March 2005 Church & State | People & Events

President George W. Bush continues to evangelize for his “faith-based” initiative in the African-American community, meeting with more than 20 black religious and business leaders Jan. 25.

Though the White House session, which lasted for more than an hour, covered several topics, President Bush emphasized the faith-based program, attendees said. Robert L. Woodson Sr., an African-American conservative and founder of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, noted, “He went into a great deal about the faith-based initiative.”

James Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Com­mu­nity Initiatives, also attended the meeting, as did Bush campaign strategist Karl Rove. Press reports indicated that the attendees were conservatives who backed Bush’s re-election.

Critics have charged that Bush and Rove are using the faith-based initiative and the lure of federal funding to build support in the African-American community, which traditionally votes Democratic. Only 11 percent of blacks nationwide backed Bush in 2004.

The Los Angeles Times recently ran a report on Bush’s wooing of prominent black pastors. In one case, a pastor in Milwaukee, Bishop Sedgwick Daniels, agreed to support Bush after his church received $1.5 million in federal funds through the faith-based initiative.

Shortly before the election, Daniels turned his pulpit over to Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, an African-American Republican and Bush supporter. Steele plugged the initiative, telling the crowd, “We know what faith-based can do every single day.”

Later, Steele told the newspaper that the initiative has special appeal to black voters.

“That’s part of the strategy to create some realignment, to demonstrate to the African-American community that your issues are the same issues as our issues,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are trying to get the initiative through Congress. In late January, the Senate GOP leadership unveiled their “top ten” legislative proposals for the new term. Among them was the Charity, Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act, a faith-based measure.

The Senate GOP also called for spending $300 million to promote healthy marriages, a program that often funds religious groups, and spending $75 million for a responsible fatherhood initiative.

In other news about Bush and religion:

• Former White House staffer David Kuo has charged that the Bush administration’s commitment to the faith-based initiative was minimal, designed more to score political points than to help the poor.

In a Feb. 14 column that ran on, Kuo, former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, blasted Democrats for raising church-state objections to the plan but also chided Republicans for not pushing hard enough for it.

Kuo asserted that the White House could have forced the initiative through Congress, but it lacked the will to help the poor.

“It never really wanted the ‘poor people stuff,’” he asserted.

“Conservative Christian donors, faith leaders, and opinion makers grew to see the initiative as an embodiment of the president’s own faith,” wrote Kuo. “Democratic opposition was understood as an attack on his personal faith. And since this community’s most powerful leaders – men like James Dobson of Focus on the Family – weren’t anti-poverty leaders, they didn’t care about money. The Faith-Based Office was the cross around the White House’s neck showing the president’s own faith orientation. That was sufficient.”

Americans United has repeatedly charged that the initiative has a strong partisan component. Before the 2002 elections, “Faith Czar” James Towey appeared alongside House and Senate candidates in close races, reminding religious leaders that the Bush administration would make “faith-based” funding available. The same pattern was repeated in 2004 at rallies in African-American churches.

• “Faith Czar” Jim Towey has received a promotion, but will continue to spearhead the “faith-based” initiative as well. On Jan. 13, the White House announced that Towey will become assistant to the president, a position that will give him a much closer working relationship with Bush.

• President Bush told The Wash­ington Times in January that he could not perform effectively as president with­out his faith.

“I fully understand that the job of the president is and must always be protecting the great right of the people to worship or not worship as they see fit,” Bush said. “That’s what distinguishes us from the Taliban. The greatest freedom we have – or one of the greatest freedoms – is the right to worship the way you see fit.”

Continued Bush, “On the other hand, I don’t see how you can be president – at least from my perspective – how you can be president, without a relationship with the Lord.”

Bush’s second inaugural reflected his religious beliefs. His speech made frequent references to God. In addition, the United States Marine Band, the United States Army Herald Trumpets and the United States Navy Sea Chanters did a joint performance of “God of Our Fathers.” The hymn, written in 1876 for the American centennial, is a plea to God for divine guidance.

Also during the event, singer Guy Hovis, a former performer on the “Lawrence Welk Show” performed “Let the Eagle Soar,” a tune penned by former Attorney General John Ashcroft. It contains the lines, “Let the eagle soar/Like she’s never soared before/From rocky coast to golden shore/Let the mighty eagle soar/Soar with healings in her wings/As the land beneath her sings/ ‘Only God, no other kings.’

In addition, gospel singer Wintley Phipps sang “Heal this Land,” and a choir from Alcorn State University known for its gospel repertoire performed.