March 20, 2001
By Kenny Byrd
WASHINGTON (ABP)– Launching a major effort to educate churches about the perils of taking tax dollars for social-service ministries, the Baptist Joint Committee and the Interfaith Alliance released a guide March 13 that will be distributed to 20,000 houses of worship.
The free guide, titled “Keeping the Faith: The Promise of Cooperation, The Perils of Government Funding: A Guide for Houses of Worship,” offers guidance “about whether and how religious social-service providers should accept public funds or otherwise cooperate with the government.”
“The most successful social-service programs are those in which the money follows the vision, rather than the other way around,” the guide advises.
The 15-page booklet highlights concerns with “charitable choice” initiatives, which have been proposed by President George W. Bush to fund faith-based services. While discussing “what’s wrong” with such partnerships, the guide also details less-problematic ways of cooperating financially and non-financially with government.
Churches wanting to seek government funds should set up separate nonprofit entities from the church, the guide suggests. That separate entity would be subject to restrictions placed on tax dollars, while the church would not.
Listed in the guide as “Not OK” is a hypothetical ministry organized by members of a local church that receives tax dollars and “refuses to hire any staff members who will not sign a statement saying that they believe the Bible to be inerrant.” An example listed as “OK, is if the same taxpayer-funded ministry “hires any person who is qualified for a job, without reference to religion or religious belief.”
At a press conference at the National Press Club to release the guide, BJC Executive Director Brent Walker said it can be a “useful guidebook” for churches as they make important decisions about how and whether to partner with government.
“We all want to help the needy, and the government and religion may cooperate in this venture,” Walker said. “However, there is a wrong way to do right and there are right ways to do right.”
“Charitable choice,” Walker said, is a wrong way. “How can a church raise its prophetic fist to criticize the state when its other hand is open for a government handout?” asked Walker in a prepared statement. “When government funding and direction is involved, more often than not, it is religion that loses in the end.”
Welton Gaddy, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance, said his group would travel to selected states around the country and hold community forums to discuss the implications of Bush’s initiative “and to raise concerns about the priorities and resources being allocated for assistance to those in need.”
Gaddy said the guide is designed to serve as an educational resource for houses of worship and to highlight the implications of accepting tax dollars.
“We see inherent dangers in the government picking and choosing which religious endeavors are worthy of taxpayer support,” Gaddy said.
Also speaking at the event was Justus Reeves of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, who said that the African-American church “has been a bedrock of social services within our community and we will continue to do so.”
“We have done this without government involvement or interference and we believe in the principle of separation of church and state,” Reeves said.
Reeves said the PNBC will use the document “and circulate it among our churches across the country to ensure that they understand all of the rules that are at work before they agree to any project which will undermine the prophetic voice of the church.”
Associated Baptist Press
Used with permission.