Saturday, July 12, 2008

Memo to Washington: Thanks But No Thanks for Faith-Based-Initiatives

It may surprise you to know that conservative Christians believe strongly in the separation of state and church. I reverse the common phrase, "separation of church and state," because it brings with it the image of the church as the aggressor. History shows that just the opposite is true.

Christian believers and even the God they worship have always been considered political threats. Our Lord, even as a baby, was considered by Herod to be a threat to the throne. The betrayal, the trial and the crucifixion of Christ, were thick with the politics of the day. Since that time, a long list of Christians have been tortured and killed because they were considered a political threat, including many in China, Russia and Africa. Some of the original European travelers to North America came because they were Christians on the run from a government.

While Christians in other countries have experienced the sometimes violent oppression of the state, Christians in the United States have experienced something more subtle. We are stifled not by stormtroopers, but by the lure of money and the threat of litigation. Government officials dare not express their faith and neither do employers or landlords.

It is with this in mind that I, and most Christians, want to say thanks, but no thanks to the government funding of “faith based initiatives.”

When President Bush originally announced the program, many of the leading Christians who had supported him, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, et al, announced their opposition. There are several reasons for this. First, there is no such thing as free money from the government. There are always strings attached. President Bush dictated that the money could only be used for secular purposes, effectively muzzling the evangelistic voice of Christian relief workers.

Secondly, the Bible never tells God’s people to be charitable with other people’s money. And that is what government funding is. Other people’s money. Biblically speaking, charity should be personal and sacrificial. It should hurt a little. God’s purpose is to build Christian character in the giver as much as it is to help the needy. To accept government funding defeats God’s purpose.

Also, Christianity is not the only faith whose relief agencies may receive money. That is only fair but it will certainly lead to spiritual confusion. Christians are all about making sure people understand the distinction between following Jesus and other religions. For Christians to accept federal funding along with the agencies of other faiths will only blur the picture.

There have certainly been some misguided souls in the Christian community who decided to accept the President’s offer. Now, we have Barak Obama offering to expand the program and even loosen some restrictions on Christian relief agencies that accept funding.

To any Christian organization that has not yet accepted funding but is considering it, I would say please think in the long term. You do not know when or how the state will call in the debt.