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December 10, 2004

Ransoming the poor

Currently, churches* who seek government contracts must promise not to discriminate or proselytize when they deliver social services. Sects who reject these reasonable terms disqualify themselves for federal support. Now, Bush wants to loosen the standards for government-funded charities.

Some liberals are sympathetic to the proposed changes, including Matt Yglesias and Steve Schiffrin. They argue that it is more important to provide for the poor than to insist on the separation of church and state.

If this were a real dichotomy, I might agree. But the Bush administration is ransoming the poor to weaken the separation of church and state. The argument is that if we relaxed these standards, more organizations would become eligible for funding to help the poor, and the poor would therefore be better off. As far as I know, this is a zero-sum game. It's not as if the government were promising a budget increase in exchange for relaxed standards. (I think Jesse is making a similar point at Pandagon.)

Budget increase or no, the effect of changing the rules would be to make hateful churches more competitive. As Yglesias and Schiffrin point out, the mainstream churches are potential liberal allies. The sects who refuse to abide by the current rules are our adversaries. So why should we support any plan that makes our constituency compete with our enemies for federal funds?

Besides, the new rules are morally wrong. Gays pay the same taxes as straights, but under the new rules, they may be eligible for only a fraction of the social services offered in their communities. The same would be true for blacks, religious minorities, atheists, and anyone else whom a faith-based organization might wish to exclude. Relaxing the preaching rules is effectively a regressive tax. Proselytizers would be paid with poor people's time in exchange for dolling out the government's money. Nice.

These are our tax dollars and we have a right to insist that they are spent on the American people. Matt argues that elite liberals should get over the Establishment clause and compromise for the greater good. This frame makes liberals out to be the bad guys. In fact, hateful sects now do themselves out of federal funds. Shouldn't they compromise on the discrimination and preaching in order to help more people? What would Jesus do? If these self-righteous proselytizers cared about doing good works for their own sake, they would agree to the existing rules. Currently, they are refusing to help the needy because the conversion-ROI is too low. The new rules would let the hateful sects have their cake and shove it down other people's throats, too.

Liberals should not acquiesce to these changes. If we do, we're suckers.

*"churches" is shorthand for "houses of worship and religious organizations"


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» Liberal Attraction to the "Faith-Based Initiative" from RANDOM THOUGHTS on Politics
Dalliance with the idea of supporting Bush's faith-based initiative has arisen once more, this time by Steve Shiffrin on the new collective blog Left2Right. I posted on this issue in mid-November when it came up on MyDD and Pandagon. . [Read More]

» Majikthise : Ransoming the poor from RelentlesslyOptimistic
Majikthise makes the point that much of the debate over faith-based initiatives is an issue of framing: some churches want to be allowed to discriminate using Federal dollars. I'll be that if these rules do get relaxed, that any non-christian, [Read More]


Just wait for the legislation privileging associational health insurance after the Republicans destroy employer-based health insurance. Guess who will provide that...

Damn. Fantastic post.

I recognize the libertarian impulse to say "A-ha! A strong state will always tend toward totalitarianism." But I fail to see the operative difference for individuals between a state in which the government is profoundly corrupted and a state or non-state in which the entire enterprise is dominated by commercial enterprises with no countervailing force, like a relatively strong (for libertarians) state. The primary difference seems to be that the state is nominally corrupt when it favors one group over another, while the commercial enterprises are engaged in enterprise which is legitimate by definition because they serve no other purpose, and have no other obligation -- it's simply a relabeling of the same transactions.

In that case, there is no institutional barrier between the individual and the larger non-state commercial institutions or dynasties, which, if the state does not regulate them in a meaningful way, will aggregate power and profit to themselves and externalize costs, so that one one would expect to see the transfer of all social assistance to religious organizations, which worked so very well in the late 19th century.

Oh, and I wrote about concrete examples of the type of thing discussed in the main post in a couple places at my shop: here and here.

