"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


where in the world...

"In the mountains, there you feel free."
- T.S. Eliot, "The Waste Land"
Texas in Africa is on vacation for the rest of July in some particularly spectacular mountains, where the current temperature is 45 degrees Farenheit. See you in August!

1,000 children

News from my friend J, who's at Heal Africa for six weeks:

"I spent Saturday morning with Noella Katembo, she continues with her work of teaching and accompanying moms of more than 970 foster families through the Choose Life (HIV) network, helping their $50 grants not only keep the family fed, kids in school, and a “pay it forward” by $2/mo contributions back ---but also solidarity group meetings where each woman brings 100cf (about 20Cents US) and it’s given weekly to the woman in the group who needs it most. There are so many women being outrageous in their very BEING…being a solid force for encouragement, for teaching—whether it be how to read, how to sew, how to calculate profit & loss, how to listen, how to accompany others in their sorrow, how to mobilize, how to confront a culture which views rape as normal behaviour for men…

"The widows’ groups in the Ubangi are now building each other houses. When a woman has a desperate need for a house, they call a “housebuilding”…the women save money for the doors and windows, women cut and bring the grass for thatch. ( Charlotte has a string to measure the size of the bundles!) Others bring the sticks for framing the house. Then they gather to set it up (hire some men) and make the mud. I heard Charlotte describe it. Some women cook, some bring water to make the mud, others apply it…a huge event for the village. They hire men to do the actual roofing. But it’s the womens group that does it! It’s pretty spectacular !!! In Goma widows are saving to help buy tin roofs for the women who need it most. Now the groups are capped at 25. If there are more, they split and make another group. They’re keeping the groups small so that they can really support each other."

I am so inspired by stories like this, and by Heal Africa's determination to build self-sufficiency in the local cultural context. How amazing!

The Choose Life program that J mentions works to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in the region. Choose Life is huge and does a lot in education, pallative care (in which individuals from different religious groups take the responsibility of visiting those who are sick in their neighborhoods - if a Christian is sick in a neighborhood where a Muslim is reponsible, the Muslim will visit her once a week), and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the disease.

Another part of the program is helping to provide foster homes for HIV/AIDS orphans. Since taking in another child poses a huge financial burden to most families in Goma, Choose Life gives $50 grants to families who are willing to take in a child. The grants are for starting or building up a business, the revenues from which send the foster child to school and support the family. The family is responsible for paying back the grant, the money from which is then used to give another grant to another foster family. The plan is genius. It gives orphaned children a home, an education and a chance, it helps families to improve their economic situations, and it supports the ideals of strong community and caring for one another.

Almost a thousand children are NOT living alone on the streets because of someone's vision to start this program. Because of $50 apiece.

(You could live without an iPhone like you always have and save six kids with a one-time donation. I'm just sayin'.)

If you'd be interested in funding a Choose Life grant, shoot me an email and I'll put you in touch with J.

you can have freedom fries for lunch

Thanks for indulging me yesterday. France is the first overseas country I ever visited, and I do have a certain affinity for our cultured allies. And their stuff.

Quote from the Attorney: "I can't wait to see what you do for Tet."
(Special fun for Emily at Awesome Avenue - can you name everyone in this picture of Texas in Africa and friends at age 15? My word, we were young.)




Nous avons chante cette chanson au deuxieme classe de Francais, non?

la musique de lundi

Moi, j'aime beaucoup le groupe qui s'appelle <> J'ai ecoute cette chanson avec un petit montage de <> C'est lunatique!

dormez! dormez!

Ou a la monde va Texas en l'Afrique?

Allusion le 7eme: Je dormira a l'isle dans un lac au sujet qu'il est un chason des Animaniacs.

le jour de glorie est arrivee

Aujourd'hui, c'est le Jour de la Bastille! Je pense que c'est donc necessaire de ecriver en Francais! Hoh-hoh-hoh-hoh-hoh! Vive la revolution! Vive la France!


old friends

Facebook is a funny thing, in that it lets you reconnect with people you haven't talked to in 15 years. Like, say, for example, the older sister of one of your camp cabinmates who was a counselor in the next cabin over in the summer of '94. Anyway, the point of this post is that she's a mom of three, and has an absolutely perfect thing she says to her children:

"If it's on the floor, it's going to the poor."

