Faith-Based Solutions

  To judge by the howls of the ACLU, President Bush's faith-based initiatives are the Inquisitions, Crusades, and Salem witch trials -- all rolled into one. During our recent debate on Larry King Live, Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State -- who labels Christians bigots -- assailed me for saying Prison Fellowship wouldn't hire gays. Well, this kind of attack is predictable. These are hyper-sensitive people who have a cause: hostility toward religion. But there's also opposition from our friends, like Pat Robertson, who is urging changes to President Bush's faith-based initiatives. So too are reservations being expressed by Jerry Falwell, Richard Land, and others -- understandably so, I might say, in view of some of the confusing statements being made by some of the President's aides. And changes will have to be made as the details of the program are worked out. But in the midst of all the super-heated rhetoric, we need to focus on what's really at stake. Faith-based initiatives are nothing new. The Salvation Army, Samaritan's Purse, Catholic Charities, and World Vision have used federal funding for years in their charitable outreach programs. What President Bush is doing is simply expanding the scope so more ministries can do the same. What's more, the rules governing federal funding of faith-based programs have been settled for years. In the 1988 case of Bowen v. Kendrick, the Supreme Court established the criteria under which faith-based groups can function. As long as these criteria are observed, no constitutional barriers will be breached. And the government's interest is fully protected. It will apply outcome-based testing to faith groups that receive funds. Tax dollars can only be used for the social services provided by the religious agencies, and all funds must be strictly accounted for. Sure, there are some risks. Controversial groups like the Nation of Islam, the Church of Scientology, or the Hare Krishnas can apply for funds. But again, there are constitutional tests to be met. Service providers must be authentic religious groups, and the Supreme Court has already established the criteria for that. Critics on the Left know what many of us on the Right may not understand: President Bush has a deeper agenda here. He's not simply trying to fund private charities; he's trying to change the way we deal with social problems in America. The President is determined to dismantle some of the failed programs of the Great Society -- the Nanny State that attempted to funnel aid from Washington into local communities through government programs. And he wants to replace these failed programs with reinvigorated, intermediate structures: churches, community groups, civic groups, and local agencies. This is a profoundly conservative concept -- what Edmund Burke, the British statesman and patron saint of modern conservatism, called the "little platoons of society." And it's profoundly biblical as well. Catholics call the idea of using local structures to solve problems "subsidiarity." Evangelicals call it "sphere sovereignty." Prison Fellowship, while running many faith-based programs, takes no federal funds, and many others won't either. Still, those of us who care about delivering services to people, and offering a Christian witness in the process, need to get behind these proposals. And, we must not let this controversy deter us from our task of living out the Gospel in such a way that a watching world sees the power of Christ.


Chuck Colson


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