By Tom Marsland
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA USA (ANS) -- A month prior to the June 1st event, the White House contacted me with an invitation to attend President Bush's National Conference on Faith Based and Community Initiatives, and I accepted.
Is handing out money to faith-based groups the place of government? Is this a classical violation of the separation of church and state? A principal that has now endured decades even though it was never stated as such in the Constitution. There are after all both real and potential downsides to such an offering. Such as Muslim groups that want to compete for prison ministry dollars. Groups whose virulent brand of anti-American-Saudi style Islam are corrupting the minds of young black prisoners.
Since Bush first presented his vision of compassionate social engineering I have engaged in these discussions both on my live radio shows, and one on one with some of my more libertarian friends. My answer is; I STILL DON'T KNOW!
I'll say one thing though; When President Bush addressed us in person that morning, he was unbelievably passionate about it. Fully convinced of its merit, he easily parked his inarticulate tongue at the door, eloquently speaking without notes and without teleprompter for 45 minutes. He actually held the crowd in the palm of his hand. This was the 5th time I've heard the President speak in person, and his reputation for verbal gaffs and excessive 'uhs,' is oft well-deserved, but not this time, as his nomenclature and delivery were flawless.
Here's a snapshot of what the President said:
- He called the attendees "social entrepreneurs, an army of compassion," and he thanked us (attendees) for "serving in that army." He views "rules against religious organizations competing for dollars as discrimination," even though faith programs themselves can't be financed, "rules against propagation of faith were/are ridiculous." That "it's hard to be a faith-based program if you can't practice faith."
- He said that "faith does a better job than government." He said "It's a powerful change agent when you start reading the Bible."
- Regarding himself, he said "I once was lost, but now am found."
- He said "I am OK with the separation of church and state."
- That they were checking to see if we (grant recipients) "were meeting those standards" (separation) and then if we're effective, too.
- The program's motto is "Compassion in Action."
- "The process is open to all faiths; Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jewish..." (And all were in attendance too).
- He said he's ordered that the "grant making needs to be made understandable."
- That it's his intention to spur "social-entrepreneurialism," and that "it's just not the same old charities that receive the same grants every year," that "new organizations should enter the process."
- "Government can hand out money, but not love."
- "The cornerstone of any good recovery program is realizing there is a higher power."
- "The strength of America is not our military, or our commerce, rather it's our heart."
The president told a story about Chuck Colson talking him into establishing the nation's first faith-based prison program when he was governor of Texas. After a few months, he'd decided to "checkout Colson's progress," so he showed up one day and met with several of the inmates. He was nervous to discover that one of the inmates sitting at the table with him was convicted of murder 19 years earlier. Several weeks ago that same now-paroled ex-con was in the White House seated next to President Bush, strategizing how others might turn their lives around. The crowd was very moved by the story.Though still leery of mixing big-government and religion, I was impressed ... now you decide.
Five cabinet members attended, U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, many congressional staffers, many Catholic bishops (such as Archbishop Harry Flynn) and several well known evangelicals (hot author Rick Warren) were there too. Also speaking to us was a favorite of mine, Jim Towey, the White House appointed director of the Faith-Based Imitative. He had the difficult job of speaking after the president, and elicited laughter from the crowd when he said "I feel a little bit like Elizabeth Taylor's 6th husband on their honeymoon. I think I know what to do ... but how do I make it interesting?"
Former heavyweight wrestler, corporate CEO and major market radio talk show host, Tom Marsland's been a guest of both the White House and the West Wing Press Corps. Tom's a volunteer for Pres. Bush's Faith Based Initiative and is U.S. correspondent to New Zealand's Nation-wide Radio Rhema. He also writes cultural, political and religious commentary for the Assist News Service, NewsMax.com, MN Christian Chronicle and others. Contact Tom at: email@example.com