Al Gore (D-Baptist) called it a “carefully tailored partnership,” as if church and state should just wear matching uniforms. George W. Bush (R-Methodist) turned it into a “faith-based initiative.” Love and other faith-based initiatives, sponsored by the Department of Homeland Eternity. Now, Barack Obama (D-United Church of Christ) is referring to it as an “all-hands-on-deck approach.”
“What I’m saying is that we all have to work together — Christian and Jew, Hindu and Muslim, believer and nonbeliever alike — to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” Obama said this week when he announced his proposal to turn Bush’s White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives into a bigger, better and more politically adept “Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
I can’t decide who would be more amused, George Orwell or George Carlin?
Why is the government paying people to do God’s work? And why are people doing God’s work allowing their ministries to be turned into government-funded and government-regulated agencies?
Devoted church-state separatists know this concept is fraught with constitutional complications (read The God Vote by Jacques Berlinerblau) and political temptations (read “Tempting Faith” by ex-Bush staffer David Kuo).
But I would remind the devout that Uncle Sam doesn’t drop some cash into the collection plate and leave. Tax dollars are not donated; they are allocated, ruled and regulated.
What exactly is a faith-based organization? Please turn to page 12 in your “Guidance to Faith-Based and Community Organizations on Partnering with the Federal Government” to the Book of Inherently Religious Activities, Chapter 2, Verses 1-14.
The United States Supreme Court has said that faith-based organizations may not use direct government support to support “inherently religious” activities. Don’t be put off by the term “inherently religious.”
Especially if you’re an inherently religious organization, like, you know, a church, a synagogue or a mosque.
Faith-based organizations that receive direct governmental funds should take steps to separate, in time or location, their inherently religious activities from the government-funded services that they offer.
If you’re here to practice your faith, please go to the sanctuary. If you’re here to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless or liberate the captives, please go to the government-funded social service room.
The “Guidance” goes on to explain when, where and how people who work for government-funded faith-based organizations may worship, pray, teach or talk about faith, what they can put on their walls or in their rooms, and who they can hire.
A faith-based social service provider may conduct its programs in the same room that it uses to conduct religious activities, so long as its government-funded services and its religious activities are held at different times. If you have any questions or doubts, you should check with the official who administers your Federal funds.
Unless, of course, you have any questions or doubts about God, in which case check with the non-government official who administers your non-Federal funds.
A faith-based group may gather volunteers and employees together to engage in religious activities, such as a prayer to renew their own religious mission and recommit themselves to helping those in need. An example might be a soup kitchen where volunteers say a prayer together before the meal is served. It is important for faith-based groups to make sure that a prayer in these circumstances is voluntary, and understood to be voluntary, for program participants.
Lord, bless this food, but only if you want to, and only if the person who’s going to eat it really wants you to.
The bottom line is this:
“Religious organizations can compete for government funding to provide public services without having to abandon their religious character. In fact, faith-based organizations have every right to hold, express and practice their deepest convictions, so long as any inherently religious and worship-centered activities are separate, voluntary, and privately funded.”
Here’s where I need some guidance.
If you’re part of an “inherently religious” organization, isn’t everything you do inherently religious? Aren’t you helping others because your religious convictions compel you to do so? Why should government pay you to do God’s work?