Medefind Minds Bush’s Faith-based Store

With the clock ticking down on the Bush Administration’s faith-based initiative Jedd Medefind, a young ideologue, leads the way.

While supporters and critics chew over the legacy of President Bush’s faith-based initiative, and speculate about its future under an Obama Administration, the administration has chosen Jedd Medefind, a hitherto unknown figure, to oversee the activities of the White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives until the end of the president’s term.

Medefind’s claim to fame? He is the author of several articles that sharply critical of liberals, and gays and lesbians; articles that have been scrubbed from his Web site.

In early October, the staff of Team Bush’s faith-based initiative convened the 40th and final conference that provided technical assistance and support for faith-based organizations seeking grants from the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and faith-based offices at a host of government agencies.

“The gatherings have been hailed by small nonprofits — particularly faith-based nonprofits — and by state and local officials promoting their own partnerships with such charities as invaluable sources of information and inspiration,” The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy recently reported. “They have simultaneously been derided by church-state separationists, disillusioned believers and other critics as a political tactic to garner votes, especially among the evangelical Christians that some of those opponents say the conferences illegally favor.”

“The goal in a nutshell of all of these events is to make America’s frontline nonprofits better at what they do,” said Jedd Medefind, who in the wake of the resignation of Jay Hein as director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, was appointed acting director of agency and will oversee operations of the Office until the end of Bush’s term in January.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a longtime opponent of Bush’s faith-based initiative, pointed out that since “Every storefront, startup church is eligible to apply for these grants … the government expends considerable money simply training them in the basics of setting up a nonprofit and applying for government funding.”

Gaylor added: “That money would be far better used directly serving needy Americans. I further object to the ‘privatizing’ of social services, as I feel Americans should be able to call on their government to provide basic needs and emergency assistance, without being referred to religious groups.”

A ‘well-prepared’ ideologue takes over

In the announcement of Medefind’s appointment, Hein assured faith-based initiative supporters that Medefind was “well prepared to lead the federal effort to support America’s armies of compassion.”

In an earlier report, the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy pointed out that prior to his appointment, Medefind had been special assistant to the President and deputy director of the Office since mid-2007, and prior to joining the White House, he was director of the Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Center at the U.S. Department of Labor.

Before coming to the Bush Administration, Medefind served as chief of staff for Tim Leslie, a Republican member of the California Assembly from Tahoe City until 2007, and held communication jobs with several national and international organizations, including the C.S. Lewis Foundation and PriceWaterhouse in Moscow.

In 2000, Medefind co-founded and co-directed the California Community Renewal Project, which provides training and resources to groups revitalizing inner-city communities. Medefind has spent time in more than 25 countries, and has served with development organizations in Guatemala, Bangladesh, the Kingdom of Lesotho, and other nations. He is the author of two books: “Four Souls,” exploring faith, community, and purpose during his journey around the globe, and “The Revolutionary Communicator,” which explores Jesus’ approach to communication and leadership.

In a short bio, Medefind states that “As much as I enjoy learning and study, the cutting edge for me right now isn’t building or refining my knowledge, but translating the things I believe into life on a daily basis. That’s especially true, and difficult, in regards to Jesus’ instruction that greatness is found only in servanthood — seeking the good of others above my own.”

On September 15, the Los Angeles Times reported that while “working for Leslie, [Medefind] … wrote numerous speeches and op-ed contributions outlining a particularly conservative bent. He accused liberals of operating with ‘a profound moral blindness that somehow morphs and distorts all lines between good and evil, ultimately embracing a radical relativism incapable of distinguishing between lawmen and criminals, heroes and villains.'”

Medefind criticized cities “that promote one sort of morality by closing public roads for transvestite marches, hanging gay pride flags, and funding homosexual art displays” but “deny funds for Boy Scout public service campaigns.”

One essay dated September 2003 and titled “The ‘Sleeping’ Giant Must Awake” — written for Assemblyman Tim Leslie — urges the “Latino electorate” to reconsider its ties to California’s Democrats:

The pro-abortion lobby fights to ensure that children can get abortions without their parent’s knowledge. The homosexual lobby advocates for public schools to teach that homosexuality is healthy and good, and just the same as traditional marriage. Radical environmentalists hinder the building of the new UC Merced with frivolous lawsuits, and add building restrictions that make it almost impossible for a family to afford to own a home in California. These groups have also tripled the Car Tax, costing the average family more than $300 in extra taxes per year. The Latino community as a whole, I believe, would not support any such actions. However, these are the values driving the Democratic Party, and Democrat Latino legislators rarely, if ever, disagree.

Those writings appear to have been scrubbed from Medefind’s Web site.

However, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which has opposed Bush’s faith-based initiative since its inception in 2001, retrieved some of Medefind’s postings through an archival search.

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore told the Los Angeles Times that “Earlier in his career, this Web site was used to promote some of Jedd’s work. It’s my understanding that most of his work was taken off this Web site over two years ago.”

That would have been about the time he came to work for the Bush administration.

The last conference

Since 2002, the White House Office has held 39 conferences in 20 states, the District of Columbia and two African countries — the latter held this past spring.

According to the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, Medefind allowed that he didn’t “know the cost of each conference, because it varie[d] city by city, and the total is shared by his office and the various agencies that participate, such as the departments of Labor, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Education, among others.”

The Roundtable pointed out that David Kuo, a former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, who has been critical of the cronyism and politicization of the White House Office, “had previously estimated that it cost taxpayers about $350,000 for each conference held. Medefind said that figure seemed high.”

The Roundtable, based at the Rockefeller Institute of Government at the State University of New York and which provides “Impartial News and Analysis of Faith-Based Social Services” reported that “The White House office participated in conferences held by other agencies …. And Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives within a dozen federal agencies have separately held their own conferences and grant-writing workshops around the country and, in the case of the faith-based center at the U.S. Agency for International Development, abroad. HUD alone has hosted more than 400 two-day trainings on “The Art and Science of Grant Writing” and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has held about 250 similar trainings, according to Medefind.”

While the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Annie Laurie Gaylor was happy the conferences had come to an end, Jedd Medefind pointed out that they “have been a very important part of building bridges between the armies of compassion and the capabilities of government,” and that he hope that “whoever comes next would have strong reasons to continue them.”

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column, "Conservative Watch," documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right. Read other articles by Bill, or visit Bill's website.