Thought some of you could use that. :)

Where in the World is TIA Going?

Hint #6: I'll be visiting a canyon that is twice the depth of the Grand Canyon.


weeping and moaning

Ah, the cold hard reality that Barack Obama is a politician hits the kids. Personally, I'm pretty pleased that he's tacking to the center, because it gives an easy example for explaining the Median Voter Theorem to my students.

Where in the World is TIA Going?

Hint #5: I will visit some ancient ruins.


Where in the World is Texas in Africa Going?

Hint #4: I will be sea kayaking for two days in the middle of the trip.

'bout time

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir will charged with war crimes by a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court for his government's role in the Darfur genocide. It won't have an immediate effect, and it may screw up the already poorly-equipped and mandated UN mission there. But at least someone's taking action. Finally. After 5+ years of "never again." Way to go, international community.


Where in the World is Texas in Africa Going?

Hint #3: It's the dead of winter there. Yahoo!


Sacha Baron Cohen is at it again. This time in Arkansas. In a cage.

40 days

Today's bloggers for the 40 Day Fast are Crystal, who's writing about untouchables in India, and Davida, who writes about farming for those in need.


not beyond reminding

We showed The Unforseen for the Camp CLC kids today, then had a dialogue with filmmaker Laura Dunn, who's awesome. It was so good for the students to hear her story of how she ended up with a vocation she never expected, and I enjoyed chatting afterwards with her about our experiences of the bizarre, uncomfortable privilege of having attended Yale.

I missed most of the screening because I was busy at work, but I got there in time to hear the end of the Wendell Berry poem from which the film takes its name. The film is so gorgeous (read my review of it here), and Dunn explained for the students how she chose the title. She loves that the poem goes through a cycle of man destroying creation by writing our image all over God's creation, but at the end there's this unforseen pool of water that is not ruined. That is, of course, although she didn't say it, the image of God, that, despite all our efforts to destroy our world, still shines through here and there and now and then.

We talked about this broken world and telling stories with pictures and words, and then we went to swim in the sacred waters of Barton Springs, where it's cold, and where the water is not as clear as it was when I was a child, and where new condo towers now dominate what used to be an open, empty view. But there is still a reflection of God's image in those waters, in the laughter of the children, in the people of every race and age and shape and gender.

I'm not articulating this well because I'm tired and trying to think of good questions to ask the students in tonight's reflection time. Just know that you need this poem in your life, and I need it in mine:

From SABBATHS by Wendell Berry

III. (Santa Clara Valley)

I walked the deserted prospect of the modern mind
where nothing lived or happened that had not been foreseen.
What had been foreseen was the coming of the Stranger with Money.
All that had been before had been destroyed: the salt marsh
of unremembered time, the remembered homestead, orchard and pasture.
A new earth had appeared in place of the old, made entirely
according to plan. New palm trees stood all in a row, new pines
all in a row, confined in cement to keep them from straying.

New buildings, built to seal and preserve the inside
against the outside, stood in the blatant outline of their purpose
in the renounced light and air. Inside them
were sealed cool people, the foreseen ones, who did not look
or go in any way that they did not intend,
waited upon by other people, trained in servility, who begged
of the ones who had been foreseen: ‘Is everything
all right, sir? Have you enjoyed your dinner, sir?
Have a nice evening, sir.’ Here was no remembering
of hands coming newly to the immortal work
of hands, joining stone to stone, door to doorpost, man to woman.

