Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Guest Blogger:
My Big Sis Weighs in on Faith-Based Initiatives

With Obama's recent announcement that he plans to continue a form of Bush's Faith Based Initiatives, I for one thought he was pandering. My sister's point of view has made me rethink that.
As an Austin-based attorney who works with victims, she offers this unique perspective:

Now, don't get excited, but I happen to support this program. I know Bush only started it to suck up to religious nuts and get votes, but that was typical Bush doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.
In my office, we deal with a lot of victims of human trafficking.
The things I've seen done to children and women are unspeakably horrid.
Before the FBCI thing, the only bunch that paid to totally care for victims of human trafficking (until state and federal assistance kicked in) was the Catholic Diocese of Texas, and occasionally some Lutheran churches.
For example, a few years ago 15 barely teenage girls were kidnapped from Mexico and forced into prostitution in the Dallas area.
When they finally were rescued, before the state or feds would pay for their food, shelter, clothing, medical care, etc., the victims had to wait to be "certified" as refugees.
This is a long process, and in the meantime the poor victims were in limbo between being deported and being out in the streets.
A Catholic church out of Dallas stepped in immediately and brought the parents to the U.S. to be with their kids, housed, fed and clothed them all and made sure they got medical care.
Everything was fine once the government aid kicked in, but that took almost 6 months. The Church even paid to enroll the kids in school and made sure they had books and supplies.
The churches were never repaid by the government, either.
That type of assistance was being offered mostly by churches and local charitable organizations all over the country.
As Bush pulled back government assistance (he canceled Head Start, for God's sake!), a lot of the churches and local groups stepped in and filled the void because they knew they couldn't count on our government to help.
I don't know how it happened, but Bush passed the Initiative and its been good for faith-based AND community services.
The money can't be used to build churches or for payroll, and churches can't force anyone to join in their religious activities, including worship services.
Those funds have to go to help the needy, and I've seen it work many, many times.
I capitalized the word AND above because its not just for faith-based organizations, it's also for neighborhood and community services, like after school care and feeding and caring for the elderly and sick.

What Obama is saying is that its a good program but it needs to be better. With federal funding, locals can look after their own without having to wait for stupid Washington D.C. to come to the rescue.
We need it.

From KZ:
The photo is of my doggy niece Dixi being blessed by an Austin priest. She's not very religious but she said the blessing was "just in case."


dguzman said...

Interesting perspective. But man--I just don't like the words "faith-based" being linked with the government. Isn't there another way to fund these things?

bigsis said...

Yeah, the name is bad and I'm sure the whole idea was to get the fringe votes. Bush doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. Maybe others have negative things to say about it but I've seen the good side of it. I think it works because the money granted is monitored and spent locally so there's more direct accountability. The alternative is to keep the $ in one big pot and let the feds disburse it. Look at how FEMA worked out.

I'm sure this program will be abused eventually and become just another bureaucratic money pit, but while its working there are victims of the system getting help.

FranIAm said...

Hey Bigsis! As a card carrying Catholic, who is proud of the good foundation of Catholic social justice (of which you showed a great example) I get the big willies over this whole faith based thang.

I hear exactly what you are saying and I am sure you see a lot and probably know way more than I do.

That said, what concerns me is two-fold...

One is that each time the gov't pulls back, yes - faith based groups fill the void. However, then the government starts to fund the faith based groups.

And as you know is where it gets all cluster-fucky.

Two is this - our society increasingly becomes more individualistic and the notion that government has any reason or responsibility to help anyone gets lost.

It is a tragedy. My own Catholic church- large, white and upscale surburban, is filled with many well intended people who don't really get or want to get CAtholic social justice.

They think that the faith based way is the way to go or otherwise they might have to pay more taxes (gasp!) or support things they don't like.

Well last time I checked, a democracy (o that quaint notion!) meant collaborating. Sometimes it might mean me supporting some social program I don't love in order to make sure that the one I do is out there too.

The faith based/govt funded makes sure that kind of thing only gets worse.

Which as a person of faith, I might point out, is in my opinion, the greatest sin.

bigsis said...

franiam, thanks for being candid. The faith based/community funding is definitely not the way to go because it lets churches dip into our tax dollars, among other things. It'll go wrong, no doubt about it and in time they'll be building religious structures with the money and characterizing them as "shelters" and limousines as "buses" or whatever.

But just at this moment in time I'm okay with it. For example, the US has come to blame and hate immigrants, so they can't get much help even when they're kidnapped and sold into slavery in the US. But even the hard core haters seem to be okay with a religious based group feeding and sheltering them.

When the program goes wrong I'll be raging against it with everyone else, but for now I'm like a 9 year old wanting to believe everything will stay good. Its either that or put my head down and cry for how wrong this country has gone.

karenzipdrive said...

Obama should have retooled the initiative by calling it "community-based initiative."
That could easily include churches without riling people up.

Lulu Maude said...

Don't forget the role the churches played in the abolition of slavery and the advocacy for civil rights.

We're all so burned out by the bigotry that evangelicals indulged themselves during the Bush years that we've confused it with faith.

It's a whole 'nother thing, or can be. Without the black church in the 50s and 60s, there'd still be a poll tax.

I'm encouraged by the current evangelical interest in stewardship of God's creation,compassion for poverty. They're gettin' back to the basics.

It'll be interested to see what bridges Obama can build.

bigsis said...

Yes, what lulu said, exactly.