tucker Carlson said about the contempt of the Republican elite for the evangelical base.

Remember all those black faces you saw at Bush’s speech earlier this year, around the time of the vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment? I’m pretty sure TD Jakes was among them. Well, part of the faith-based initiative was designed to reach out to them personally.

Nineteen out of the 20 targeted races were won by Republicans, Kuo reports. The outreach was so extensive and so powerful in motivating not just conservative evangelicals, but also traditionally Democratic minorities, that Kuo attributes Bush’s 2004 Ohio victory “at least partially … to the conferences we had launched two years before.”

From what I saw with my own eyes, it worked. Even in my own family. But what didn’t happen was those same “traditionally Democratic minorities” came up short when Dubya started handing out that good government scratch to his evangelist friends. As I mentioned earlier, they didn’t get any. At least, not unless they’re really good friends of the Bush administration.

However, though I haven’t read the book, based on what was said in the Olberman video, I have to disagree somewhat with Kuo on one point; that not much was delivered to the evangelical base. The Bush administration may not have been able to find examples to prove its claim that government regulations were “too restrictive” on religious organizations seeking public funds, but with the help of Congress they did an awful lot to lift those onerous regulations whether there was any evidence of their restrictiveness or not.

I wrote about how the Salvation Army got 95% of its budget via the tax-funded “faith-base initiative” and then turned around and used that budget to discriminate on the basis of religion and sexual orientation. That includes asking for lists of non-christian and gay employees so that they may be purged. Assuming that these employees are also taxpayers, the Salvation Army is using their own tax-dollars to discriminate against them, and with government protection because the faith-based initiative My guess is that some of the same tax-dollars went to the Salvation Army’s legal fees after they got sued.

But the lifting of “restrictive regulations” in favor of funding religious organizations for the purpose, at least in part if we’re honest, of spreading their faith goes further than that. I posted about the relaxing of licensing requirements and other regulations, as well as the Bush administration weakening rules designed to protect the separation of church and state; a move which, when combined with a intentional lack of oversight, leads to tax-payer-funded proselytizing.

There’s more. I’ve spent this week reading the New York Times series which includes some disturbing stories, like how workers in religious organizations have few rights or protections in terms of discrimination or even the right to organize. Next up for exemptions? Possibly hospitals run by religious organizations.

There’s tax breaks too. The IRS is investigating an anti-war church (that’s also pro-gay), and there may be more investigations to come. But there are tax breaks for believers to look forward to in some cases. Belief-based tax breaks, that is.

For tens of millions of Americans, the Rev. Rick Warren is best known for his blockbuster spiritual guide, “The Purpose Driven Life,” which has sold more than 25 million copies; his success as the founder of the 22,000-member Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.; and his efforts on behalf of some of the world’s neediest people.

But for tens of thousands of ministers — and their financial advisers — Pastor Warren will also be remembered as their champion in a fight over the most valuable tax break available to ordained clergy members of all faiths: an exemption from federal taxes for most of the money they spend on housing, which typically represents roughly a third of their compensation. Pastor Warren argued that the tax break is essential to poorly paid clergy members who serve society.

The tax break is not available to the staff at secular nonprofit organizations whose scale and charitable aims compare to those of religious ministries like Pastor Warren’s church, or to poorly paid inner-city teachers and day care workers who also serve their communities.

That tax break may also be applied to paycheck and publications like Warrens bestselling book. And before you offer an argument regarding pastoral poverty, remember that we life in an age of megachurches and prosperous ministers who preach a gospel of wealth to congregations who can ill afford to part with much of what they earn, whose tithes support ministerial lifestyles that include multiple million-dollar homes in some cases. Tax. Free.

Meanwhile, overseas, the Boston Globe continues it’s look at faith-based organizations’ work abroad, which I blogged about earlier, using tax dollars to spread the gospel abroad. [Via Prometheus.]

Pressure from medical missionaries helped focus the Bush administration on AIDS in Africa and on genocide in Sudan. It is also one of the forces behind President Bush’s faith-based initiative — his effort to give religiously inspired groups more federal funds to provide services such as healthcare, education, and food to people in the Third World.

… Though many groups eschew federal funds for fear of detracting from their religious goals, the world of medical missions is so intertwined that federal dollars are sometimes involved in missions even if the sponsor does not receive government money.

…The Bush administration’s efforts to clear obstacles to faith-based groups receiving foreign-aid contracts have expanded the reach of medical missions, as the missionaries themselves have changed the image of the United States overseas.

