|As President Bush's faith-based initiative moves ahead across America, some
praise it as needed welfare reform while others say it is a back-door effort
to undermine civil rights. The initiative represents an opportunity for
multi-billions in government grants to be directed to African-American
To help put faith into action, Mr. Bush has established the White House
Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. He wants to "expand
charitable choice," through a provision of the 1996 welfare reform law and
allow religious groups to provide services such as job training and drug
treatment. "The government's encouraging deeds of the faith community," says
Black Republican Congressman J.C. Watts who introduced a bill in Congress to
allow "faith-based" organizations to compete for the $8 billion in grants the
government provides for social services.
In contrast to those who say it undermines civil rights, Republican leaders
promote the program and say people in local communities should be solutions
providers. National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise head Robert Woodson,
Sr. says "local, faith-based groups know the ills and problems of a community
far better than any government agency in Washington." A former Urban League
executive with decades of local-level program experience with religious
groups, Woodson joins Watts in declaring faith-based initiatives as the
"hallmark of President Bush's domestic agenda." Many African Americans oppose
Bush, but they should note the Pew Research poll showing 75 percent of
Americans favor faith-based initiatives. Most see it as a chance to get an
increased money flow to fight local social problems.
The federal government has been giving millions to faith-based groups
overseas for years to do things from earthquake relief to feeding the poor.
Watts' legislation puts faith-based organizations on a level playing field
with other organizations in the quest for government grants. With this
funding they can do every thing from providing shelters to reading programs."
Watts' "community renewal" legislation, passed when Clinton was president,
provides money to faith-based groups for drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
To be sure, not everyone is buying the "faith-based" gospel. Thousands of,
mostly-white, clergy say they have reservations about "injecting government
dollars and bureaucratic oversight directly into houses of worship." But,
the church is the most viable institution in black communities, and is best
suited to address the needs of the black underclass. With faith-based
funding, black ministers have an opportunity to increase black Americans'
political and financial empowerment. It's a chance for multitudes of church
leaders to pass the plate to the federal government.
William Reed is the author of "Who's Who in Black Corporate America." For questions or comments email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.