Outside, what had been foreseen was roaring in the air.
Roads and buildings roared in their places
on the scraped and chartered earth; the sky roared
with the passage of those who had been foreseen
toward destinations they foresaw, unhindered by any place between.
The highest good of that place was the control of temperature
and light. The next highest was to touch or know or say
no fundamental or necessary thing. The next highest
was to see no thing that had not been foreseen,
to spare no comely thing that had grown comely on its own.
Some small human understanding seemed to have arrayed itself
there without limit, and to have cast its grid upon the sky,
the stars, the rising and the setting sun.
I could not see past it but to its ruin.

I walked alone in that desert of unremitting purpose,
feeling the despair of one who could no longer remember
another valley where bodies and events took place and form
not always foreseen by human, and the humans themselves followed
ways not altogether in the light, where all the land had not yet
been consumed by intention, or the people by their understanding,
where still there was forgiveness in time, so that whatever
had been destroyed might yet return. Around me
as I walked were dogs barking in resentment
against the coming of the unforeseen.

And yet even there I was not beyond reminding,
for I came upon a ditch where the old sea march,
native to that place, had been confined below the sight
of the only-foreseeing eye. What had been the overworld
had become the underworld: the land risen from the sea
by no human intention, the drawing in and out of the water,
the pulse of the great sea itself confined in a narrow ditch.

Where the Sabbath of that place kept itself in waiting,
the herons of the night stood in their morning watch,
and the herons of the day in silence stood
by the living water in its strait. The coots and gallinules
skulked in the reeds, the mother mallards and their little ones
afloat on the seaward-sliding water to no purpose I had foreseen.
The stilts were feeding in the shallows, and the killdeer
treading with light feet the mud that was all ashine
with the coming day. Volleys of swallows leapt
in joyous flight out of the dark into the brightening air
in eternal gratitude for life before time not foreseen,
and the song of the song sparrow rang in its bush.

glory hallelujah

They are giving me a TA for the fall. And a class that's over twice the size of my current one, at a time that may make it impossible for me to work the second job. But they're giving me a TA for the fall.

This is the best possible news.

I might actually be able to finish my dissertation.

Finally, a benefit to having been around longer than anyone else.

Where in the World is Texas in Africa Going?

Hint #2: The trip involves six airports, but is (mercifully) only one overnight flight away.

final judgments

The last on Jesse Helms, for awhile, anyway:


maybe it could be part of beach reach?

The great thing about Camp CLC is the kids who come to our institute. This year, for the first time, most of our kids are not from the D/FW-Austin-San Antonio-Houston population centers. Instead, they're from West Texas and small towns and Nacodoches.

And we have one student who's come to us from George West, Texas, where not only did a guy named George West name a town after himself, pay the railroad $100,000 to go through his town, and pay for a new courthouse at a cost of $75,000 if the county would move the county seat to his namesake hamlet, but where his prize longhorn is also preserved in an air-conditioned, glass-fronted chamber outside the county courthouse.

The longhorn's name is Geronimo.

I must see this. Soon.

And you should take a look at the National Texas Longhorn Museum.

Clearly V.I. Lenin has nothing on George West, Texas.

And this is way cooler than that spectacle in Lexington, Virginia.

Who's up for a roadtrip?

Where in the World is TIA Going?

Assuming that I survive this week's grueling schedule, my vacation starts one week from today. Since I'm going somewhere interesting and fun, I thought we'd play a little game, which I will fondly title, "Where in the World is Texas in Africa Going?" Each day for the next week, I'll give a hint about where I'm going and you can try to guess. (No cheating for those of you who know me in real life and already know the answer to this question!)

Hint for day one: It's in another hemisphere.


I was just teaching the students this morning that public policies often have unintended consequences. Not sure I'll be using this as an example, though...


"asia" is not a country

My friend Regina is looking for a good way for kids to learn the U.S. states and capitals. Of course, my first thought was the Animaniacs song. Which led to me remembering how much I loved this song back in the day...

40 days

Shaun has a great post up for the 40 Day Fast about raising kids who are aware of a world in need around them, as does Polly, on the blessings that our hands can be to others.

