Put Ye No Faith in Bush’s Ministers

As a sales team seeking to promote their political goals,

the present occupants of the White House truly excel. By now, everyone must

know that the Bush administration is a cheerfully efficient team of

“compassionate conservatives” presenting the nation with “charitable choice” so

that we can achieve “faith-based solutions” to our national woes. Yet behind

all this happy-sounding rhetoric lies a reality that is less uplifting and

wholesome.

The President’s determination to channel billions of tax

dollars to religious organizations may support some worthy inner-city programs,

and his lawyers may find a way to finesse the Constitutional questions raised

by such funding. But eventually, choices will have to be made about which

groups get money and which do not-and those choices, being made in the White

House, will inevitably carry a political tinge.

Bearing in mind that the original promoter of “compassionate

conservatism” in the Bush camp was campaign strategist Karl Rove, it seems

likely that the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives will soon become a highly

effective patronage scheme. That assumption is confirmed by the new

administration’s reduced emphasis on such traditional executive-branch

operations as the Domestic Policy Council, the Office for Intergovernmental

Affairs and the Office of Public Liaison. Despite all the feel-good assurances

offered to justify the new partnership between church and government, it would

be a mistake to forget that Mr. Rove more closely resembles Boss Tweed than St.

Francis of Assisi.

There were a few ominous hints of what Messrs. Bush and Rove

may intend during one of the Washington gatherings that celebrated the Bush

inauguration. At an enormous “prayer luncheon” held in the Hyatt hotel ballroom

on Capitol Hill on Jan. 19, the featured speaker was none other than John

Ashcroft, then in the midst of those difficult hearings concerning his

nomination as Attorney General. The former Missouri Senator-who wrote the first

federal “charitable choice” legislation a few years ago-told the assembled

multicultural divines that he had just been endorsed by a street musician who

played “Amazing Grace.”

The luncheon was also addressed by Stephen Goldsmith, the

former mayor of Indianapolis appointed to oversee the Office of Faith-Based

Initiatives. “This is an administration that will clear out the regulation

problems, clear out the legal problems,” he vowed. What made Mr. Goldsmith’s

pledge slightly eerie was the luncheon’s sponsorship by the Washington Times

Foundation. The foundation is yet another tentacle of Sun Myung Moon, the

would-be messiah who went to prison for federal tax evasion and illegal

commingling of his business and spiritual interests. At the luncheon, the

Unification Church leader received an award for his “work in support of

traditional family values” (which presumably did not include spiriting young

people away from their homes to serve his cult). Before returning to whatever

palatial compound he currently inhabits, Mr. Moon reminded his fellow ministers

that “religions tell us to fast, to serve others, to be sacrificial.”

In keeping with that

injunction, Mr. Moon runs charitable organizations along with his huge media

and industrial holdings. So does Jerry Falwell, the partisan Baptist preacher

who in recent years has become a virtual adjunct of the Moon empire. And like

his Korean benefactor, Mr. Falwell has long been a loyal promoter of the Bush

family’s political causes.

Another dependable Bush ally is Pat Robertson. The wealthy

televangelist and Christian Coalition leader also controls Operation Blessing,

a far-flung charitable outfit that he expects to benefit from the President’s

faith-based federal boodle. He, too, has had his troubles with government

authorities, due to violations of the Christian Coalition’s tax-exempt status

and also because of Operation Blessing’s misuse of certain assets to serve his

commercial enterprises. Specifically, the charity’s airplanes were found to

have secretly transported personnel and equipment for a diamond-mining

enterprise in Zaire, undertaken by Mr. Robertson in 1994 with the blessing of

the late and unlamented dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

An expose of that affair by the Virginian-Pilot newspaper led to a state investigation of Operation

Blessing two years ago. That probe’s findings were embarrassing, but Virginia’s

Republican governor and attorney general-both recipients of large contributions

from Mr. Robertson-saw no reason to seek indictments or fines. And now, quite

predictably, Mr. Robertson anticipates a nice big check for Operation Blessing

from his White House friends. With one hand he feeds the hungry, while with the

other he endorses and finances candidates like George W. Bush.

Still, Mr. Robertson says he is concerned about governmental

interference in his charity’s promotion of fundamentalist dogma. With officials

like Mr. Rove and Mr. Goldsmith handing out the money, under the sympathetic

eye of Attorney General Ashcroft, he and his fellow evangelical entrepreneurs

can probably rest easy. The same cannot be said for the rest of us taxpayers.