Presidential hopeful Barack Obama appears to be taking a turn to the right; the turn, he’s finding out, is not as easy as he perhaps calculated.
On July 1, Obama announced partnering with communities of faith. His proposed plan is to dole out $5 million a year in federal funds through churches and other religious organizations to God’s most disenfranchisedâ€”American’s poor.
“The challenges we face todayâ€”from saving our planet to ending povertyâ€”are simply too big for government to solve alone,” Obama announced outside a community center in Zanesville, Ohio.
While the moral imperative in any presidential hopeful’s campaign should be to help the poor, the challenge Obama actually seems to be responding to here is that of winning the votes of evangelical Christians, an important demographic group. And the poor, in this instance, become merely a political pawn.
But the evangelical constituency is not buying Obama’s sales pitch. His plan would prohibit these evangelical churches and religious charities from considering religion in their employment. “For those of us who believe in protecting the integrity of our religious institutions, this is a fundamental right” Richard Cizik, vice president for government affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals told the Associated Press. “He’s rolling back the Bush protections. That’s extremely disappointing.”
But Obama’s sales pitch is also extremely disappointing for a voting constituency within his targeted groupâ€”poor LGBTQ Americans.
While Obama does make clear that under his plan religious organizations will not be able to use federal funds if they proselytize, preach, or provide religious instruction to those in need, this is not enough of a protection for poor LGBTQ Americans.
Because implementing a theocratic model for government to effect laws and government structures in this country according to a Christian ideal can not work, on the best of days, in the favor of LGBTQ Americans.
The inherent discrimination in religious organizations like the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and Bush’s faith-based initiatives have all shown how uncompassionate Christian organizations can be.
And why would Obama’s be any different?
I remember a fundraising letter in November 2002 from Elizabeth Birch, former executive director of the Human Rights Campaign that stated, “The Salvation Army was in secret negotiations with the White House to win the legal right to discriminate against gay and lesbian workers in exchange for supporting President Bush’s faith-based charity initiative.”
In terms of which groups get picked for funding and which ones don’t, LGBTQ activists and our allies have also shown the slim likelihood of queer faith-based groups like Metropolitan Community Church or Dignity getting funding, compared to conservative Christian groups.
While many federal programs are certainly in need of prayerâ€”as Bush’s faith-based Hurricane Katrina and Rita disaster relief organizations have shownâ€”these organizations often highlight the fault lines of heterosexism, homophobia and faith-based privilege.
After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, for example, LGBTQ evacuees and their families faced discrimination at the hands of many of these faith-based relief organizations because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or HIV status.
And because the fault lines of race and sexual orientation are on the “down low” in the African-American community, many African-American LGBTQ evacuees experienced discrimination from black faith-based institutions. With black churches a large part of the relief effort, and unabashedly known for their homophobia, African-American LGBTQ evacuees and their families had neither a chance nor a prayer for assistance.
When you have an administration that believes in less government involvement and more participation of faith-based groups, it slashes needed government programs by calling on churches and faith-based agencies, at taxpayer expense, to provide those essential social services that impact the lives and well-being of its LGBTQ citizens. And with many of these faith-based agencies supporting anti-gay religious vitriol, LGBTQ taxpayers and their families will be denied help, services and needed medical care, or be mistreated or denied shelter.
Faith derives out of our shared human experience of struggle, especially in the face of social wrongs, human atrocities, and natural disasters.
But who would have ever thought that the hard earned gains that have been won to separate the church (an institution that has excluded LGBTQ people) from the institution of the state (an institution that includes us all) would appear to be just as threatened by Obama’s candidacy as they have been during Bush’s presidency?