Obama has also put his stamp on what began as the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives under President George W. Bush. Bush’s office helped faith-based groups get funding for their humanitarian outreach projects. Obama, observers say, has transformed it. Now the administration in effect calls the tunes and asks which faith groups would like to dance. Example: to expand a summer food program for needy children, the administration in 2011 recruited 1,465 churches to serve as new distribution sites.
“President Obama really has changed the spirit of the [faith-based] initiative,” says Lew Daly, author of God’s Economy: Faith-Based Initiatives and the Caring State (University of Chicago Press, 2009). “He’s turned it more into a kind of standard, liberal policy initiative.”
While Romney hasn’t said much about how he’d manage faith-based initiatives, he supported Bush’s approach at the time. Restoring the Bush way would dovetail with his view, based somewhat on personal experience, of religious organizations being more attuned to local needs than federal administrators are.
Obama and Romney might share some religious beliefs, but their levels of trust in religious organizations clearly differ. Those sensibilities are apt to keep playing out, not only in the campaign but also – for one of them – in the White House.
G. Jeffrey MacDonald is a freelance journalist, ordained minister and author of Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul (Basic Books, 2010). Check out his website!