Thursday, January 15, 2009

Faith Based Paradigm Shift

(As with all posts on this blog, these thoughts reflect my opinion and not necessarily the views of my organization.)

The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives just released a final report on its performance as the Bush administration prepares to leave office next week. The report makes a convincing argument for the continuation of this program under the Obama administration. I think President Bush’s emphasis on breaking down barriers between government and the faith-based community has translated into real benefits for society.

Though Belay Enterprises has never directly sought out funding from government agencies, we indirectly have been beneficiaries of this shift in philosophy. Over the last 8 years, I have seen a definite growing willingness of government agencies at local and national levels to work with faith organizations. President Bush’s initiative gave permission for agencies to move dollars and to collaborate with the programs that were having the most positive impact on communities regardless of the religious nature of the organization.

Just this month, our Bud’s Warehouse project began providing contract job training services to individuals rebuilding lives from homelessness through Denver’s Road Home Project. This would have been unheard of a decade ago. The reason this relationship has developed is because there are no other organizations in Denver that provide on-the-job career-training services to homeless individuals coming out of prison with felony convictions. If the past prohibitions for collaboration between communities of faith and the government had been still in place, this innovative partnership would have never come about and this high-risk population would not be receiving such services.

It is my hope that the Obama administration will remain committed to this philosophy shift. The President Elect has indicated a willingness to move the program forward with a name change and some new rules prohibiting hiring discrimination at the management level. If he moves forward with the latter, it will have the same effect as ending the program by taking away what is unique to faith based organizations: a commitment to the particular faith. Religious organizations need to be managed by individuals that share the particular faith. I hope President Obama will change his mind with regards to this proposed rule change.

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