Earmarks Infiltrate Faith-Based Funding in Record Amounts
DonByrd printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu May 17, 2007 at 12:03:12 PM EST
When Rev. Herbert Lusk's Greater Exodus Baptist Church in Philadelphia received a $1 million grant in government funds in 2002, just 2 years after the pastor offered a hearty endorsement of candidate Bush at the Republican National Convention, all the fears of faith-based funding opponents - for the integrity of the church - seemed to be coming true. With the executive branch funding the social service ministries of religious institutions, the spectre of corruption hangs overhead - both the real and the apparent, the large-scale quid pro quo and the smaller hesitation to criticize the President. Even at its most innocent, let's just call it the inherent human capacity to suck up to the hand that feeds it.

At least that program offers some measure of bureacratic filter, an application process that implies merit-based competition, the hint of oversight. But according to a NYTimes report over the weekend, religious organizations are increasingly finding their way around this system, receiving taxpayer money more directly. In short, multiply the troubling aspects of the President's faith-based initiative by the 535 members of Congress. That's right, I'm talking about congressional earmarks. Read on...

With the exception of military appropriations, which often fund quite specific programs, most congressional funding bills send money out to governmental agencies and departments to spend according to their particular charge. "Earmarks" are more specific direct funding provisions - bypassing competition and agency review - for projects outside of government (like, I don't know, maybe a bridge in Alaska). According to the Times report, earmarks for religious groups have increased precipitously, more than tripling in funds between the (already-record number) 107th (2001-3) and the 108th (2003-5) Congress.

The government is an easy target here - pandering to the faith community, misusing public funds, potentially violating the Constitution in the process.

But what of the faith-based groups on the receiving end? Is this what it's come to for religion? Are religious institutions willing to become simply another Washington lobby? Compromise their voice? Earmarks don't get their own individual vote (if only). Your religious group's funds are attached to legislation funding any number of things, as  James Winkler points out below, quoted in the Times piece.

"Earmarks are bad public policy," said Maureen Shea, director of the Episcopal Office of Government Relations in Washington. "If earmarks are not in the public interest, I would wonder why the faith community would be involved in them. It would hurt our credibility."

James E. Winkler, who has represented the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society since 2000, says he fears that the pursuit of earmarks could muffle religion's moral voice. "For example, we've opposed the war since day one," he said. "But what if an earmark benefiting us -- money for a Methodist seminary, perhaps -- is attached to the supplemental appropriation for the war? You can see how very serious moral conflicts could arise."

The Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, said that while religious organizations should be able to compete for federal money, such groups "shouldn't do that through earmarks." He explained, "As good stewards of the public trust, we have to be transparent and above board -- and earmarks are not transparent or above board."
...
Clyde Wilcox, a Georgetown University professor who has written extensively on religion and politics, said religious groups would naturally justify earmarks. But their moral authority in Washington -- "the extra prophetic power of the religious voice," as he put it -- largely arises from the fact that they are not seen as self-interested, he said. "The loss of that prophetic voice would be profound."

Kenneth Wald, a professor at the University of Florida who also studies religion in the political arena, foresees a more pragmatic danger for religious organizations that lobby for earmarks. "If they start to act like any other special interest, they'll start to be treated like any other special interest," he said. "I think it's nuts to take that risk."

The best course of action for government is to refrain from entangling with religion with public money. The best course of action for religion is to refrain from seeking or accepting public money. The separation of church and state is good for both.




Display:
showing the increase in funding here.

by DonByrd on Thu May 17, 2007 at 02:36:26 PM EST

whenever the church gets into bed with the world the church gets corrupted. this ALWAYS happens, it is the lesson of history. and the church has had 1800 years of experience of this , starting with the Emperor Constantine and his edict of toleration in AD 313, so they are totally devouid of excuse Of course the average religious person either does not know history or thinks that he will be different. this is why the main lesson of history is that no one lears the lessons of history. If Bush cared for the poor let him give his own money to church charities instead of giving money that came from the tax payer. of course Katrina showed Bush's real concern, so his faith based programme is a complete sham

