In a calculated move to appeal to his core constituency during his first term, President George W. Bush launched domestic and international faith-based initiatives designed to leverage public finance for religious groupings to carry out social and welfare functions formerly performed by government or secular organizations. In December 2002 the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (CFBCI) was extended to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The Center's intention was to 'create a level playing field' for faith-based and community groups to compete for foreign assistance funding. These presidential initiatives are problematic, however, calling into question the first amendment-the separation of church and state. Upon taking office Barack Obama set up the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, promising a greater emphasis on community/neighbourhood programs. The CFBCI remains a fixture in USAID and Obama shows as much enthusiasm for the initiative as his predecessor. Faith-based international relations and political science scholars have sought to build on these initiatives and call for a greater role for faith in US foreign policy. On the eve of the 2012 presidential election, this article considers the claims for a faith-based foreign policy by examining the construction of a faith-based discourse by academics and successive presidents. Using faith-based initiatives and USAID as a case-study, the article discusses criticisms of the policy and focuses on the role of a conservative evangelical organization, Samaritan's Purse, to illustrate the advantages and disadvantages of faith-based approaches. © 2012 The Author(s). International Affairs © 2012 The Royal Institute of International Affairs.