It's Monday morning and I'm already exhausted. The Fourth of July weekend was lots of fun, watching fireworks with friends, helping my sister pack up her house (How strange is it that after 12 years of one or the other (mostly her) of us being there, in a week, neither of us will live in Waco?), and getting some much-needed sleep. Oh, and watching that epic men's finale at Wimbledon.

Last night we started the fourth round of the Christian Life Commission Public Policy Institute. The PPI brings together high school students from across Texas to spend a week together in conversation about issues that rest at the intersection of faith and public policy. This is not a "Jesus wants you to be a Republican" kind of summer camp; instead, it's a remarkable chance for a group of talented young people to come together to think about how we can make a difference in a world full of hurt. It's a chance for students to make choices about what kind of people they want to be, and what kind of lives they want to live. It is not for everyone, but for the students who choose to spend a week in Austin each summer, it can be a life-changing experience.

(You can read more about what we do here.)

I love the PPI and did not want to miss this year, but I am tired. Teaching every morning at 8:30 for the past five weeks has taken its toll; I need to get a dissertation chapter out to the committee this week; and I leave for vacation in eight days. The fact that I am in charge of the very last thing we do every night at the PPI means I'm getting about 6 hours of sleep a night if I'm lucky, which isn't enough for me.

Reading Shaun's post, though, I remembered why it's worth it. I don't have kids of my own, but each summer, I get a chance to help a group of teenagers think about what it means to be a Christian in a world that's full of need. I get to encourage them to be the kind of people who will live in the knowledge that the world is bigger than our own narrow perspectives, and that our choices have a very real impact on whether other people live or die. I get to watch them meet all kinds of people who refuse to sit by while injustice happens, but who instead open a clinic, start a protest, or pass a bill that changes things. And I get to maintain relationships with them for the years to come, to watch them chose and change and grow and begin to take those steps towards changing the world.

And that's worth a little lost sleep.

the good news

Anyway, nobody was gored in Pamplona today.

congo watch

Poor, poor Jean-Pierre Bemba. Seems the facilities for prisoners at the International Criminal Court aren't quite up to the first-class standards to which he's used. I wonder what conditions were like for the hundreds of thousands of Congolese who suffered from war crimes committed by troops under Bemba's command?


sunday this & that

40 Days

Shawn and Stephanie are blogging for the 40 Day Fast today.


40 days

Mama's Boy and Andira are blogging for the 40 Day Fast today.


land of the free

I was sleeping in this morning when my phone buzzed with a text message from the Lobbyist for the Dark Side: "Your old boss died."

I only have one old boss who's famous enough that his death would make news. Doesn't it figure that Jesse Helms would die on the 4th of July? It's somehow fitting for a man who titled his autobiography with a line from the fourth verse of the Star Spangled Banner.

How it was that I came to be an intern for the committee chaired by a person with whose views I vehemently disagree and repudiate is a long story involving a Tennessee Supreme Court justice with whom my daddy used to jog at lunch and an aide to a former Senate majority leader. Working for Helms was one of the worst experiences of my life in many respects. It's there that I learned that I am incapable of working for causes in which I don't believe, a discovery that had a large role in my decision to become an academic rather than a diplomat.

It's disrespectful to knock someone who has died and rude to his family to say negative things about a person they loved. Helms was, if nothing else, consistent in his views. In his later years, he realized (with, of all people, Bono's help) that he needed to be more compassionate to those living with HIV/AIDS, especially to children in Africa who contracted the disease through no actions of their own.

But look, Helms was a racist. There's no way around it. He became a Republican because of the Civil Rights Movement. He sang "Dixie" to Carole Moseley-Braun in an elevator - in 1993. He filibustered making Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a national holiday. He forged close friendships with white supremicist southern Africans like Ian Smith that were based slightly on the fact that both came from tobacco-growing corners, but mostly on their racist views of blacks. He played racial politics with the best of them, and his staff had no problem making racist jokes on a frequent basis - even when those jokes were directed at minority members of the staff. (I spent most of my summer at the committee with my jaw dropped to the floor in disbelief that such things could be said in what was supposed to be polite company.) And, unlike Strom Thurmond, he didn't seem to change his views of race over time. Attitudes like that probably kept a good portion of Helms' constituents voting for him, but that doesn't make it right.

