Political Intelligence

GOD IS YOUR STRAWBOSS.

The American Jewish Congress and the Texas Civil Rights Project have filed suit in Travis County District Court against the Department of Human Services because of D.H.S. funding for the Brenham-based Jobs Partnership of Washington County. The Partnership is one of the new breed of “faith-based” social welfare programs promoted by the Bush administration and a new “charitable choice” federal law. The Partnership is a consortium of evangelical churches and businesses dedicated to enabling program participants “to find employment through a relationship with Jesus Christ.” The lawsuit charges that much of the program’s “jobs-training” is instead taxpayer-funded evangelical Christian proselytizing and that tax funds buy Christian bibles to be used in the training.

The lawsuit notes that one third of the participants surveyed by D.H.S. reported “pressure” from the program “to join a church or change [their] beliefs.” The two organizations have petitioned the court to declare the charitable choice contract unconstitutional and to prohibit the state from entering into programs that “promote religious doctrine or engage in religious discrimination in employment.” The complaint also calls for the court to invalidate the federal charitable choice statute.

According to a December report in the Austin American-Statesman, the state insists that the program follows the law, even though D.H.S. money pays most of the salary of the First Assembly of God’s Reverend George Nelson, who runs it. “We want to change from the inside out, rather than from the outside in,” says program instructor Rick Flammer, “and that can only be accomplished through a relationship with Jesus Christ.” As described by the Partnership coursework, it’s a fairly one-sided relationship. When participants complain that they are sometimes mistreated by rude or unjust bosses, the instructor tells them they’re “working for God.”

“God knows what’s going on in your workplace,” said instructor and former missionary Marcus Lawhon. “He was there when the boss said that to you. God is in the process of justice.” Lawhon didn’t say whether God is in the process of providing a living wage or health benefits, or whether only Christian believers need apply.

BUT IS HE JEWISH ENOUGH?

Al Gore was applauded by many political handicappers (and even George W.) for selecting a Democrat critical of Bill Clinton’s sexual scandal as his running mate, although Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman initially elicited far more attention for being Jewish: “First Jew on a Major U.S. Ticket,” headlined The New York Times. But not every response was enthusiastic, and a few were downright absurd.

Winning the Idiot of the Week Award was Dallas N.A.A.C.P. president Lee Alcorn, who was suspended by the organization after declaring on a local talk show, “We need to be very suspicious of any kind of partnerships between the Jews at that kind of level, because we know that their interest primarily has to do with money and these kinds of things.” Alcorn later claimed he “misspoke” and that he is “anti-Lieberman” and not “anti-Jewish.” (Apparently in Alcorn’s delusional universe, describing Jews as primarily interested in money constitutes objective social commentary.) The controversy completely obscured Alcorn’s more specific criticisms of the Lieberman nomination, in which he took the Senator to task for his stands against affirmative action and in support of school vouchers. (Ironically, Alcorn’s more sensible comments echoed those of liberal Rabbi Michael Lerner in Tikkun, who criticized Lieberman’s consistent support for conservative policies and wrote, “Lieberman is likely to accelerate the process in which the two major parties seem to be merging into one pro-business, pro-wealthy, elitist and morally tone-deaf governing force.”

National N.A.A.C.P. leaders Kweisi Mfume and Julian Bond were quick to condemn Alcorn’s remarks, calling them “repulsive and anti-Semitic.” Alcorn called his suspension “irrelevant,” because he is quitting to found his own Coalition for the Advancement of Civil Rights.

Alan Sager, chairman of the Travis County Republican party, offered his own sectarian two cents. Sager is a (Reformed) Jew, but also seems to consider himself a scholar of Orthodoxy. Apparently in reference to Lieberman’s pro-choice stance on abortion, Sager said, “You wonder about how Orthodox he is in terms of his beliefs.” It appears from Sager’s point of view, no Orthodox Jew could possibly be a Democrat.

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Published at 12:00 am CST
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