A recent National Public Radio story says that President-elect Obama will stop allowing Christian organizations that receive federal money for benevolent work to hire only Christians. The Bush administration allowed participants in the faith-based initiatives program an exemption from federal hiring practices so they can maintain the integrity of their own faith. The story went on to center the upcoming controversy on “intensively religious organizations,” an obvious reference to organizations that not only hand out a cup of cool water but also do it in Jesus’ name. I wonder if anyone would really own the term “casually religious” to distinguish himself from the rest of us.
The idea prompts a couple of responses. First, and I confess I’ve said this before on this page, our culture is truly confused about the concepts of faith and religion. Some will base their agreement with the possible Obama administration policy on the principle of separation of church and state. Remember what the First Amendment actually says, though. If the government gives a ministry based in a Baptist church money for food that will be distributed to the poor, and if volunteers also share the gospel as they have opportunity, how does that become the establishment of religion in the eyes of some? The church has done something very much in the public interest and they have also lived out the faith portion of their own values. Under the new proposal, we’d have churches choosing between help with hunger initiatives or their commission?no choice at all.
Why would our constitution even worry about government establishment of religion if the founders saw “religion” as a term divorced from any spiritual truth? Without the gospel, we’re the Red Cross or some other benevolent organization. The constitution nowhere forbids government establishment of benevolent organizations. In our day, the difference between acceptable religion and spooky fundamentalism is often simply the gospel. To us, it’s the difference between our faith and not our faith.
Secondly, I’d respond that the change in government policy would be hypocritical. If a Christian church or organization does exactly what it promises with federal money and also preaches the gospel, they’ve done something offensive to those unafraid to legislate their biases. What if another organization does something legal but even more morally questionable than evangelism, and takes federal money to cover the operational costs that enable this legal and reprehensible activity? What if my tax money is being used to support such a godless and anti-family group? Could there be something even worse than feeding, clothing, and teaching people in Jesus’ name?
Of course I’m talking about Planned Parenthood. This not-for-profit organization, conceived in insidious racism and dedicated to the proposition that all behaviors are created equal, raked in a billion dollars during the last year reported, nearly a third of it ($305 million) came from government funds?that’s an 11% surplus (since we can’t call it profit) for fiscal 2005-2006. If the breathless expectations of abortion profiteers and lobbyists come to reality, even the inadequate rules against abortion businesses using federal money to perform abortions will be removed during the next administration.
Theoretically, the federal money is for the support of non-lethal birth control and sex education provided by Planned Parenthood. Anyone with a lick of sense knows that buildings, utilities, employees, marketing, and other things are not so easily split in reality. Public money in one part of their work enables other parts. The nation’s largest abortion provider is not a big fan of abstinence-based sex education, by the way. The Bush administration funded abstinence-based sex education done by other groups; the Obama administration will likely remove this funding. That would be another win for Planned Parenthood.
Given the choice between hiring those who don’t share their mission (or are even hostile to it) and losing federal money, intensively religious organizations will look elsewhere for money. People who would have otherwise received food, clothing, tutoring, and selfless love will have to seek help elsewhere.
Given the choice between an annual federal abortion bailout and?wait a minute, Planned Parenthood doesn’t have to make a choice at all. They get to have it both ways. 2009 might even be a better year for this business (sorry, I mean “not for profit”) than 2008. I wonder how many other organizations, even truly benevolent ones, will be able to say that.
As Baptists, we should be very suspicious of the phrase “we’re from the government; we’re here to help.” Federal help for those who meet physical needs in Jesus name sounds like a fine idea but no government can long resist the urge to meddle and control. When administrations or margins in the Congress turn over, so do definitions of “help,” “meddle,” and “control.” Many Baptists say this every time someone offers to help us do what God has given us to do. This next year will prove us right in any number of ways. Having said that, it shouldn’t be that way. If a genuinely Christian group is doing something in the public interest because they believe that God loves people, no government body should be interested in their motive or theology. Bureaucracy can only judge actions. Help us, don’t help us, but don’t tell us what or if we can preach unless we are advocating violent or illegal activity.