The Most Dangerous Entanglement of Church and State

The most dangerous entanglement of church and state in the current Administration was not the prayer at the Inauguration, or Christian evangelism at the Air Force Academy, or the lobbying by overtly Christian groups on the issue of filibuster.

It was the establishment of the Office of Faith-based Initiatives in 2001.

This was one of President Bush’s first official acts, and I believe it was prompted by his personal faith and his confidence in the non-profit, and specifically the faith-based, organizations.

The Office was tasked at its inception with leading a “determined attack on need” by strengthening and expanding the role of faith-based and community organizations in addressing the nation’s social problems. The President envisions a faith-friendly public square where faith-based organizations can compete equally with other groups to provide government or privately-funded services.

Sounds warm and fuzzy, but we thought this was a bad idea from the start, and that it was short-sighted for Christian organizations and churches to applaud this well-intentioned, but flawed, initiative. It may be that the War on Terror derailed the Faith-based Initiative, because not much has become of the effort.

Writing in this space in October, Debbie called for the elimination of the OFBI, because it is unfair to taxpayers, and because it is dangerous for Christian ministries.

She wrote:

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.

Tom at NewsWithViews agreed:

“A word to the wise: if you are a faith-based charity performing a valuable service providing for those in need, stay away from federal funds. Your program will survive on willing private contributions. If you accept federal dollars to pay for your program then you deserve what you get.”

Much more on this topic, with many links here at FailureIsImpossible.

The liberals and secularists oppose the OFBI, but for the wrong reasons. When church and state become enmeshed, it is the church, not the state, that is endangered.

–James Jewell
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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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