…At Medical Ambassadors International, one of the leading groups in medical missions, missionaries are trained in a strategy called “Community Health Evangelism,” which aims to fully integrate healthcare with Scriptures…

“We don’t ask people to convert. We ask them to follow Jesus,” he said…

“The church is the custodian of the true solution to AIDS,” Muindi said, referring to the behavioral changes that can stop the disease’s spread. “If there’s anything positive about the pandemic, it’s the way people are more receptive to the Gospel when they have a terminal illness. The church has the mandate to deal with such things, and they have the message to bring about a change in behavior that is lasting.”

We even pay for movie night in some cases.

Christian groups are running health care, education, and disaster relief in many Muslim nations, and USAID has awarded about $53 million from 2001-05 to fund projects by Christians in Pakistan, Indonesia, and Afghanistan alone. Both the aid organizations and the US government hope the projects will sow good will in a region growing increasingly wary of the West.

…While Christian Hospital officials insist they are there to heal, not to proselytize, World Witness’s own literature suggests that part of its mission is to spread Christianity.

A brochure for the hospital says “The Jesus Film” “is shown to all patients,” and goes on to say that “the hospital and staff feel that through Christ, terrorism will be eliminated in this part of the world,” a phrase that offended Muslim leaders who say Islam is about peace, and not violence.

“If I am given such a message, I ask, `Why are you spreading hatred among human beings? What is your agenda?’ ” said Abdul Rauf Farooqi , a Lahore-based member of the board of the National Religious Schools Council.

Christian groups say that view is mistaken. The Rev. Frank van Dalen , World Witness’s executive director, said “The Jesus Film” is only shown in the waiting room, and not constantly. He winced when he was shown the brochure’s reference to eliminating terrorism through Christ.

“That’s a dumb thing to say. It doesn’t work that way,” he said.

Still, critics say, the Bush administration’s special efforts to reach out to faith-based providers, the vast majority of whom are Christian, almost can’t help but raise suspicions in Muslim countries.

The pattern is that the evangelist base makes noise, and the administration gives them what they want in terms of taxpayer dollars, and their taxpayer funded proselytizing goes right on.

For six decades, CARE has been a vital ally to the US government. It supplied the famed CARE packages to Europe’s starving masses after World War II, and its work with the poor has been celebrated by US presidents. So the group was thrilled when it received a major contract from the Bush administration to fight AIDS in Africa and Asia.

But this time, instead of accolades came attacks. Religious conservatives contended that the $50 million contract, under which CARE was to distribute money to both secular and faith-based groups, was being guided by an organization out of touch with religious values.

Senator Rick Santorum , a Pennsylvania Republican, charged last year that CARE was “anti-American” and “promoted a pro-prostitution agenda.” Focus on the Family, the religious group headed by James Dobson , said the agency that delivered the contract, the US Agency for International Development, was a “liberal cancer.”

The complaining paid off. CARE’s $50 million contract is being phased out this year; it has been replaced with a $200 million program of grants that is targeted at faith-based providers, and overseen by USAID itself.

…The pressure on CARE is emblematic of that facing many other secular groups. President Bush’s faith-based initiative has not only increased funding for church groups, but also raised the expectations of the religious right, which has asserted a stronger role in setting policy.

The pattern of outcry by religious conservatives, followed by accommodation by the administration, has been replicated on numerous occasions at USAID, from personnel decisions to choices of who runs humanitarian programs overseas.

Now tell me this. If you have a specific religious population being funded by the government to deliver social services, but also using those resources to proselytize while the state willingly looks the other way, what do you have? If this happens without oversight, then what do you have? If they’re rewarded with tax-breaks and government funds, what do you have? If all of the above stems from a belief that all social services should be in the hands of religious organizations, with little to no regulation or oversight, what do you end up with?

Kuo’s book seems to suggest that the Republicans’ evangelical base was bamboozled by a faith-based initiative from an administration that laughed at them behind their backs while delivering little to them in terms of policy. That may be partially true, and I’ll have to read Kuo’s book to see exactly what he has to say. But it looks more like at least some evangelicals got quite a bit for their support of the president and his party, in terms of federal dollars, a great deal of leeway in how that money is used, and a significant degree of influence in programs related to those federal dollars.

If that’s true, it may not be the base that was bamboozled, but the rest of us non-believers instead.

One Comment

  1. Great post – I’ve been saying the same things too. It’s nice to see somebody from the inside speak out.

    love your blog btw.

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