Sunday, October 08, 2006


That's just one appalling soundbite in this Boston Globe story about the Bushies' success in all but eliminating any line of separation between church and state in government-funded foreign aid. Here's the full quote:

Clydette Powell, a doctor in USAID's public-health bureau, staged a workshop on public-private partnerships in tuberculosis at an evangelical conference last year in Louisville, Ky., proclaiming, "There are tremendous opportunities, actually, for Christians -- and for, frankly, evangelistic purposes -- within a public health strategy such as TB."

Your tax dollars at work.

And Powell's not a midlevel person who misunderstands the constitutional constraints -- the article makes clear that there really aren't any constitutional constraints anymore. Listen to the guy at the top:

Speaking before religious leaders in Los Angeles on March 2, 2004, Bush discussed the difficulties of faith groups.

"I think if you ask them their biggest problem, they'd say, 'Well, we need to expand, there's more souls to be saved, we need a little extra space for our rescue mission,'" he said. He then assured the groups: "The government has got resources."

The article leads with the story of a program run by the evanngelical group Food for the Hungry in a mountain village in Kenya, with the help of a $10.9 million federal grant:

In Lakartinya, a simple hut built with funds from the US government is the first in the area to have a tin roof. It serves as a station for weighing babies, distributing food, teaching health classes -- and, until recently, initiating local people into the rites of Christianity, according to Food for the Hungry staff. Classes begin and end with prayers, and in some cases are followed by Christian services.

... Bush's orders altered the longstanding practice that groups preach religion in one space and run government programs in another. The administration said religious organizations can conduct services in the same space as they hand out government aid, so long as the services don't take place while the aid is being delivered. But the rule allows groups to schedule prayers immediately before or after dispensing taxpayer-funded aid.

...And in implementing the president's orders, the administration rejected efforts to require groups to inform beneficiaries that they don't have to attend religious services to get the help they need. Instead of a requirement, groups are merely encouraged to make clear to recipients that they don't have to participate in religious activities.

So conversion to (evangelical) Christianity is a huge string attached to this aid:

In the dusty village of Lakartinya, Lucia Loltome, a 34-year-old nurse employed by Food for the Hungry, says proudly that she begins and ends each health class with a prayer.

... She is proud of how she laces her lessons about typhoid, parasites, and breast-feeding with education about the Christian God.

"Before 1999, these people were not even going to church," she said. Now, all the contact mothers in the program and nearly every family in nearby villages are churchgoers, Loltome said....

Also today, The New York Times tells us about the many laws passed since 1989 to give domestic faith-based groups special privileges -- for instance, exemption from standards imposed on secular facilities:

At any moment, state inspectors can step uninvited into one of the three child care centers that Ethel White runs in Auburn, Ala., to make sure they meet state requirements intended to ensure that the children are safe. There must be continuing training for the staff. Her nurseries must have two sinks, one exclusively for food preparation. All cabinets must have safety locks. Medications for the children must be kept under lock and key, and refrigerated.

The Rev. Ray Fuson of the Harvest Temple Church of God in Montgomery, Ala., does not have to worry about unannounced state inspections at the day care center his church runs. Alabama exempts church day care programs from state licensing requirements....

The differences do not end there. As an employer, Ms. White must comply with the civil rights laws; if employees feel mistreated, they can take the center to court. Religious organizations, including Pastor Fuson's, are protected by the courts from almost all lawsuits filed by their ministers or other religious staff members, no matter how unfairly those employees think they have been treated....

"War on religion"? This is a war on everything that isn't religious.

Or isn't Christian and conservative, as the Globe article informs us:

The numbers also show that the faith-based initiative overseas is almost exclusively a Christian initiative: Only two Jewish development groups and two Muslim groups of any type got any grants or contracts between fiscal 2001 and fiscal 2005, and Christians received 98.3 percent of all such funds to religious groups from fiscal 2001 to fiscal 2005.

One of the biggest recipients of aid, by the way is Samaritan's Purse, run by Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son, who repeatedly and unabashedly defames Islam.


I post all this, yet I know I couldn't possibly get a right-wing American evangelical even to grasp why I object to the Bush policies. Not to agree with me -- just to grasp the argument.

Christian conservatives can't even process the argument that it's good for the United States to neither help nor hinder any religious group, as a matter of government policy. To right-wing evangelicals, winning converts is the prime directive; anything that aids that is good and anything that hinders it is wicked.

(Paranoid thought: I'm sure right-wingers think the Times and Globe articles appared now in order to hurt the GOP in November, but I wonder whether there was increased cooperation with the reporters by the Bush administration in the hope that these articles would appear on the Internet now and rally the base.)

By coincidence, I was just listening to some of the oddball music collected by the 365 Days Project, and one item in particular: the first item here, here, a pair of songs sung in 1972 by two child singers, Robin and Crystal Bernard, on Jerry Falwell's radio show. First there's "The Monkey Song," a denunciation of evolution ("I'm no kin to the monkey, no no no / The monkey's no kin to me..."), and then there's "The Ecumenical Movement." Weird as it is to read a lot into a musically cutesy-wootsy song by two children (I don't know how old Robin was at that time, but Crystal Bernard, who went on to become a successful actress, was apparently 11), the lyrics seem germane here:

We hear a lot of talk about
The ecumenical movement
They say that we should get together
And all be one big family
Catholic, Protestant and Jew
Buddhist, Moslem and Hindu
I guess they want the devil too
In the ecumenical movement

This is the what the Christian right believes, isn't it -- that acceptance of other belief systems puts you on a slippery slope to Satan?

There's a lot of talk right now about whether we can coexist with Islam, but I'm finding it a bit uncomfortable to coexist with the Christian right. There may not be a wave of Christianist terrorism at this moment, but the desire to impose (or, in the believers' eyes, "restore") the Christian equivalent of a caliphate is as strong as the parallel belief among Islamists. And the Christianists are having more success.

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