I'm sorry for Dot and her family that they have lost their husband, father, and grandfather today. But our country is better off without the divisive and cruel policies of someone who understood far too late that the tide in our country has turned.

40 days

Tim and Leslie are blogging for the 40 Day Fast today.


across the plains of texas...

I, gentle readers, will already be in holiday weekend mode by the time you read this. There are a few posts (mostly on the 40 Day Fast) lined up for the weekend (thank goodness for future publishing!), but as of now, this is it, because I plan to take full advantage of one of the only federal holidays recognized by the University.

Hope you and yours have a wonderful weekend of reading the Declaration of Independence & pondering the implications of the Lockean conception of natural rights for individual freedom, violating burn bans and nearly burning down your neighborhood with bottle rockets, teaching a Congolese cook how to make tortillas, blasting Bruce Springsteen and Lee Greenwood from the rooftop of your North African apartment like one of my colleagues is prone to do, and/or enjoying a trashy, patriotic music video from Waylon's boy. Happy 4th!


If you ever think a small donation to charity doesn't help people to improve their lives, please remember that Beatrice Biira (the famed owner of that goat) graduated from college. And she's headed to graduate school.

If you're not familiar with the book about Beatrice and her goat, it's a great way to introduce children to the concept of helping people we'll never meet.

(But I still hate Kristof.)

40 days

Today's 40 Day Fast bloggers are Steven, who writes about homelessness, and Sarah, whose subject is modern-day martyrs.


40 day fast: rape in the Congo

This post is part of the 40 Day Fast, a collaborative effort by 80 bloggers to draw attention to the world's great needs hosted by Inspired to Action. Be sure to also check out Beth's blog today; she is writing about Compassion International.

A note to new readers: this post deals with a sensitive subject and is not appropriate for children under age 15.

Nothing prepared me for Elise*. Taken from her family at age 11 to be a sexual slave to rebel soldiers in the forest, pregnant at 12, and now in a hospital where she was receiving treatment for the wounds those soldiers had inflicted on her broken body, Elise sat expressionless, telling her story to the camera without emotion. The only way for her body to survive the massive physical and emotional trauma, explained my friend Esther, who showed me her story in hopes of getting me to understand, was for her mind to shut down.

My dissertation research in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the world's least stable regions, has taken me to many unexpected places, but the hospitals that serve victims of the country's rape epidemic shocked me to the core. Working with very limited resources, Heal Africa hospital in Goma and the Panzi Hospital of Bukavu do their best to treat the bodies, minds, and spirits of some of the hundreds of thousands of women and girls who have experienced the worst that human beings can do to one another.
The situation in the eastern Congo is complicated; after 12+ years of civil and international war, no one (including the national government) is strong enough to control the region, so the countryside experiences chronic insecurity. Up to 5.2 million people have died since 1996; that's the proportional equivalent of losing every citizen of Texas in ten years. Poverty is on a scale that's difficult to believe, even by African standards. In one city in which I work, it's very common for individuals to only eat one meal every 48 hours. Children and adults rotate eating one day to the next.

Periodic outbreaks of violence force hundreds of thousands of Congolese to flee their homes and crops, which contributes to chronic food insecurity and the spread of disease in refugee camps. Meanwhile, in rural areas various rebel groups compete with one another and the national army to control territory, from which they then extract whatever natural resources are available, loot villages for food and money, and rape women and girls on an unprecedented scale. The national army is no help; in fact, they're often responsible for just as many human rights violations as are the rebels.

Estimates are that as many as 2 of every 3 women have been raped in some areas of the east.

Chantal. Marie. Sarah. Claire. Marta. Annette. Chloe.