by strefanash on Thu May 17, 2007 at 09:54:33 PM EST

There are religious groups, especially among mainline denominations, who have had a long history of providing social services on the basis of "secular" terms. As a Lutheran pastor I can say that the ELCA and its predecessors the LCA and ALC have long provided equal services with a blind eye to the spiritual status of those being served and without attempts to overtly evangelize those served. A belief of serving the least of these or those in need being the dominant purpose of these programs. Compliance with Equal Opportunity standards was a given and continue to be observed broadly today. Has this been done perfectly, I doubt it, but then again we Lutherans kind of obsess about "all fall short of the glory of God." Along with Mennonite Central Committee Lutheran Disaster Relief is often among the first on the scene of national and international disasters and is known for being particularly excellent at assisting people through the paperwork of federal assistance and often has been recognized with the highest ratings for charitable giving. All this work and yet rarely mentioned with the Salvation Army or the American Red Cross because that isn't the goal.

by esbjorn on Fri May 18, 2007 at 07:44:14 AM EST
Catholic social services groups around the country traditionally provide service to all who seek their help, they don't apply religious tests, and they help non-Catholics and Catholics alike.

by khughes1963 on Fri May 18, 2007 at 08:39:41 AM EST
Parent
Thanks for chipping in I was hoping someone could speak for Catholic Social Services but did not want to do it myself. They, too, have had a consistent record of service in this country without regard to those being served.

by PadreBear on Fri May 18, 2007 at 10:12:52 AM EST
Parent


 ....esbjorn is Rev. William Esborn, the Lutheran minister who, four years ago, pushed me to write my book when I didn't think I was capable of writing a book. He is also the author of the foreword. I'm glad to see him finally jumping into the discussion here.

If anyone wants to read Rev. Esborn's thoughts on church/state separation and Christian nationalist history revisionism, here's a link to his foreword to Liars for Jesus:
http://www.liarsforjesus.com/pages/foreword1.htm

by Chris Rodda on Fri May 18, 2007 at 12:32:57 PM EST
Parent



I am so glad that, finally, I'm not the only one out there objecting to Herb Lusk's Exodus Baptist Chruch/Philadelphia whoreing itself to Bush to get not only $2million in '02 but more in the meantime. I have included him directly in some of my posts over at christianalliance.com   At least I now feel a little less like John the Baptist in the wilderness! These people undermind the cost factor for hiring fairness & much less fund their sectarianism with public funds, & let's not get into the religious education that Lusk got in the defensive backfield of the Phila. Eagles: get the picture? Self-proclaimed, etc., but Reggie White was involved in getting this scam off the ground when they met in Camden over across the Delaware River until they became a megachurch with all fanfare & self-annointing of God's blessing. What hokum!

Yes, I will vouch for the ECLA doing wonderful work in immigrant settlement & MHMR through its Ken-Crest organization. Also, Catholic Social Services once it had to take public money or close became non-sectarian in its use of same, even where abortion was concerned. My favorite example is Suburban General Hospital was picketed every Saturday morning for years by anti-abortion Catholic factions claiming that abortions were performed there. I could not verify that so I wonder about their verification! But when Mercy Healthcare bought out the osteopathic institution & it became Mercy Suburban, wow, just like that all the picketers disappeared & as far as I can see, and as far as my vascular surgeon [Lutheran] can attest from the inside, no sectarianism is being practiced, except, perhaps, in the hardline nun who is CEO dispensing the funds to various depts. & supplies sometimes scarce when needed. Otherwise, I will give them a bye. Isn't it interesting as to the double-standard, however? When they do it, it's suddently OK!

But as for faith-based doing better jobs with less money, hokummmm. I'd like someone to take on Extreme Church (AG) of Seneca, SC that is nothing more than an old tyme cult, period, contracting with the county for the court sending there its alcohol-counselling cases. Funny, that these poor souls wind up going to this quanset hut operation that masks itself as a church to cover its inhumane sins on the inside. And I am sure that this pattern is duplicated over & again, across the country, since these kinds do not believe in Separation of Church & State but will feed at the trough of public funds until someone cuts them off for proselytizing for their cult-operation with our funding. What a shame! A pox on their house! Not good policy, public or sectarian!
Arden C. Hander

by achbird65 on Mon May 21, 2007 at 07:31:17 AM EST



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