[Hpn] Homeless Ministries and President Bush
Sun, 28 Jan 2001 21:51:09 EST
Date: Sunday January 28 2001
Contact: Jeremy Reynalds
Tel: 505) 877-6967, or (505) 463-2873.
Learn about Joy Junction
on the World Wide Web at: www.joyjunction.org
Bush Meets with Religious Leaders to Discuss Possible Funding: Joy
Junction Chief Says "No Thanks."
(Albuquerque) On Monday January 29 at 11.00 a.m. (EST) President Bush is
meeting in Washington D.C., to discuss possible funding of faith based
programs by the federal government. Joy Junction Director is vehemently
opposed to what he believes will end up being unwarranted government
intrusion into religion and is advising leaders of faith based ministries not
to take the funds but rather to ask the government for help in decreasing
burdensome government regulations. Please find below his response contained
in its entirety.
Government rules make it tougher to help people. So much so that the head
of one charitable agency in San Francisco recently told ABC's John Stossel
that "if Jesus Christ wanted to start Christianity (today), he wouldn't be
able to do it, because there are too many regulations." How true. We just
saw that demonstrated first hand at Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest
emergency homeless shelter. We have no quibble with the individual; we
realize that she was just doing her job. However, as a result of that visit
we've got a whole lot of work to do. For example. We will no longer be able
to use an old mobile home to temporarily store donations, and we have to
move a structure that wasn't placed quite exactly in accordance with
government required site plan.
We'll be complying with the requirements, just as we've always done so.
But that notwithstanding, it's rules of that nature that make running a
charitable shelter so much harder than it needs to be. Remember that at Joy
Junction we don't receive any government funding of any type and we're still
obligated to deal with rules like that. Can you imagine the rules and
bureaucratic hoops we'd be forced to jump through if we DID take federal
In spite of having to face a potential Red Sea of bureaucracy if they opt
for government funding (and their ability to ask the Lord to bail them out
may be compromised in the process, as even to call upon His Name may subject
those around them to "unwanted religious proselytizing,") a number of faith
based ministry leaders seem to be jumping at the prospect. (It's surprising
what dangling dollars before human beings will do to their integrity).
On Monday January 29th there was a meeting between President Bush and a
number of Christian leaders to discuss possible government support for faith
based ministries. One writer said that the issue about such proposed
government funding for faith based ministries is whether it can occur without
them being turned into, as one writer so succinctly articulated, "secular
wards of the welfare state." My guess is that is exactly what WOULD happen.
The only help that I want from the government is a willingness to reduce or
remove burdensome government regulations which make my usage of the private
funds that I DO have less effective than they might otherwise be.
This apparent governmental willingness to bankroll religious charities is
the result of the historic 1996 welfare reform legislation which in addition
to allowing the states to require work in return for welfare payments, also
encouraged the recipients to more heavily rely on church assistance as well
as that offered by faith based ministries such as America's rescue missions.
Now it's no secret that much of what the government does it is regarded
by many as doing poorly. For example, as was pointed out by John Stossel
during a recent program on government incompetence.
"The Interior Department spent billions to help American Indians, yet
they are still the poorest people in America. Billions more have been spent
on public housing, but instead of living in safe homes, low-income families
often end up in dilapidated, unsafe buildings," Stossel said.
One of the names that frequently crops up in connection with the failure
of today's government to help the poor is University of Texas Professor
Marvin Olasky's very well documented 1992 resource, "The Tragedy of American
Compassion." The book is basically a chronology of how the poor were helped
in 19th-century America.
Olasky points out that in comparison with today's ideology of
non-accountability, that workers of this era used a tough-love approach that
was geared toward saving souls — not just bodies. That same approach also
demanded behavioral changes – in stark contrast to the government's current
bottomless feeding trough of entitlements.
Not surprisingly, a number of scholars agree with Olasky's approach.
Commenting in an article by Capital Research Center Fellow Martin Morse
Wooster in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, University of Pennsylvania
Political Scientist John J. DiIulio Jr., a leading advocate of faith-based
charities, pointed out that "the crux of compassionate conservatism is the
will to promote active benevolence in all sectors of civil society and to
institute results-driven competition within social-welfare bureaucracies,
federal, state, and local. If implemented faithfully, the policies and
programs that flow from compassionate conservatism might bring about lasting
progress against our worst social ills-notably, enormous improvement in how
government helps children and poor families."
At Joy Junction, we not only believe in "compassionate conservatism," we
feel that thanks to the prayers and financial support of a very generous
community that we exemplify the concept. But the sort of compassionate
conservatism in which we believe and the sort which I believe Olasky promotes
in his book is a behavior in which families, communities and businesses are
integrally involved. It's an activity in which caring neighbors pitch in to
help a neighbor down on his luck, or a family up the street whose house has
been burned down. It is a behavior which has people at its core and one that
is initiated and maintained by community generosity --- not by government
Government intrusion into faith based ministries by way of funding has
the potential to be a devastating scenario. It has the capacity to rip the
very heart out of the ministry and reduce it to something akin to the "dry
bones" described in the Biblical Book of Ezekiel. While President Bush is
agog to open up the federal coffers to faith based ministries, he is by far
the final arbiter on the matter. Because there is currently inadequate
guidance on permissible usages of federal funds by faith based ministries,
any disbursements that do happen will probably end up getting tied up in the
courts rather quickly.
Such a scenario is rather ominous, because as Wooster pointed out, there
is very little case law concerning the government funding of religious
charities. While there have been a number of court cases dealing with what
sort of government aid parochial schools can and cannot receive, the U.S.
Supreme Court has only heard two cases other than schools regarding aid to
religious non profits.
Commenting on the three-pronged test devised in 1971 for government aid
to parochial schools, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist
wrote that aid must fulfill "a secular legislative purpose," "its principal
or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion,"
and "the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with
religion." It is not a violation of the constitution to federally fund non
profits, Rehnquist observed, as long as funds are not used for purposes that
are either "pervasively sectarian" or provide counseling that "amounts to the
teaching of religion."
Wooster said that a while a number of experts believe that the Charitable
Choice provisions of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act protect faith based
ministries against unwarranted government intrusion that others believe the
religious nature of faith based groups will be compromised by the acceptance
of government funding.
For example, Wooster writes, "Also weighing in against Charitable Choice
is James Q. Wilson, who writes, ‘Federal money brings federal rules, and
federal rules can harm, distort, or even crush religious experience and
greatly burden the small ministries of most churches.' He predicts that,
‘left unchecked,' Charitable Choice will likely subject churches to minority
set-asides, employment-discrimination regulation, and the Americans With
So as those 25 leaders who met with President Bush head back to their
home towns, I hope they will consider the real essence of compassionate
conservatism: privately funded assistance being responsibly disbursed to
needy community members. And just think what the government could do with the
funds saved by NOT funding faith based ministries: give it all back to us in
the form of a tax cut and then WE could decide which agencies we wanted to
fund and religion wouldn't even be an issue. Boy, what a concept!
For additional information, please call Jeremy Reynalds at (505) 463-2873