Magazine article The Christian Century

Faith-Based Groups Said to Be Backed by Bush

Magazine article The Christian Century

Faith-Based Groups Said to Be Backed by Bush

Article excerpt

After a pre-Christmas meeting with President-elect George W. Bush, a group of religious leaders said they were convinced he is committed to greater interaction between church and state in his new administration.

"In the White House, there will be an office of faith-based programs, a place where people will feel comfortable about bringing their ideas, and a place where people will feel comfortable about bringing their complaints," the president-elect told the December 20 gathering at a Baptist church in Austin, Texas.

Between announcing cabinet appointments, Bush spent more than an hour with the interracial and bipartisan group that included more than two dozen representatives of Christian, Jewish and Muslim bodies. On hand also was Marvin Olasky, a Bush adviser who coined the campaign slogan "compassionate conservatism."

During his campaign, Bush emphasized his interest in faith-based organizations and his support of charitable-choice legislation, which enables faith-based groups to use public funds for job training, food and basic medical care.

Murray Friedman, regional director of the American Jewish Committee in Philadelphia, said he was "heartened" by Bush's plans, despite his organization's current opposition to "charitable choice" legislation.

"The very fact that he scheduled a meeting of this kind in the midst of picking his cabinet and all the pressures that are on him seems to me to be indicative of a serious view of the attempt to bring faith-based activism into public-policy endeavors," said Friedman, who attended the meeting. The Jewish leader said he warned Bush that he was "moving into heavy weather" regarding faith-based activism because some groups are worried about religious entities becoming dependent on government funding and others are concerned about proselytism by religious groups providing federally funded programs. "I said to him that you really need to develop a set of ground rules because it's a brave new idea," Friedman said.

But Carlton Pearson, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, pastor who encouraged black Republican support for Bush during the campaign, said he thinks Bush will be able to build bridges between government and religion. "He's showing us the way to get around the paranoia of this whole idea of separation of church and state," said Pearson. "Nobody wants to be under control of the other, but we do want to work and walk together. …

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