This administration knows first hand how efficiently a tool religion is for crowd control. They aren't going to take a stand on the proselytizing. Sit through an AA meeting and you can't tell where the preaching ends and re-integration into society through structured conversation begins. The administration (and the larger military-industrial complex behind it) know that a more religious populace
is also a more fervent, and less questioning populace.
One possible solution would be to not funnel money into social welfare this way, but rather to remove churches and religious institutions from the 501(c)3 setion of our tax code (do we really want it lumped in there under the same title and guidelines as our educational institutions?!?) and tax them for everything they've got. then put this directly into the hands of the less fortunate.

Kevin - they weren't for you. They were directly targeted at the question of faith-based program-related activity.

And I understand what you're telling me, and I'll go do some of the reading. And yet, I consider it a radical utopianism to believe that that corporations (or dynasties) won't arrogate to themselves the power of violence in the absence of any meaningful countervailing power. Such is the nature of human beings with power. And who would gainsay them?

As far as the history of the late 19th century, last I checked, the Pinkertons were a purely private entity, called in to protect property rights, and they cracked a lot of heads. Company towns also come to mind as a lovely force for oppression and impoverishment. And of course, there are slumlords. Now it's true that if the government hadn't enforced the property rights of the owners of those properties, the level of oppression would have been much lower. So, it's true that there was a pretty heavy dependence on government.

I also truly resent the terms "deprogramming" and "Marxist". You're not doing yourself any favors when you throw those words around.

From comments at Left2Right:

Interesting, why do you think a person makes the choices they make? (i.e. how do they develop their patterns in making choices?)

Incentives and socialization. The failure of the poor is often largely a failure in decision-making. Their failure in decision-making is often largely a failure in socialization. Unfortunately, socialization occurs at early life stages, so the only way for the state to address the problem of lack of socialization may be (1) sterilaztion, or (2) confiscation of children. I doubt that either solution would be acceptable to anyone.

BTW I don't agree with the "only two choices" theory of dealing with the poor. (As I was looking at it looked like I may intended it that way.)

Actually, Kevin, my original point was not that private enterprise oppressed the poor in the 19th century. (I actually think that both private enterprise *and* government screwed the poor in the 19th century, often but not always in concert. At the moment, it's a somewhat different mix, is all.)

My point was that there is simply no reason for private enterprise to take any interest in the poor, which leaves (a) government, or (b) charities, which were then (as now) largely church-driven enterprises. If government has some responsibility for the poor, then some percentage of taxes goes to the poor, which means that private enterprise will contribute whether they would or no (A central criticism of taxation by libertarians, one which I reject, but I understand it).

If churches, then it's a voluntary contribution by individuals, and any help that is given will no doubt often be conditioned in the sermon-for-supper model favored by the Salvation Army. And it doesn't work all that well in any event, as people are not terribly generous to the "undeserving" poor.

Kevin -

I'm simply not going to discuss this any more with you, now or in the future. You have a very clear ideological bias that government will only hurt, and even when I pointed out clear private enterprise problems, you wished them away (Not proper Lockean homesteading? Ask the Indians about homesteading, or the Picts, or Celts, or any first peoples. All property is based at root on violence, and the support of private property rights requires at least the implicit threat of violence.) I don't think I've said *anywhere* that private enterprise is uniformly bad, nor that capital intensive industries are automatically destructive, but no conversation can be had with someone who thinks that X is automatically bad, especially when we're having that conversation in part over a medium designed and funded originally by X.

The ridiculous thing is that I'm probably a lot closer to the left-anarchist view than you think, but the demand for ideological purity and acceptance of government as an automatic negative just turns me off. The last thing I'll say is that I put "undeserving poor" in quotes because I think it belongs in quotes. The American Calvinist notion of poverty is pretty plain, and I think it drives a lot of bad policies, as does racism. I'm sure you'll have some kind of paper to point to to show that the poor in the past were really better off than they are under a moderate welfare state, but I think that typically won't comport with the majority of the research (I know, I know, they're Marxists -- your people are Libertarians, so who's right?).

Thanks though. Your comments are always interesting, but I won't be engaging with you any more. It's not worth either of our time, frankly.

