Oltman Replies

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Last week, I took Adele Oltman to task for her piece in the Nation arguing that Obama had more in common with Daddy King than his son, MLK, Jr. Oltman has now posted a long response that I find much less problematic, and which is worth a look. Her appreciation of King, Sr.’s contribution is fine; and in the wake of his nomination speech, she is a good deal kindlier toward Obama. She does remain highly dubious of his embrace of faith-based initiatives, and makes the perfectly valid point that policing all church-sponsored social service efforts for any sign of religious influence would effectively be impossible.
But my point was simply this: The engagement of black churches in such efforts has been a constant since the civil rights/Great Society era; and MLK, Jr. had no problem with it. The principle was always to establish separate non-profits–e.g. to build senior citizen housing. And just like the government-supported religiously affiliated family services that have been central to social welfare efforts in the Northeast and Midwest since the 19th century, this has worked pretty well. Beyond that issue, it seems to me essential to recognize the affinity between MLK, Jr.’s inclusive civil religious appeal and Obama’s. In my view, this is far more important to what Obama is about than his nod toward the faith-based initiative.