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Faith-Based or Funding-Based?

The effect of secular funds on sacred missions

by Attica Scott

"Tolerance and understanding won't 'trickle down' in our society any more than wealth does."
—Muhammad Ali, 1996

I applaud President George W. Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives and development of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. This funding should help strengthen the work and outreach of churches and other organizations with a faith base as they seek to rehabilitate people with difficult histories, support families, provide after-school care, etc. But I do have some concerns.

Places of worship have been and continue to be meeting places for social change and social justice organizations. Will that change with churches accepting money from our federal government? I ask this because many organizations that seek community justice are sometimes at odds with local, state, and federal authorities and governments.

Faith-based organizations will be subject to the rules and regulations of their funders. This means that churches and other faith organizations that are outspoken may have to put a muzzle over their collective mouths when it pertains to being outspoken toward the very entity from which they are seeking funding.

For example, will the leadership of the churches in redeveloped Mechanicsville be willing to question our local housing authority if their congregation brings forth concerns and issues about the way the HOPE VI project is functioning?

Even before President Bush took office, Congress adopted the Charitable Choice provision in 1996 which (according to Bush) "enables private, religious and charitable organizations to compete on an equal footing for federal funding to provide services, and it protects their religious character if they choose to accept federal funds." But federal funding can also limit the religious work of these institutions. I say that because a faith-based institution can write a grant for and receive AmeriCorps workers, but the workers cannot do faith work.

I've got more concerns. Once our churches start receiving federal funding, will they become more numbers-focused for the sake of future funding? Will more suburban churches be funded for their inner city/urban outreach ministries rather than inner city/urban churches being funded to serve the communities in which they are directly located?

Will pastors become political pundits in the pulpit? Or will the pulpit become a political platform for folks running for office? Will churches, some of which are already territorial, become even more competitive?

What makes an organization a "faith-based" organization? We know that this encompasses more than churches, mosques, or synagogues. I don't think that it is news to anyone that slavery was a faith-based institution. And what about the Nation of Islam?

Finally, who will be making the funding decisions? Peers (meaning others from faith-based institutions)? Or will it be folks who have theorized about faith-based work, but not really put in the time in one of these institutions? How involved in program development will the folks be who are receiving services from these faith-based institutions?

All of these small questions lead me to ask two big questions: Will churches continue to worship the Almighty? Or will they focus on worshipping the all-mighty dollar? Just asking.

May 3, 2001 * Vol. 11, No. 18
© 2001 Metro Pulse