Good catch, great post! I believe nothing that comes out of the bush admin. They are well known liars and thieves. To them, it is thier JOB to gain more and more CONTROL over the citizenry's is that simple...they lie for a living.


It's a pleasure to be able to comment on your blog, and I appreciate your thinking on this issue, but a little explanation and correction is due.

This is not a good effort or understanding of the issue, but I've come to expect that. See, while you all are so concerned about protecting the state from the church, us in the church are concerned about protecting the church from the state.

The truth about the term discrimination in this context needs to be explained first. This isn't about white churches discriminating against blacks, or black churches discriminating against gays, or hispanic churches discriminating against anybody in particular, or any other common combination it seems most secular folks think this may be about. The government is just asking the churches not to discriminate against those that are not church members in the delivery of funds provided by the government for charity. Us in the church have no problem with that whatsoever. We don't really have the time or desire to deny help for those in need who are not members of the church. If need is established, then we are happy to help. To do anything else would be a violation of Christian charity, and as far as I know any other religion's charity too. Now, I'm not saying that the church is always saintly, and that some may hoard the charity for their own needy members, but if they accept the funds and they accept Christ, then they ought to be playing by the rules. And this is the beginning of a breach of the establishment clause. The state is telling the church what it can't do, and perhaps rightly so, because the state is coughing up the money.

But the discrimination issue is minor compared to the proselityzing constraints. Proselytizing or evangilising is what the church does. That's our calling and our mission and our function. If we have services, we're preaching. If we have a bible study, we're preaching. If we set up a booth at fair, we're preaching. When we provide aid to the needy, we preach. And in that case, we seek to heal. It's like the saying about giving a man a fish is just feeding him for a day, but teaching him to fish feeds him for life. We, in preaching, are sincerely trying to help. So, when the government says no proselityzing we have a problem. We know the poor need us. We know we provide charity much more efficiently than the government. We don't know how not to preach God's word.

So, to take issue with some of your comments, the president is certainly not "ransoming the poor to weaken the separation of church and state." He is trying to get some very large and active churches into the faith-based initiative program that are not willing to play by his rules. It's a tough call for both sides, but it isn't ransoming the poor. It truly is an attempt to get more of those funds out there to the poor. Consider the words of this man of God:

The Rev. James Thomas, of the Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville TN said that charitable choice is not the answer to racism, poverty and other social problems: "It would not work. I don't trust the government in our church. The black church must be free to speak. The government did nothing for the black church during the civil rights movement and today they want to give us money and shut our mouths."

Which leads me to this comment of yours that must be corrected:

"The sects who refuse to abide by the current rules are our adversaries."

See how wrong your are? Sorry for the harsh tone, I don't mean it that way, nor would it sound that way if we were talking. But you have this completely backwards. It's the highly hypocritical ultra-conservative churches that have their lips ready for the government teat, and are willing to compromise ad-infinitum for some of that tax money. My church wants nothing to do with the government telling us how to run our operation, but we sure would like more assistance helping out the needy. We don't need it. We trust the Lord. But if it is available, we can do good with it as long as we aren't being told we cannot do what we do, which is preach.

"The new rules would let the hateful sects have their cake and shove it down other people's throats, too.

Liberals should not acquiesce to these changes. If we do, we're suckers."

Quite the opposite, my friend, quite the opposite. It's opinions like this that make me think the government might be best off just canning the whole faith-based program. That would be a shame because churches sure can provide aid for the poor much swifter than the government, and without all the paperwork, but the state does need to stay out of the church's business and visa versa.

God Bless,


Here in the Plutocratic Period, we who matter have made our bargain: we get corporatist control over the economy in return for allowing theocratic control over social trivia. This latest initiative by Our Noble Lame Duck is simply part payment on the contract. What is amusing is watching the wailing Wall Addicts (in F. Paul Wilson's phrase) actually taking Mattie boy seriously. We bought and paid for his cooptation by feeding him Beltway Broth many months ago. He was of course a perfect tool for us, having been morally corrupted already by the virus of "pragmatic" uncertainty which his Alma Mater has been propagandizing for as least as far back as William James.

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