They all have names and faces and stories. They are all people, just like you and me. They are someone's sister, someone's daughter, someone's mother, someone's aunt, someone's niece, someone's wife, someone's sweetheart, someone's friend.

Imagine what it would be like in the U.S. if 2/3 of the women in, say, California or North Carolina or Alabama were being raped. Imagine how we would respond if their attackers were completely indiscriminate - if they went after elderly grandmothers and innocent young girls, some as young as 3 and 4.

Imagine if those rapes were as incredibly violent as they are in the Congo. Rape there is usually gang rape, often with the deliberate intent of destroying a woman's body without killing her. Frequently, soldiers are certain to have an HIV+ soldier participate in order to infect their victim. Even more frequently, the husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons who try to stop the perpetrators are forced to watch and then killed in front of their wives and mothers.

Moreover, when the soldiers are finished with their crimes, they often fire a weapon or insert foreign objects like glass or tree branches into the women's bodies, creating a tear in the vaginal wall called a fistula. A woman or girl with a fistula becomes incontinent, leaking a constant stream of urine and excrement from her body. They are rejected by their families, cast out by their husbands, and often live in terrible pain. Their tormentors, meanwhile, almost always get away with their crimes. The country's judicial system is barely functional, and the police don't even have vehicles.

What if this were happening here?

We wouldn't stand for it, that's what. We would demand action, put a stop to it, and do all we could to help the victims. So why are we willing to sit by while hundreds of thousands of women and girls live in pain and fear on the other side of the world?

But there are those who care and those who work to help. The doctors at Heal Africa and Panzi hospitals perform restorative surgeries on fistula victims, while other programs help these women and girls to heal emotionally and spiritually, and to develop means of supporting their families. They treat victims of HIV and malnutrition, and work to be spaces of sanity and safety under very difficult conditions. They bring hope and healing to those who have little reason to believe that anyone cares for them anymore.

It doesn't take much to help a Congolese woman to rebuild her life, and you can be part of doing so. At Heal Africa, $10 will buy shoes for five women. $50 will put a child in school for a full year. If you can spare $300, that will cover surgery to repair one woman's fistula. You can donate to Heal Africa here.
Whether you choose to give financially or not, please keep the women and girls of the eastern DR Congo in your prayers. Pray for girls like Elise, and for the women whose faces you see on this post, all of whom have suffered traumatic fistulas as a result of violent rape. Pray for the teenage mothers who have to learn to love the babies they conceived through no choice of their own, because the orphanages are full, and there's no international adoption system for the Congo. Pray that God will bring peace to the region, that there will be justice for those who commit such atrocious crimes, and that God will heal the bodies and spirits of those who suffer so much.

To learn more about the conflict in the eastern Congo, check out the Enough Project's resource page.

For other suggestions on ways to help women and girls who are victims of rape in the eastern Congo, check out this article I wrote on the subject.

*Name changed to protect privacy


we got game

The Librarian and I are playing tennis this summer.

By "playing tennis" here, I mean that we hit balls around the concrete court in her neighborhood, occasionally even managing to get a three-or-four series rally, but mostly chasing down the balls we've hit into the grass or the net. Or the next court.

And then there are the ones that were well placed that we still manage to miss.

It's a good workout, all that running around in circles.

Longtime friends and relatives of Texas in Africa will note that I have taken beginning tennis lessons no less than five (5) times. My racket cover, in fact, still has a piece of masking tape on which my mom wrote my name before my inaugural attempt at tennis at camp circa 1992.

I took beginning tennis at camp at least three times.

And at Baylor (for credit).

And in the Congo (in Swahili, which pretty much explains everything).

Hand-eye coordination is not exactly my strong suit.

Lucikly, we are pretty evenly matched. :)

It's a good time. We're getting better. Trying to keep our shots from interfering with the other people who had the misfortune to choose Monday nights for their game gets the heart rate up. And the Librarian and I enjoy getting to catch up on all our gossip, I mean, prayer requests.

