New White House Guidelines for Faith Groups

New White House Guidelines for Faith Groups

Today, on the National Day of Prayer, President Obama issued a proclamation that said, in part:

“We give thanks for our democracy that respects the beliefs and protects the religious freedom of all people to pray, worship, or abstain according to the dictates of their conscience. Let us pray for all the citizens of our great Nation, particularly those who are sick, mourning, or without hope, and ask God for the sustenance to meet the challenges we face as a Nation. May we embrace the responsibility we have to each other, and rely on the better angels of our nature in service to one another. Let us be
humble in our convictions, and courageous in our virtue. Let us pray for those who are suffering around the world, and let us be open to opportunities to ease that suffering.”

These lofty words come on the heels of new guidelines issued by the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships for organizations that seek to “ease suffering” with funding from the federal government. The 50-page report clarifies recommendations made by two inter-faith advisory councils and includes “suggested answers” to commonly asked questions that may be asked about such programs.

The advisory councils were made up of diverse groups of leaders, both religious and secular, Melissa Rogers, the first council’s chairperson, said in a White House blog entry.

“While there are serious differences among these leaders on some church-state issues, the group was able to unite around a call for certain reforms of the partnerships the government forms with religious and secular nonprofits,” wrote Rogers. She outlined those reforms as follows:

1. “Standards regarding the relationship between religion and government are monitored and enforced in ways that avoid excessive entanglement between religious bodies and governmental entities.”

2. “Decisions about federal grants are free from political interference or even the appearance of such interference and made on the basis of merit, not on the basis of the religious affiliation of a recipient organization or lack thereof.”

3. “Beneficiaries of federally funded social services may receive services from a nonreligious provider if they object to receiving services from a religious provider.”

4. “Providers are given detailed and practical guidance regarding the principle that any explicitly religious activities they offer must be clearly separated, in time or location, from programs that receive direct federal support; subsidized with purely private funds, and completely voluntary for social service beneficiaries.”

5. “Social service intermediaries that disburse federal funds are instructed about their special obligations, and recipients of subawards are made aware of the church-state standards that apply to their use of federal aid.”

6. “Plans are developed to train government employees and grant recipients on the church-state rules that apply to these partnerships.”

7. “Regulations, guidance documents, and policies that have implications for faith-based and neighborhood organizations are posted online, along with lists of organizations receiving federal financial assistance.”

The first interfaith advisory council issued recommendations in March 2010. This report offers additional guidance, Rogers said in her post.

Writing for Religion News Service, Adelle Banks said the guidance “breaks little new ground,” “leaves critical questions unanswered,” and “does not resolve the issue of religious groups’ ability to discriminate in hiring and firing,” according to “church-state watchdogs.”

The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, for example, told Banks that the guidance “falls short.”

“A fundamentalist Christian church can still run a publicly funded social service program and hang out a sign that says, ‘Government job opening: No Catholics, Jews, Muslims or Atheists need apply,'” said Lynn.

There go those “fundamentalist” oppressors again. Everyone knows social service programs run by “Catholics, Jews, Muslims, or Atheists” would never discriminate against them.

What do you think?

Will the new guidelines impact your church’s or ministry’s outreach?

Rick Perry and the “Rainbow Right”

Rick Perry and the “Rainbow Right”

TEXAS FIRE: Governor Rick Perry speaks to God (and the nation) at his recent prayer rally. Rev. C.L. Jackson, a staunch supporter, stands in the background.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry may have only just announced his campaign for the U.S. presidency, but his bid has already captured plenty of attention, as speculation stirs that he could soar to the top of the GOP field. Among Christians, much of the attention stems from Perry’s recent push to distinguish himself as an evangelical candidate. A week before his announcement, Perry held “The Response” prayer rally in Houston. The event called on Christians to fast and pray for a nation in crisis, based on similar gatherings recorded in Joel 2 and the book of Acts. About 30,000 people attended and another 80,000 viewed the live web stream, The Response web site said.

When he announced his bid for the presidency in South Carolina on Saturday, Perry again referred to his Christian faith, taking a moment to thank God for the sacrifices of U.S. soldiers and saying America values “the rights that are endowed to every human being by a loving God.”

Perry’s evangelical push could propel him ahead of Mitt Romney, a Mormon, and other candidates who haven’t galvanized the religious right to the same degree. On Saturday, another evangelical Christian, Michele Bachmann, led Iowa’s Ames Straw Poll, which didn’t include Perry.

Perry’s ultimate success could depend on support from politically conservative African, Hispanic, and Asian American Christians, a group Business Insider called the “Rainbow Right.” Two influential minority evangelical leaders were honorary co-chairs of The Response: Tony Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas and host of The Urban Alternative, and Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Since the minority vote tends to lean left, the growth of the Rainbow Right could mean trouble for President Obama.

Pastor C.L. Jackson of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church is a Republican supporter of Perry who attended The Response at Perry’s invitation.

“If you were there, you heard a good noise, a good response, ‘Amen,’ and, ‘thank God,’” Jackson said. “I came home feeling good about our nation even in this bad, crippling economy.”

Perry read Scripture and prayed for political and religious leaders, the military, and people struggling with grief, addiction, unemployment and foreclosures. The controversial event came under fire from those who saw it as a violation of the separation of church and state and as an endorsement of Christianity over other religions. However, The Response was billed as an apolitical event, and Perry said during his prayer that God has a “salvation agenda” rather than a political agenda.

“Brother C.L., you and I have had this conversation,” Perry said to Jackson. “He’s a wise, wise God, and he’s wise enough to not be affiliated with any political party, or . . . any man-made institutions. He’s calling all Americans, of all walks of life, to seek him, to return to him, to experience his love and his grace and his acceptance, experience a fulfilled life regardless of the circumstances.”

Jackson campaigned for Perry from pulpits and on the radio when Perry ran for governor. He told Urban Faith that political leaders need to have a relationship with God, and called The Response “a dynamic move” for Perry.“This man put everything that he had on prayer with God,” Jackson said. “In other words, he believed in talking to God. That’s how God deals with us, through conversation, talking to us and guiding us through his words.”

“Other people would try to do it themselves, or follow someone they think knows. Many people are trying to lead this world and God has not turned the world over to them,” he said.

Other Christian leaders argued that it was inappropriate for a politician to organize a religious event. Barry W. Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, wrote a letter to Perry criticizing The Response as “direct government sponsorship of religion.”

“To be blunt, you have overstepped your constitutional bounds,” Lynn wrote. “I am a Christian minister and would like to remind you that it is not the job of government officials to call people to pray, recommend that they fast or prod them to take part in other religious activities. That job belongs to me and my fellow clergy.”

The Response has also come under criticism because of its ties to controversial religious speakers and endorsers, particularly the New Apostolic Reformation, which the Texas Observer reported on in “Rick Perry’s Army of God.” These relationships could prove problematic if Perry ascends to the general election, where far-right religious connections are likely to turn off moderates.

As Perry plows forward, he’s touting his economic experience as governor of Texas, where he said about 40 percent of new American jobs have been created since June 2009—an important success to Americans who have been disappointed with the economy under President Obama. However, Perry’s “Texas miracle” is not exactly what it appears to be. Unemployment in Texas rose to 8.2 percent in June, leaving the state in 26th place.

Jackson believes Rick Perry is the best person to lead America out of a crisis with God’s guidance, but in the end, he said putting one’s hope in any political candidate alone, rather than in God, would be a mistake.

“No man is going to straighten this out,” Jackson said. “He’s too messed up. The hope is in Christ.”