Rev Tom Littleton
March 25, 2017
Most people have heard the terminology of The White House Faith Based Neighborhood Partnerships (FBP) at least in the recent change in language when referring to churches and ministries who participate in social programs.
These organizations have almost universally come to be known as faith-based groups. A lesser known fact is that religious and Christian groups are participating in government funding program grants to provide social services to their community.
The concept is nothing new. Today’s programs actually date back to the George H Bush Charitable Choice program and the Clinton era welfare reforms. In early 2001 Bush W actually instituted the current White House program by executive order allowing access to public funds for churches and ministries/ religious groups who had a proven track record of helping their communities. However very little funding was budgeted toward it.
As the Obama administration took office LGBTQ groups like the Human Rights Campaign called for an end to the FBP as funding discriminatory groups. Instead the focus changed and HRC and other influential groups were invited to serve on the Presidents Inaugural Advisory Board to reform the program as soon vast amounts of tax money were about to be infused into it.
A Faith Based department was formed within every federal agency to oversee the granting process and track, among other things, “the equitable distribution” of the programs and funding. As the advisory board took shape and reforms began, Fred Davies of the ARCUS Foundation and Harry Knox, founding director of Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program, became key players. According to the conservative CBN news, the advisory board was primarily a liberal composition but some very conservative leaders chose to participate.
The board also began to reflect President Obama’s interfaith outreach and liberal ecumenical religious taste. As was true in all federal agencies the FBP program began to resemble the activist culture of the administration and those ministries participating in them would soon realize not only the impact of the inclusion their new partners but also the obligations they now had as “government contractors.”
The HRC and ARCUS were able use their place on the Obama reforms board to focus on LGBTQ anti-discrimination. These efforts included the establishment of the programs guidelines and direct engagement of developing the philosophy driving the funding. Being part of the board allowed HRC and ARCUS to represent pro LGBTQ outreaches but also to be on the front lines of forcing out or lobbing against anything deemed as a “license to discriminate”. As a result of these partnerships activists gained significant advantage as the battle over redefining marriage heated up. The yoking together of conservatives, liberals and activist allowed leverage against Religious Freedom Restoration Acts as they became a renewed focus in each state.
“Religious Exemptions” were quickly weakened or being done away with entirely becoming a relic of the “racist religious past.” Given the pro gay posture of the Obama administration, the LGBTQ lobby was being assured great success in advancing their goals while weakening opposition.
One example of their major victories came in July 2014 with the Obama executive action amending EO 11478 and EO 11246 to include LGBTQ non-discrimination for Federal Agencies and Contractors.
Some conservative Christian groups did write a letter to the President prior to the signing of this executive order calling for a “robust religious exemption” to protect the religious freedoms of those conservatives involved. This letter outlines clearly the dangers posed by these rules for LGBTQ hiring and non-discrimination. No exemptions were included leaving the clear and present danger to religious freedoms in force.
It is also to be noted that NONE of those ministers or groups calling for the exemptions began seeking an exit strategy once they failed to achieve the protections. Instead, the words of participant Harry Knox of the HRC Religion and Faith Program leave a haunting echo for anyone paying attention. “The (FBP advisory) council’s makeup was reminiscent of the president’s continuing approach to creating dialog,” It has yet to fully surface what kind of compromises by conservative evangelical and religious groups resulted from this ”dialog.”
For those hoping that the new administration might make provisions to restore and protect religious freedoms for conservative religious groups involved in Faith Based Partnerships, the news of January 31st 2017 was gravely disappointing.
All that really remains at this point is to see how much funding will go into the new administrations FBP and how far the compromise of conservative participants will go. The future of Religious Freedom in America to live out the convictions of conservative faith in the public square, even in our care of the poor and needy, might not be a very bright after all.