Plus I get to wear my rattiest old gym shorts which also have my name written in my mother's handwriting on the tag. 'Cause I wore those to camp, too.

It's a special relationship, me and tennis.

my easy load

Longtime readers of Texas in Africa know that I don't "do" Christian music. (Chalk it up to living in Franklin, where members of the youth choir became CCM superstars and we all learned that CCM is a business before it's a ministry. When my friend J came back from tour with our classmate R, she could mimic R's hand motions of "worship" exactly in time with every song while R was on stage. That tends to disillusion you a little bit.) As I've shared in the past, so much Christian music is just really, really cheesy and lacking in innovation. It's not me.

(And yes, I know that means I'm being unfair to those Christian artists who are doing good stuff.)

That said, there are a couple of songs on my rotation these days. Sara Groves' "When the Saints" is one of them, and with the 40 Day Fast being in full swing, it seemed like a good time to post it:

I see the long hard shadows of Calcutta nights
I see the sisters standing by the dying man’s side

I see the young girl huddled on the brothel floor
I see the man with a passion come and kicking down the door

...And when the saints go marching in,
I want to be one of them.

HT to Kat for finding the video.

one word: abortion

More on Obama's efforts to get evangelical voters on his side is here. My take is that he'll probably pull in about 40-45% of young evangelicals, especially first-time voters, but that among the over-40 crowd, he'll mostly just get those that John Kerry got. Unless McCain can mount a vigorous campaign centered around judicial appointments, I think most right-wing evanglical voters are going to stay home this year, and those that don't will eventually back McCain.

At the end of the day, most evangelical voters are single-issue abortion voters. I think that's a very unwise way to vote (and am pondering a post that will explain why for a bit later this summer), but it's reality. And little about Obama's position on that issue will be pleasing to social conservatives.

In other religion news, the American Family Association got itself into quite a little situation with its auto-replacer yesterday. (HT to David)

obama and FBI's

Barack Obama is set to endorse the use of federal funds by faith-based social service agencies later today. Moreover, the candidate will also say that he supports, at least to some extent, allowing these agencies to hire and fire candidates on the basis of their religious belief.

In some respects, this decision isn't surprising. Obama comes out of the African-American church tradition, which has long been involved in providing social services to local communities. In following the argument that community groups often do a better job than government at providing social services, it makes sense that we would turn federal money over to these groups. Even if they're churches.

Aside from the questionable constitutionality of such arrangements (and believe me, there are questions), I've ruminated at length in the past as to why I think it's just a bad idea for churches and other houses of worship to accept federal money. When you take money from the government, you also have to accept its rules. And regulations. And regulators. Most churches I know would rather be free from the government's influence, but when you take government money, you invite the government into your church.

(The best way for a church to avoid such a situation is to set its social service activities up as a separate entity from the church itself. Even then, though, the church is allowing government into its mission, which I still find somewhat objectionable.)

In terms of allowing social service agencies to choose whom they employ, that also makes sense on some level. In their devotional ministry activities, churches don't have to hire people who don't profess belief that's in line with their church's doctrine, and it makes sense that they shouldn't have to do the same in social ministries. But the danger is that this is federal money, and I don't like the idea of allowing federally-funded groups to discriminate in their hiring practices.

Another objection I have to the faith-based initiatives program concerns who gets to participate. After all, it's easy to say that my church (and even your church :) should get federal funds to do good things. But what about churches with whose doctrine I vehemently disagree? I bet that the Mormons could run a darn good drug treatment program, but I don't want my tax dollars going to fund it. A college friend ended up being the person who made that choice in Texas for a couple of years. He assured me over and over that he would "just know" who the right groups to give money to were. That wasn't very comforting - one person's instincts are not enough to ensure fairness and equality.

It's extremely disappointing to me that Obama is choosing this stance, but I understand why it's politically expedient for him to do so. This is why I have yet to commit to a candidate in this presidential race. It's so important to find out what the candidates think about a broad variety of issues. Only then can I make a well-informed decision about the good, the bad, and the questionably constitutional.