Monday, February 16, 2009

The Dangerous Faith Based Initiative

It was certain that President Obama would disappoint me at some point but I did not expect it to happen so soon.

Few inside the United States will appreciate how extremely dangerous the "faith based" initiative really is. We have now unalterably linked our nation to the aggressive arm of evangelical Christian fundamentalism . President Obama has lost his first opportunity to stem the tide by refusing to incorporate even the minimum requirement that recipients of Federal funding be open to non discrimination in their hiring practices.

My outrage well exceeds the mild words expressed in the NY Times.

No where in this hemisphere is this policy more strongly felt than in Haiti. I imagine that it is doing equal damage in Africa and the mid East.

Some of these things I have heard directly. Some of these things I have just heard reported. All of these things make me frightened for the future of America, as the lighthouse of freedom, a stronghold of liberty.

In Haiti, World Vision distributes vast quantities of US federally subsidized rice. They pray over it before they distribute it - in the "Name of Jesus Christ". Baptist Medical missionaries bring in doctors to examine patients and then write prescriptions. Before the patients may go to receive the medicines, they must sit and listen to the "gospel" preached. Evangelical Protestant missionaries here in the Dominican Republic, which is well served by roads, buses, and a public health service, use helicopters to ferry about medical supplies. By this means they "evangelize" this deeply Roman Catholic nation.

There is a nascent movement among some American Quakers, termed "Convergent Friends" to heal the rifts between the Evangelical, Orthodox and mystical branches of the Society. I had thought perhaps that I might be able to unite with that effort until I became aware of some of the beliefs held by some Evangelicals.

A recent correspondence with a member of the Atlanta Friends Meeting led to the news that they had been supporting an Evangelical Friend who had a mission and an orphanage in Haiti. This pastor, Frank Penna, has a blog, which then links to the larger mission under which he serves, The World Renewal Ministries, on which I found the following quote:

"In the USA we have been blessed by freedom that much of the world does not know. Haiti is a country that was dedicated to Satan in the 1800’s and prior to his removal as Haiti's President, Aristide had vowed that he would rededicate the country of Haiti to Satan on the 200th anniversary of the event in 2004. However God had another plan and removed him before this could take place."

This idea, that Vodou, an officially recognized religion in Haiti, is the worship of Satan, is not only a simplistic and inaccurate understanding of the African religion but is also denigrating and, in my opinion, culturally imperialistic.

I lean on the more educated works of Professor Elizabeth McAllister.
It is also at this juncture that
Pentecostalism poses the most serious questions for
Haitians'national identity and historical narrative.
For the Pentecostalchurch demands a total rejection
of African-based traditions, and regard them as
Satanic practice. Sermons and literature about Haiti
urges missions to "pull down strongholds" and aim
efforts at destroying working Vodou temples in various
ways. Missionaries are admonished to conduct "warfaring
against powers and principalities,"cast in particular
as Vodou temples and Rara bands. Haiti's poverty,
political turmoil and structural disadvantage with
regard to the United States are held up as proof of
God's disfavor. In sermons,white American missionaries
have interpreted the blackness of Haitians' skin as
the curse of Cain, demonizing Haitian identity
further by racializing evil.

For a national culture that is based, however
ambivalently, on ideas of an African past,
African moral values, and pride in an Afro-Creole
revolutionary war of independence, what does it mean
to be told, and to accept, that one's national culture
is corrupt, immoral, and evil? What happens to the
evangelical story when it is told to Haitians,
and how do Haitians take up that story as their
own, when this newstory casts them and their
national culture as evil?

In my correspondence with the Atlanta Friend, I said that I found that supporting a ministry which entered into a culture and judged the religion of their ancestors as Satan worship to be tantamount to warfare.

I regret, Friends, that I cannot converge.
I stand rather with Bishop Tutu who said:

"God is not a Christian! All of God's children and their different faiths help us to realize the immensity of God. No faith contains the whole truth about God. And certainly Christians don't have a corner on God. All of us belong to God. Even the nonbeliever is precious to God. And one simply tries to remind them that they are made for transcendence. They are made for goodness."

President Chavez will now be in power indefinitely in Venezuela. As he turns his wrath on the resident Jewish community in Venezuela, it is even more important that the United States disengage itself from this destructive union of Church and State initiated by the Bush Administration. We must remain a nation which upholds the freedom of religious expression.

I urge Congress to insist on oversight of overseas groups receiving funding under Faith Based Initiative program. Specifically, in Haiti, I urge USAID not to fund any faith based groups which hold a stated position against Vodou.

I would hope that we might restore our nation to one in which there is a separation of Church and State.

I ask that Quakers in particular take this discussion extremely seriously in light of our commitment to seek out and eliminate the roots of warfare in a quest for peace.


John said...

Thank you for posting this-Friend speaks my mind.

I am unsure about the Convergent movement among Friends. I fear that the Convergent movement may bring more division into The Society. The Convergent movement (where it stands today) does have Evangelical undertones.

It is my hope that Friends would do “good for goodness sake” and seek to heal war-torn lands not to convert them. In the words of Micah 6:8 “ do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God...”

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this thought-provoking post.

Anonymous said...

Interesting and thought provoking post.

I find it difficult to believe that 'we the people' have any real power to facilitate any real change in our country since it taken from us long before any of us were born. I would like to believe differently but have yet to see any evidence to the contrary.

When you follow the money what do you find?