- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2001

Some regional African Methodist Episcopal church leaders who were gathered for an annual conference expressed concern yesterday that the federal funds religious institutions would be allowed to compete for under President Bush's faith-based initiative may come with "strings attached."
Church leaders, who are attending a four-day conference this week in the District, said they are encouraging pastors in the region to first read the fine print before applying for any funds. They said they need to make sure the government will only act as a partner, not an overseer of funds.
"If we're going to be partners, we have to remain separate corporations," said Bishop Vinton R. Anderson, who heads AME churches in Virginia, Maryland, the District and North Carolina. "We need to be sure that the government won't intrude into the life of the church."
Still, others like the Rev. Frank Reid, who heads Bethel AME in Baltimore, said the plan has become "a political football" over the black church vote. "This shouldn't be about politics," Mr. Reid said. "It's about serving the least fortunate and the left out."
President Bush's faith-based initiative would allow any church, synagogue or mosque doing charitable work to compete for billions of dollars in government grants.
Under the plan, the funds could not be used for religious purposes, and the faith-based groups receiving the grants would be prohibited from discriminating against people of different faiths. The groups could keep their religious symbols, character and internal governance, but could not use funds for worship, instruction or as means for religious conversion.
Last month, the House passed a bill that expands a 1996 law allowing religious groups to bid for funds to provide welfare services. The House bill also offers tax incentives for more charitable giving. A similar bill is pending in the Senate.
Those who gathered at the annual Festival of the Church conference, which ends today, tried to educate church members and pastors about the initiative. Church leaders held several forums, during which they warned parishioners to be cautious of the plan. "We want the plan to work with the church and for it to be user-friendly," said the Rev. Lee Washington, with the Reid Temple in Lanham.
What concerns leaders the most is what the process will be to apply for the funds, whether there will be any red tape to bypass, and if there will be any legal ramifications in the future.
"To be honest, we want to know if there are any strings attached," Mr. Reid said.
Mr. Anderson agreed.
"We're encouraging pastors to be knowledgeable about what is being offered and what to do when funds are received," he said.
Church officials, however, contend the extra money would help expand much-needed services to the homeless as well as day-care, after-school and counseling programs that their ministries have been operating on private funds .
"This money would be used to fix broken homes and broken families," Mr. Anderson said.
Larry Witham contributed to this report.

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