OFBI: The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions

The polls show that most of us who are people of faith will be voting for George W. Bush, and we are indeed praying that he will prevail. If he does, the next thing we should work for is the elimination of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

What?! Take away the government gravy train headed for religious institutions? Let me explain why the OFBI is a bad idea.

When did health care costs become such a problem? When did patients lose the right to make their own health care decisions? With the creation of full-coverage health insurance. When someone else began paying the bill, they rightly got to determine the rules and how the money is spent.

Why are teenagers so anxious to leave home? Because while Mom and Dad pay the household bills, Mom and Dad rightly get to determine the rules and how the money is spent.

Why is the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, the office that will help religious organizations obtain government contracts and funds to provide social services, such a deplorable idea? Because whoever pays the bills rightly gets to determine the rules and how the money is spent.

When I worked for U.S. Congressman John Linder (R-GA), I requested information from the Congressional Research Office on government funds going to religious organizations. I received a report written about a request from a Christian school for government funds. The school was denied the funds because the government stated that the religious and educational purposes of the school were “inextricably intertwined,” and funding the school would be like funding a church.

When the government gives money away, it rightly gets to determine the rules and how the money is spent. Frankly, the government should not be involved in social work in any way, as that is not the role of our government according to the Constitution. The more money the government gives away, the more places they have to determine the rules and how the money is spent…and the more control they have over our lives. That’s fine if you’re a Congressman or the military, because you are specifically doing the work of our government.

But it’s not okay if you’re a church or a faith-based organization providing social services. If you are, then your social services and spiritual content should be “inextricably intertwined” or you are no different than any other humanistic humanitarian organization, and you should quit masquerading as a faith-based program.

The rules of taking government money are there to protect the people from whom the money was taken in the first place – the American public. Blacks, whites, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, gays, pro-lifers, pro-choices, liberals, conservatives, and the list goes on. It is wrong to take money from a pro-lifer and give it to Planned Parenthood. It is wrong to take money from a Jew and give it to a church like The Salvation Army that teaches Jesus “is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by Me.” A homosexual doesn’t want his or her money going to a Christian school that will not hire homosexuals.

If the government gives contracts and funding to faith-based organizations, those organizations will of necessity turn into today’s YMCA. (Does anyone even remember that the “C” stands for Christian? I doubt The Village People did.) Faith-based organizations will not be able to witness to those they assist. They will not have the right to refuse to hire people who do no subscribe to the tenants of the stated faith of the organization or church. They will not be able to pray in Jesus’ name before they feed their hundreds of clients. And rightly so, because part of their money will have come from people who do not support those beliefs, and from people who are vehemently opposed to them.

I have heard leaders of faith-based organizations say, “Yes, we’ll take the money provided there are no strings attached.” How arrogant. How selfish. They want the right to take the money from gays and Buddhists, then determine how the money is spent – ways that many gays or Buddhists would despise. They are thinking of only the recipient (themselves) and not the giver (the taxpayer).

Even if the rules for faith-based organizations would be flexible now due to an empathetic Administration, they are likely to change down the road, recognizing that the giver of the money has the right to determine the rules and how the money is spent. Rules that atheists and pro-choicers and Jews can live with. And those rules of necessity will say that an organization cannot preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified with money that came from the personal pocket of the local Rabbi. And when you are dependent on money that becomes 30% or 60% of your budget, will you be able refuse further issuance of that money, and look in the face of the one you are serving and say, “I can’t serve you today?” Will you have the courage to pay the piper, cut that money you are now dependent on out of the budget–thereby cutting your services–and start a new fund-raising program to replace that government money and rebuild your organization?

Faith-based organizations would do well to take the high road. If money is offered from the government, refuse it and instead rely on the One you say is sufficient to meet your needs, and Who will do so for the purpose of making your ministry prosper. The One who gave you that ministry in the first place.

The Office of Faith-Based Initiatives will force faith-based organizations that take their money to become solely humanitarian in word and in deed. This is not paranoia, it is fact based on our government’s laws and regulations that must be equally mindful of the giver as well as the recipient. And it’s the right perspective for the government to have.

Because whoever pays the bills rightly gets to make the rules.


–Debbie Payton
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About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group (www.valcort.com). Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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