De-funding the Right Rev. Dr. Greedygut
Faith-based bribery's sleazy constituency





Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
- Mark 12:40

George Bush is a hypocrite in the Biblical sense of the word. He holds aloft the ideals of community service, then brings down his arm to smash the poor. In the midst of the carnage, as virtually every state folds up its tattered social safety net in abject fiscal despair, Bush summons the Black clergy to revival-type meetings, his minions' arms outstretched like auctioneers, waving federal contracts.

Faith-based initiatives is a monumental deception, the centerpiece of Bush's grand plan to reap political profit from the economic and social devastation of Black America. Bush and his allies among the Democratic Leadership Council are intent on transforming African American churches into houses of rightwing patronage. These purveyors of corruption tempt Black ministers with fat contracts, in hopes of fomenting massive schisms within the community. The stage has been set for bribery and vote selling on a scale never before experienced in Black America.

It is a near-perfect deceit, cruel and utterly cynical. While victims pile up in their millions, lives shattered by the relentless Republican wars against the entire gamut of public social services, Bush unveils a menu of contracting opportunities, newly available to the clergy of those same, victimized communities. There is no need to demand allegiance to the Contract Giver - that is a foregone conclusion.

Grinning' and skinnin' for the side that's givin'

Republicans have repeatedly stated that their goal is to double the usual 8 - 10% GOP vote among Blacks, just enough to win key elections - especially in the South. The GOP's bean counters have done the math; they know how many congregations will suffice to achieve the goal. And they are quite confident that the Right Rev. Dr. Greedygut will step forward, grinnin' and skinnin', trailing his flock behind him.

The Republicans' strategic objective is more ambitious. Faith-based contracting is designed to create centers of well-funded, compliant, self-satisfied alternative "leadership" among Blacks. The secret is out: All of those furious, Republican rages against the "poverty pimps" and "entitlements" of old are now revealed to have been jealous outbursts. Bush aims to become the ultimate Poverty Pimp, Mac-Daddy of the ghetto. The ministries in his stable will represent a constituency for privatization of social services, the larger Republican mission. Persons formerly entitled to assistance, the infirm, ex-public employees, all can line up at taxpayer-funded church soup kitchens. First, however, they must greet Bush's emissary, the Right Rev. Dr. Greedygut. He is the one who is entitled, now.

In some corporate boardroom in Hell, this is called a win-win situation. For the Right Rev. Dr. Greedygut, it is a grin-grin situation.

Greedygut represents only a fraction of Black clergy. But there are enough of him - and her - to serve the Republican Party's purposes. The federal vaults have been thrown open, and the preachers invited to look inside.

In the twisted, greed-consumed, racist world that Bush inhabits, every virtue is turned to vice, every exemplar of social responsibility reborn as a scam. Thus, propagandists for the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act - the legislative label for faith-based initiatives - point to a 2001 survey by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research to show that 90 percent of Black churches provide some type of social services. African Americans also sponsor the most types of outreach ministries, including food, shelter, and various kinds of counseling. Paid for by the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, a huge GOP contributor, the survey results are presented as a rationale for privatization of social services - especially during economic downturns. "There's an enormous amount of counseling going on in these days when men and women, even highly-placed persons, lose their employment," said the institute's Prof. Carl S. Dudley.

The logic feeds on itself: As more people fall victim to the Republican public sector wrecking ball, church-based providers must pick up a greater share of the social service burden. Therefore, the logic goes, more public monies should go to churches! The Right's destruction of the social safety net is used to justify privatization and churchification of services vital to human dignity, health, and sanity. Such is the reasoning behind what George Bush considers his most important Black political initiative - and Trent Lott's favorite Black offering, as well. (See "Trent Lott Furor Threatens Faith-based Bribery Scheme," December 19.) No one puts any stock in the formulation, least of all the sneering charlatan in the White House. It is as bald a political ploy as ever devised in the name of religion. However, the Right Rev. Dr. Greedygut knows there's something in the scheme for him, and he's grinning.

Adversity as opportunity

Bush has turned the social discourse on its head. Speaking to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the President launched into his usual, stilted faith-based homily, before finally giving one thin lip's worth of service to the public sector. "We recognize there must be secular alternatives for those who wish to use the services," said Bush, grudgingly.

In the world Bush is attempting to create, public-administered services will be mere "alternatives" to private and church-based providers, although public dollars will pay the preacher-entrepreneurs.

Bush the Trickster mocks and abuses the historical fact that Black churches have done more than their white counterparts on behalf of the needy - he demands further disinvestments in public services to the poor and soon-to-be-poor. It is as if he and his boardroom cronies are snickering, "Blacks like doing that kind of goody-goody thing. Let's drum up some more business for 'em." With not a hint of shame, the Bush crowd hijacks the legacy of African American compassion, and hitches it to their own bogus, cold, corporate "compassionate conservatism."

Bush promises preachers special, cash dispensation. "In every instance when my administration sees a responsibility to help people," Bush told an Indianapolis rally in July 1999, "we will look first to faith-based institutions, to charities and to community groups that have shown their ability to save and change lives." (See Americans United for Separation of Church and State.)

Faith-based initiative is a transparent euphemism for pulpit-based patronage. Right up to the minute that Trent Lott reminded the forgetful about the true nature of bigotry in America, Bush insisted that discrimination against religion was the nation's main bias problem.

An ACLU suit in Louisville, Kentucky, early last year, exposed faith-based scheming as political favoritism for the clergy. $2 million in federal housing grants were earmarked for church programs, only. "By requiring grant applicants and recipients to be affiliated with religion, this government-funded program unfairly excludes all organizations doing essentially the same good work," said David Friedman, General Counsel of the ACLU of Kentucky.

