Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Essence of union of church and state"

There is a quote concerning the separation of church and state that I am going to relay in a moment. But first, I noticed that the Faith-Based Initiative is back in the news in recent weeks. On January 29 President Bush celebrated the seventh anniversary of this program which channels federal funds to religious organizations that provide certain services. Last Thursday featured a Q&A with John Dilulio, the first director of the Faith-Based Initiative, on the future of the program after Bush leaves office. On January 29 Dilulio along with David Kuo, former deputy director of the Faith-Based Initiative, wrote a New York Times Op-Ed in which they were critical of Bush's efforts in this area but they voiced support for the concept. Then, on February 3, Jay Hein, current director of the Faith-Based Initiative, responded to Kuo and Dilulio's Op-Ed with a defense of this Bush legacy at this point.

All three editions of the Baptist Faith and Message (1925, 1963 and 2000) thankfully contain this simple but profound sentence: "Church and state should be separate." This brings me to that quote I mentioned above. Baptist hero E. Y. Mullins in his book entitled The Axioms of Religion said, "Direct gifts of money to religious bodies by the general government is of the essence of union of church and state."


Nathan Rogers said...

Hello David, I am a student at Campbell University of which I'm sure you're familiar, and I've really enjoyed one of our new professors, Tony Cartledge who I think is a friend of yours.

Anyway, not to sound like I'm picking a fight, but what about faith based organizations that adequately distinguish between religious services and social services? There are a number of faith based para-church organizations that provide equivalent and at times better services to for instance the poor, that do a good job of keeping religion separate. I think such organizations should be equally eligible for federal dollars. And that's where the federal dollars are going.

This wouldn't be the church and state going to bed together, it would be a mutual effort for social good. The government is not running the church in this instance but supplementing the efforts to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the poor.

Just thought I'd add my two cents.

Nathan Rogers

Rebecca said...

It is a very difficult topic to address. When the government starts giving faith-based organizations money, it would seem they could start telling those organizations what to do. Well, they sort of do, but it's not as bad as it sounds.

I was an intern at Mission Waco a few years back and learned a little about the faith-based initiative. There are many rules and regulations as to what the money can and cannot be used for. For instance, it may be available to cover the cost of gas in transporting youth to and from an after school program, but not for the salary of a precher verbally sharing Christ (though honestly, the goverment can do nothing about actions sharing Christ, cause frankly Christians in secular non-profits can share Christ through their actions).

From my time in Chicago I have seen how these grants, newly available to faith-based organizations, have allowed them to expand their programs in areas such as education or job training, which allows other funds to go toward more direct ways of sharing the Gospel.

In separation of church and state I don't think a person has to choose between church and state. I believe a person can serve and honor both. I think it's more whether or not the government endorses or discourages a specific religion. Since all faiths can be cadidates for such funds, I don't see it so much as a marriage of church and state.

David Stratton said...

Sorry to be slow in responding. I have changed my settings so that I'll know when I get a comment.

To Nathan, nice to hear from you. "Mutual effort for social good" when said "mutual effort" involves government funding of the Christian mission (or the mission of any other religion) makes me very nervous. The fact that the mission of church and state may at times intersect does not remove the danger of mingling the two. John Leland and his fellow Baptists of the late 1700's and early 1800's opposed the slightest moves in the direction of cooperation between church and state as a dangerous violation of the wall of separation that protects religious liberty for all.

To Rebecca, thanks for reading. You say that since all faiths are canditates for governemnt funding under the Faith-Based Initiative that it does represent a marriage of church and state. Baptists along with other evangelicals of the late 1700's would not agree. In 1784 Patirck Henry introduced a bill in the Virginia legislature that provided for equal funding to assist the mission of all Christian groups (no all faiths, but almost as close as you could get in this land in 1784). Baptists and other evangelicals came out strongly against the bill designed to supposedly help them. Interestingly these early American evangelicals opposed any government funding of the Christian mission not because of the fear of persecution but because they saw said funding as a breach of the separation of church and state which was, in the words of one Baptist group, "contrary to the spirit of the gospel and the bill of rights." (Read a great article describing the battle over Henry's bill here: .)

To both, I tend to be in the camp of Baptist hero George W. Truett who, in his famous address from the steps of the Capitol in 1920 said, "Christ's religion needs no prop of any kind from any worldly source, and to the degree that it is thus supported is a millstone hanged about its neck."