Faith-Based Fresh Start

April 12, 2009

Author: David O'Reilly

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer

Barack Obama had been president barely two weeks when he revived one of George W. Bush's most controversial programs - a bold fusion of federal money and organized religion in service to America's downtrodden.

The "faith-based initiative" funded by Washington and carried out by a sectarian "army of compassion," Bush often said, was his most important domestic creation. It outlived his administration, though with hints of change on the horizon.

"There is a force for good greater than government," Obama said in naming a 26-year-old Pentecostal pastor as director of his White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

That force is an "expression of faith, this yearning to give back . . . that reveals itself not simply in places of worship but in senior centers and shelters, schools and hospitals."

Obama's words were heavenly music to religious institutions that had shared nearly $11 billion since 2002, according to a White House tally last year.

In Philadelphia, the idea of the faith-based initiative was embraced early in the Bush years, with the city portrayed - however briefly - as its urban laboratory. Today, untold scores of faith groups here get taxpayer money for good deeds.