PRESIDENT Bush’s faith-based initiative seeks to elevate the civic role of modern-day Good Samaritans. If that seems doubtful, it’s because partisan sniping has obscured an important fact about the intended partners in this initiative. They are not party operatives but social ministers, and are mostly uninterested in gaining political influence or advancing public religion. They invest exorbitant amounts of time and energy into reclaiming society’s down and out. To those who study faith-based organizations, their motives are disarmingly transparent: to help desperate people escape truly hellish pits of poverty, addiction, and despair. Now that the Bush White House has pushed their efforts into the spotlight of national politics, they find themselves the subject of considerable scrutiny.