"We are not your bought clergy, Mr. President. We are not bought religious communities."
Rev. Albert M. Pennybacker replied to President George W. Bush's first campaign speech delivered to a Los Angeles conference of ministers and religious workers. It was organized by his White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
Speaking as Chair and CEO of the newly launched Clergy Leadership Network, a nationwide interfaith movement of progressive liberal, moderate and evangelical clergy, Rev. Pennybacker challenged the President's claim that he was "talking about healing our nation…not…politics."
"The President was addressing a religious leaders group organized by the White House. He was addressing those religious groups that have been the recipients of federal funds. And it preceded a $2,000 a plate campaign fund-raising event! He is stretching the truth when he says his address is not political."
Rev. Pennybacker continued, "The President actually described his readiness to violate the religious protections in our Bill of Rights when he said, 'It is hard to be a faith-based program if you can't practice your faith.' That is the point. We believe faith-based programs should be financed out of faith-based pocketbooks, not federal funds through White House programs."
"Further," he continued, "these constitutional provisions have given our country a level playing field for all religious groups. They have also protected those who have no religious interests or even oppose religion from having their taxes support institutions of which they are not a part. That is fairness, and that is the American way. Both America and religious communities have prospered."
Pennybacker countered the President's description of those gathered in Los Angeles as "social entrepreneurs." "We are ministers of social justice. We believe when 'love of neighbor' goes public, it means justice and social caring. Individual benevolence is not enough. A pittance, relatively, for the poor from an office in the White House is only demeaning. Social policies that address poverty and joblessness are what we care about. On that score, the Bush Administration is sorely deficient."
"We reject the arrogant boast of President Bush, speaking of his faith-based programs, that he bypassed the Congress and '…I did it on my own.' We believe in the good judgment of the people's representatives, not an autocratic Chief Executive, especially where constitutional guarantees are involved. Arrogant exercises of office ill-become any President."
Pennybacker challenged President Bush again: "Clergy Network is convening a National Clergy Gathering in Cleveland May 16-18. It is not being arranged by a White House office. All clergy are welcome. There you will see that hundreds of religious leaders refuse to be compromised by federal funds in service to political advantage. We will pursue the 'justice for all' that is grounded in our faith."
CLN National Committee member, Rev. Conrad A. Braaten had this to say upon hearing President Bush's campaign speech on Wednesday evening:
The Bush administration's faith-based initiative works like this: Upriver, a pirate raiding party ravages a city, looting the middle-class and poor [of jobs, homes, health care, education, workplace protection...] and after throwing the hungry, homeless, jobless and disenfranchised into the Poverty River, hoping they will just disappear [a majority of whom are people of color], takes some of the loot taxed from these same victims to distribute to churches strategically located downstream and out of sight (i.e..awareness and understanding) of the big city carnage to help them pull a few folks from the current and give them a sandwich before they are dragged back into the raging waters. Then the pirate's PR people take pictures of the sandwich program and say to the world: "We are not pirates pillaging the big city and pummeling people into the river. Look! we are the ones giving 'our money' to help those poor people get a bite to eat." Meanwhile the churches, so grateful for the sandwich support, hail the pirate as "great benefactor" and vote for him. "Give them bread", said Caesar, "and you will have their heart".
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