According to the grant guidelines, eligible projects must be "undertaken by, sponsored by, or developed in partnership with local faith-based organizations" or result in "substantial benefits" for a faith-based partner. These are set-asides for the clergy, by political design - the kind that make preachers want to set themselves down beside the politician with the grant.

If it wanted to get cozy with the Black church, the GOP had a lot of catching up to do. With midterm elections around the corner and 2004 not far off, Bush's federal machinery and local GOP organizations put their faith-based show on the road. Hundreds of hopeful ministers showed up in Columbia, South Carolina, in July, and the tour drew an overflow Atlanta audience, in October.

"We turned away 1,000 people and still had about 2,000 people there," exulted Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act was stalled in the Senate, but that didn't stop the Bush men from scheduling millions more in grants. As if everything were perfectly legal, Republican salesmen enticed the assembled ministers to review rich menus of contracting opportunities offered by five federal departments. By the time the road show got to Philadelphia, George Bush himself was set to announce that he would keep the spigot flowing by executive order. To Hell with the legislative branch and those liberal, constitutional skeptics.

Then Trent Lott, that other great fan of massive southern resistance, spoiled Strom Thurmond's and the entire GOP's party - for the moment. Bush's discrimination-against-religion theme had become temporarily inappropriate. He had come to the Philadelphia podium to rejoice, yet found himself having to repent on behalf of his party. The December 12 executive order was overshadowed, but federal agencies remained open for church business through the holidays.

The unspoken truth

Now the issue is up to the U.S. Senate, leadered by Bill Frist, of Tennessee. Faith-based bribery is, if anything, an even higher GOP priority than before Lott's breakdown. As we pointed out, it is a near-perfect deception, a scheme tailor-made to undermine Black leadership through cooptation of the clergy, yet non-racial on its face. Bush has begun calling his measure the "Armies of Compassion" bill, invoking the War on Terror (!) by pointing to the drop-off in donations to some charities in the wake of September 11.

Although Black lawmakers are keenly aware that the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act will wreak havoc in their districts, they are reluctant to directly address the patronage issue. No wonder. Ministers are formidable political forces in Black America, prone to collective self-defense when the integrity of "The Church" is questioned. Unfortunately, we may all be done in by this taboo. The Right Rev. Dr. Greedygut has very little shame, and will only be deterred from the most craven political treachery by the massed opprobrium of his colleagues and the community at-large - if at all.

The Congressional Black Caucus stood solidly against the faith-based stampede in the House, citing the same constitutional and anti-discrimination arguments as the ACLU, People for the American Way, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and others. George Bush may have the votes to steamroll the measure through the Senate; however, in the wake of the Lott affair, the GOP craves a multi-racial blessing. The time approaches when the CBC may be forced to say out loud what each member knows full well: faith-based funding is a massive, racist assault on Black political leadership, and an attempt to subvert and cow the Black Church, itself.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman plays the Democratic Judas in this drama, ready with a sloppy kiss and the still-potent clout of the corporate Democratic Leadership Council. Presidential candidate Lieberman, always positioned only inches away from the GOP, is George Bush's best hope for total, "bipartisan" victory, and Black people's worst nightmare. Lieberman has worked hand in glove with the White House for more than a year, fashioning a faith-based fallback position that would pay lip service to non-discriminatory church hiring. His own bill opens Pandora's Box by financing "repairs" to "historic" churches - a category that would soon be enlarged to accommodate a huge cathedral or a tiny store-front - all of them historic and/or "sacred places" in their own ways.

When Lieberman makes his move, watch the CBC. Those who applaud the "compromise" will have already acclimated themselves to the new era of faith-based bribery and, whichever way the Senate vote goes, will soon constitute a conservative caucus within the CBC.

With a great deal of luck, the Senate may block Bush, and the Right Rev. Dr. Greedygut will be preemptively defunded before he is allowed to do irreparable damage. Otherwise, he will have to be confronted on far more unpleasant terms, later. Black Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee offered an oblique warning to those Black ministers who are preparing to join the Republican patronage feast. "The IRS will have a field day," said Lee.

At the end of this saga, the Right Rev. Dr. Greedygut is going to jail. Few will defend him, and he won't be grinning, anymore.


Additional links relating to this commentary:

Hartford Theological Seminary survey press release

People for the American Way on faith based initiatives

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Issue Number 23
January 2, 2003



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Other commentaries in this issue:

Reports from the war on Milwaukee's poor... Bling bling politics for the young... The drug money trail, past and present

Bush plans more gifts for rich... Rangel raises draft issue... Brazil-Venezuela solidarity

A Lott Missing: Rituals of Purification and Deep Racism Denial, By Paul L. Street

Commentaries in Issue 22 December 26, 2002:

Commentary 1
Lott, Thurmond and Duke: Three Kings Bearing Gifts - Lessons to re-learn from the holiday "festivities"

Commentary 2
Hip Hop and the Hard Right: Media-made illusions of power by BC Co-publisher Glen Ford

Faith-based path to the jailhouse - Anti-war Lite, and Hard-core - Trojan Horse TV

George Bush Blacked-out, Africa must wait - U.S. seized Iraq corporate client list - Rich man’s "strike" in Venezuela

African Venezuelans fear new U.S. coup against President Chavez - Written by Professor Alejandro Correa of Barlovento, Venezuela with assistance from Willie Thompson, Professor emeritus City College of San Francisco

You can read any past issue of The Black Commentator in its entirety by going to the Past Issues page.