Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Feb 10, 2009 in Uncategorized

Take Caesars Money, Play By Caesar’s Rules

Over at ON FAITH, David Waters has a few good words about President Obama’s unwillingness to immediately over a final word on the non-discrimination hiring policy for religious groups getting federal money through the renamed White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships:

Candidate Obama didn’t care for President Bush’s 2002 executive order that allowed faith-based groups to discriminate in hiring and still get federal grants to run social programs. “If you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them — or against the people you hire — on the basis of their religion,” Obama said in Ohio last July.

So it was somewhat surprising last week when President Obama failed to rescind Bush’s order when he announced the rules for his own White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. “President Obama understands he’s at risk of alienating the vast majority of the evangelical community,” Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (and On Faith panelist) told CNN.

Obama’s order did say that hiring rules would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis when there are complaints of discrimination. It’s a commendable way to try to avoid conflict, but if religious groups are going to take Caesar’s money to do God’s work, shouldn’t they abide by Caesar’s anti-discrimination laws?

In neither case is government funding required.

The 1964 Civil Right Act allows religious organizations to discriminate in hiring. Baptist churches can decide they only want to hire males preachers. Catholic schools can hire only Catholic teachers. And so on. But that was before Bush allowed Baptist churches and Catholic schools to start applying for government grants.

Obama the former community organizer knows that most faith-based organizations are 501(c)3 nonprofits run by people who are motivated by their faith (not by money) to do good works. They don’t discriminate or proselytize when they feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house and homeless and serve as their neighbors.

The goal of the new faith-based initiative, Obama said at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, “will not be to favor one religious group over another — or even religious groups over secular groups. It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line our Founders wisely drew between church and state.”

But this line is blurry. How much blurrier (and more contentious) will it get when millions in federal funds start to flow?

Will the Southern Baptist Convention be allowed to take federal tax dollars to help hurricane victims if they tell them about Jesus while they’re giving them food and water?

Will World Vision be allowed to use federal tax dollars to care for orphans in Muslim or Hindu nations while refusing to hire non-Christians to do the caring?

Will the pastor of First Megachurch of Houston be given federal tax dollars to provide drug counseling for deadbeat dads while preaching and practicing discrimination against homosexuals or atheists or illegal aliens?

If so, many church-state separatists will cry foul. If not, many evangelicals will complain about sectarian discrimination.

There’s a simple and faithful way to solve this problem. If evangelical groups don’t want the federal government telling them what they can or cannot do with federal tax dollars, they shouldn’t take federal funds.

“What does the LORD require of you?” it says in the Book of Micah. “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” No federal funds required.

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,” Jesus says in the Book of Matthew.

  And a hearty AMEN.HT: Paul Raushenbush
Be Sociable, Share!


  1. Big Daddy Weave,

    I have some mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I think it is perfectly reasonable that the government should expect all those receiving federal aid or who have been granted tax exemption to comply with governmental rules and regulations. On the other hand, because I am a Christian, I believe that Christianity (and its morality) is alone right, and I wish the majority of people including the government recognized it and enforced legislation according to Christian moral principles.

    But, I think you are exactly right when you say, “There’s a simple and faithful way to solve this problem. If evangelical groups don’t want the federal government telling them what they can or cannot do with federal tax dollars, they shouldn’t take federal funds.” But I am afraid that many will not separate politics from religion (which is very necessary when your religion is no longer the majority one, even if you do not wish to disavow any portion of your religion for the sake of politics). I do not believe that religion must always be private, but the public manifestation of it is probably best funded privately.

  2. Oh, sorry, it’s late. Kudos to the quoted portion, that is. I also like the two closing Bible references.

  3. Aaron,

    Limited tax credits for donations to organizations that perform eleemosynary work. No tax dollars spent with religious groups. That’s the solution.

  4. I fully agree that if you take the government’s money, you’re under their conditions, and that Obama’s a chameleon politician–no CHANGE there.

  5. I have trouble seeing where the line between the benefit provided by the federal funds is clearly defined against the purpose of whatever religious activity is involved. I’ve spent a couple of weeks every summer since 1993 at World Changers projects, which are sponsored by the SBC’s North American Mission Board. World Changers provides volunteer labor and does repair work for low income homeowners. A World Changers crew, typically high school students with a couple of adults, one with construction experience, can roof a house, install siding, build wheelchair ramps and a whole lot of other stuff in a week’s time, and they help whatever agency provides the funding save and stretch their dollars. They can do major work on about three homes for what it would cost for a contractor to do one, and it is quality work.

    The crews are also trained in evangelism and outreach, and have plenty of opportunities to speak to the people in the neighborhoods where they are working about their faith in Christ. I don’t call that proselytizing, but if receiving federal tax dollars to purchase building materials brought government regulation with it, and forced World Changers to stop their evangelistic opportunity, I’d object to that. Though it is an SBC operated program, churches of other denominations participate, and the people at any given project are all volunteers, but their administrative staff is made up of NAMB missionaries, and they definitely need to be committed Christians.

    The money for materials does not in any way go toward any expense involving the crews themselves, but I can still see where there might be some blurred lines. The solution, as you say, is very simple. Just don’t accept the federal tax money. Otherwise, it is reasonable to expect federal regulation.

  6. World Changers’ stated mission is to provide opportunities “to meet the physical and spiritual needs of others.”

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *