Krishnas, Moonies and Scientologists want in on the action

On January 29, amidst great fanfare and surrounded by Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy, President Bush issued an executive order creating the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The Office has just opened and already the bloom is coming off the rose.

Bush appointed longtime criminologist and political scientist John Dilulioto head the new agency. DiIulio writes Bruce Shapiro in Salon, "made a stir [in the mid-1990s] with what turned out to be one of the most dangerously wrong predictions in the annals of public intellectuals. Relying upon reams of supposedly irrefutable data, DiIulio predicted a massive coming wave of crime by children and teenagers - crime of unprecedented brutality." He characterized these youth as a "generational wolf pack" of "fatherless, Godless and jobless" teens, which he then termed "Superpredators."

DiIulio's rhetorically charged prediction had at least two outcomes. His star rapidly ascended within conservative circles, and politicians from both parties outdid each other in staking the "we're tougher on crime than you are" turf, unleashing an unprecedented war on America's young people by creating a bevy of punitive legislative initiatives. But, despite being dead wrong - in fact, juvenile crime plummeted - DiIulio has now been rewarded by his appointment as director of Bush's new White House Office.

Immediately after its late-January announcement the White House switchboard started fielding about 200 calls a day requesting information about the program. When the Office officially opened on Tuesday, February 20, the 10-person staff "were slammed with phone calls," looking for information on how to get grant applications, writes the Associated Press' Sharon Kehnemui.

From its inception Bush's faith-based initiative engendered a fair amount of criticism from liberal and left groups. Many objections centered on whether the Bush project violates the separation of church and state. Critics questioned the professional credentials of those working at faith-based organizations - would they be competent to deal with the needs of clients. Still others were concerned that this faith-based initiative would further unravel the government's social safety net. Liberal church officials who have provided social services for years are wary that this initiative would pave the way for the wholesale dumping of the poor on the doorsteps of America's churches. Churches and other civic organizations caring for the needs of America's poor is an idea that has been bouncing around right-wing think tanks for many years.

Now, a new wave of concern is emerging from an unlikely quarter. These folks are getting the heebie-jeebies just thinking about the possibility that some of the more "exotic" religious outfits might apply for and receive government grants. Pat Robertson is leading the charge. He is one of the first major leaders on the Christian right to express doubts about the initiative, which is surprising considering Robertson's unequivocal support for Bush during the campaign.

On his Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club," Robertson confessed that he was deeply troubled that groups like Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church and the Church of Scientology might get in on the action. Robertson professed that Moon's operation uses "brainwashing techniques" on recruits, and, he added, the Church of Scientology has been "accused of all sorts of underhanded tactics."

Robertson also acknowledged that he was confused over what to think about it all. "What seems to be such a great initiative," he said, "can rise up to bite the organizations and the federal government."

I've got some news for the worriers. You may be a little late! Groups like the Krishnas and the Nation of Islam have for years been receiving taxpayer dollars for carrying out a whole bunch of government services. Laurie Goodstein points out in The New York Times that the International Society of Krishna Consciousness has "received millions of dollars in government contracts to run a network of services, including a shelter for homeless veterans, transition homes for recovering addicts and [a] halfway house for parolees."

Mose Durst of Berkeley, Ca., a former national president of the Unification Church, told reporters that "you have to open it to all religions or no religions."

And, according to Goodstein, both the Unification Church and the Church of Scientology are preparing to stake their claim on these funds. "You will see us involved in any area where we can partner in practical projects with government," the Rev. Phillip D. Schanker, the Unification Church's vice president for public affairs, told Goodstein. The Church of Scientology also plans to apply for funds to support its drug rehabilitation and literacy programs.

The Deputy Direct of the White House Office is a fellow named Don Eberly. He served as deputy director for public liaison in the Ronald Reagan White House and is one of the intellectual advocates of building the "civil society." Eberly has written several books on the subject including "America's Promise: Civil Society and the Renewal of American Culture." He is the founder of the National Fatherhood Initiative and has also authored "The Faith Factor in Fatherhood."

During the past decade, Eberly has consistently argued that many of our social problems are culturally rooted. In a 1994 article in God & Politics he wrote that "on the surface, it is the enveloping adversarial culture that offends our senses every day: it is the palpable tension and visible disorder we see in our streets; it is collapsing institutions." Unlike many of the Religious Right Eberly is not interested in waging a "culture war." He recognizes that "these battles will have to be fought predominantly in the value-shaping institutions of culture: media, entertainment, academia, the arts, philosophy, law, and so on, because they are battles over ideas and values, not simply battles between politicians."

There no question that Eberly will play a big role in the civil society debate and his ideas will certainly help to shape the future direction of Bush's faith-based initiatives. (For more on Eberly see Bonnie Hellum Brechill's "Why Don Eberly believes shaping the culture is more important than making the laws" in the October/November issue of Christian Living -

For now, responding to some critics, Eberly has given assurances that the White House Office will do everything possible to make sure that religion and social services are kept separate. That might momentarily assuage secular organizations but it is not what fundamentalist Christian groups want to hear. Marvin Olasky, President Bush's "compassionate conservatism" guru, has spoken out frequently on what he considers the key principle of the charitable choice construct. He understands that in order for Christian armies of compassion to transform America, they cannot afford to be stripped of their most essential aspect - the power of prayer.

Other Christian groups remain concerned that government regulation will follow government money, compromising their primary religious mission.