Many cases of carpal tunnel will be diagnosed before the blogging about Obama's faith-based programs announcement is over and done with. Let me contribute my two (wrist-destructive) cents:
As someone who has seen the best and the worst that organized religion has to offer, my reaction to the announcement was cautious but open to begin with. Those who have commented on the difficulties of putting nondiscrimination into practice are right on the money, as are those who remind us that many faith-based groups do great and necessary work, especially as anti-government forces have greatly diminished purely civic and secular programs over the last 30+ years. (See Alex's recent post for such diverse commentary.)
But one thing in the commentary thus far that needs to be addressed, for history's sake at least, is the example of Catholic Charities, lest we forget their adoption decision in 2006.
Bloggers, commentors, mainstream media and Obama himself have cited the venerable Catholic Charities as a prime example of a faith-based organization that does incredible amounts of good work for people nationwide. To a large extent, that's true. From homelessness to anti-poverty programs and more, Catholic Charities has provided services in volumes unmatched by most other organizations, faith-based and secular combined.
But in 2006 Catholic Charities in Boston opted to end its 100+ years old adoption program rather than work with LGBT prospective parents. Not working with these prospective parents would have violated Massachusetts' statewide nondiscrimination policy.
Despite the fact that the civilian board of Catholic Charities originally voted unanimously to continue processing adoptions for LGBT people (of which the organization had only done a handful in more than 10 years), church authorities pressed the issue, creating a controversy where for the local leaders who ran Catholic Charities there had not been one before.
The group's ultimate decision to end its adoption program prompted then Gov. Mitt Romney to call for a bill that would allow faith-based groups exemption from the state's nondiscrimination policy so that they could continue their "good work" without having to wrestle with their morals.
Life, as most people would agree, requires us to wrestle with our morals on a regular basis. Catholic Charities was particularly known for its success in placing special needs children. Yet somehow the moral compass of the church pointed toward no adoptions over at least theoretically leaving services open to LGBT prospective parents?
At the end of the day, Catholic Charities contracted with the state, and the state was right in standing its ground on exemptions to the nondiscrimination policy. But Catholic Charities must have -- or at least should have -- asked itself a very important question of faith-based service work:
Is the roll of the faith-based group to provide services for all who need them and in accordance with their needs because the group's morals, its faith, encourages that kind of humanity? Or is the roll of faith-based groups to provide services that encourage a particular outcome or world view, that are preferentially offered to certain kinds of people in certain situations only?
In other words, at the end of the day, are services offered by faith-based groups oriented towards the person with the need or the provider?
The truth of the matter is that we know that children do best when placed in the right home for them -- and that means looking at all the possible, qualified homes that children can be placed in. As Jennifer Chrisler has said, if groups like Catholic Charities were primarily concerned with the well-being of children, they would do everything in their power to find the right home, the right match, for each child - regardless of whether that home involved an LGBT parent.
As for Obama's position on faith-based groups, I'm not staying home on Election Day because of it, but he has a lot of difficult work ahead to make this effort satisfy all parties concerned. For starters, he could stop referring to Catholic Charities as if it has a clean slate when it comes to the controversy around faith influencing service provision, because clearly in the case of adoptions, it does not.