The Faith-based Opportunity … and Dilemma

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on July 10, 2008

Obama’s recent presence at the AME Convention in St. Louis underscored a critical campaign and personal move to underscore the significance of religious interests in this election. Embracing the faith based initiative concept is at once an embrace of the centuries old role of the black church working in the community and also an understanding that “government can’t do it all.”

If Obama wants to cut poverty in half he’ll need strong and influential allies in communities of poverty to assist. I think an Obama faith based program would be a tremendous boon for the black community and the black church. The black church has the history and trust of the community to pull the program off and make it efficient and effective.

The community would receive much needed on-hands attention from a group that knows its ills and causes. Because of its inherent distrust of the GOP and President Bush the black church was skittish about the current program despite its promise. As promising as the Obama program would be in the future, in the near term he may have to endure some short term turbulence from the left, which doesn’t respect the tremendous role the church could play or understand the heroic work of the black church in the past.

Clearly, this is a very smart and calculated political move on the part of Obama with several simultaneous advantages. One: highly vocal support of faith-based initiatives can score critical points with the larger evangelical community, thereby gradually gnawing away at that traditional Republican base and causing problems for Sen. McCain. Two: he can do the above via a Black church platform, hence offering the opportunity to do so in a comfortable political environment.

Three: he can safely conduct Black outreach in a respectable Black church environment since the majority of African Americans are either affiliated with a religious institution or attend church every Sunday. He can express his gratitude to Black voters without appearing “too Black.” Four: it can further diminish and deflate the prominence of the Rev. Wright controversy.

However, there are tangible concerns about how far the next President should go in relying on faith-based community revitilization and anti-poverty efforts. Politically, if Obama scores enough significant support from the traditionally Republican-leaning evangelical community, a question is raised: what will he owe that voting bloc in his first term in an attempt to secure a second term? But, there are also significant social and cultural consequences to the increasingly active role of churches conducting government activities, namely a concern over responsible separation of church and state and how we procure the public trust.


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