Faith-Based Initiatives and Initiative-Based Faith

Church and State

There has not been much said on our blog about this year’s presidential race. I suspect that will change as the race draws to an end. Until then, I just have a thought.

There is a term being thrown around a lot in recent days conscerning not only the two leading presidential candidates but also the current president. “Faith-based initiatives” are being discussed by both McCain and Obama, and usually both candidates somehow reference President Bush’s proposals for these initiatives.

Here in the U.S., the term faith-based is often used to describe religious organizations and distinguish those organizations from government, public or private secular organizations. The truth is, in this context “faith-based” is only used as a euphemism for “religious” in order to avoid the sticky issue of whether such funding is permissible by the Constitution.

President Bush has proposed federal grants for these social-service groups that are religious in nature. The funding comes from the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and centers around several “signature” funds. In providing these grants to faith-based groups, the Federal Government has also set up a comprehensive set of supports for groups who are interested in applying for these resources.

Watching the headlines, one might assume that the Republican and Democrat presidential candidates have found something in common on this issue, with one another as well as President Bush. However, a deeper look into the issue and what is being said by the candidates uncovers a different story. Not only do the candidates disagree on what to do with Bush’s faith-based initiatives, their approaches reveal distinct differences in their understanding of the Constitution.

A spokesman for the Obama campaign underlined two qualities of Obama’s plan as it compares to the policies of the current White House Office for Faith Based Community Initiatives, which McCain supports.

First, as Obama would have it, the federal government would supervise the hiring process of faith-based groups to make sure they do not give preference to employees who share the faith of the organization.

Second, the federal government would only give money to “secular programs” of faith-based groups.

In his own words, Senator Obama justifies these reforms in this way:

“Now, make no mistake, as someone who used to teach constitutional law, I believe deeply in the separation of church and state, but I don’t believe this partnership will endanger that idea – so long as we follow a few basic principles. First, if you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion. Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs.”

It is said that Senator McCain has a long way to go if he is to convince America that he is friendly to religion. However, at the very least he is closer to the Constitutional ideal for these initiatives. The McCain campaign recently released the following:

“John McCain supports faith based initiatives, and recognizes their important role in our communities. He has co-sponsored legislation to foster improved partnerships with community organizations, including faith-based organizations, to assist with substance abuse and violence prevention. He also believes that it is important for faith-based groups to be able to hire people who share their faith, and he disagrees with Senator Obama that hiring at faith-based groups should be subject to government oversight.”

So, whether Democrat or Republican, what should Christians make of all this?

I, for one, am pleased both party nominees seem to recognize that local, faith-based organizations usually do a better job at helping a community than big government programs. Obama’s plan is alarming due to its intended “oversight” and “monitoring,” but perhaps that is the change we need to see who is faithful enough to refuse the funding.

McCain’s plan is obviously more compatible to what we would like to see. Nevertheless, the one thing I hope that would come out of this whole conversation is the realization of the church’s true responsibility in this world. We are to help the physical need of others, but God forbid that we leave them spiritually needy. Our true initiative is given by our Lord to preach His Gospel to every creature, and last time I checked there is no government grant for that.

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4 comments so far

  1. DT on

    Surely “oversight” and “monitoring” are hallmark terms of liberalism. And if most Christians were faithful to their local churches, perhaps government funding wouldn’t be necessary and they could support themselves and help people physiclaly, mentally, and spiritually. As always, the burden is on us, not Big Brother.

  2. TJ on

    200 bonus points for the Orwell reference!

  3. David T. on

    Christians in many churches don’t even extend a helping hand to their fellow church members much less participate in benevolence ministries.
    This lack of social support and benevolence among evangelicals and fundamentalists is an unfortunate backlash to what is perceived to be a “social gospel.”

  4. TJ on

    Good Point. Very True.
    It’s the cause of our “uneasy conscience” as C.F.H. Henry would put it.
    The strength behind much the late 19th and early 20th century evangelical and fundamentalist movements was their involement in social work – Moody’s Sunday schools for orphans, the Pacific Garden Mission, and so on.
    We’ve become so scared to reach out to our respective communities simply because the charismatic church down the road is. It’s sad, not just because people aren’t being helped, but also because those that are being helped go without hearing the gospel. That’s our biggest failure.


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