- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

When Dave Donaldson was 9 years old, his parents’ car was hit by a drunken driver. His father was killed and his mother seriously injured. People in the religious community rallied around them, providing assistance to his mother, including clothing, food and even the manpower to help fix their dilapidated house. The family also received government help.

“I was shown a God that cares,” said Mr. Donaldson, who is the founder and president of We Care America, a faith-based nonprofit that educates and equips faith-based groups. “Faith-based organizations help people discover value in God’s eyes and move toward sustainability and becoming wounded healers.”

Conservatives and liberals agree that faith-based organizations are key players in helping the needy. But some advocates of faith work criticize the push to increase government funding of religious groups, saying it borders on state-sponsored religion. Even those who are supportive of the faith-based initiative acknowledge the dangers of organizations losing their vision and chasing dollars.

Data from both federal and state programs suggest roughly 20 percent of social service grants are awarded to faith-based groups. “We want equal fair treatment, and [there has been] discrimination if you don’t let faith-based organizations take federal funds,” said Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Mr. Donaldson said a mixture of ignorance and fear often play into why only a minority of faith-based organizations have accepted public funds. “[President] Reagan said if you get in bed with government, you will never get a good night’s sleep, but groups like Salvation Army have shown it can work,” Mr. Donaldson said.

The large groups like Salvation Army and Lutheran Social Services have the resources and ability to apply for public funds, but small faith-based organizations often do not.

Urban Institute researcher Carol DeVita polled pastors and priests of churches east of the Anacostia River in Wards 6, 7 and 8 on how they felt about faith-based initiative. “Universally they all said emphatically: Working with government is complicated,” Ms. DeVita said.

Her research showed small congregations were often unsure how to begin the process of partnering with government to expand their social services, while larger organizations had been more successful.

“In reality it is difficult to level the playing field,” said Dr. Amy Sherman, director of the Faith in Communities Project of the Hudson Institute, which assists faith-based groups.

One faith-based charity leader said working with the government is like dancing with a porcupine because “every time you grab on, you get stuck.”

Interfaith Alliance vigorously opposes the faith-based initiative.

“The strongest argument against faith-based initiative is that it creates an entanglement between religion and government that proves detrimental to religion,” said the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance. “That’s why the framers of the Constitution barred government from establishing any or all religion. The money might help immediately but ultimately compromise religious organization.”

Chasing money becomes the most real danger, said Robert Tuttle, a law professor at George Washington University, who advises faith-based organizations. “That tends not to work out well; you lose your soul,” he said.

But if the pursuit of funds can be separated from the mission of the organization, then the partnership seems to benefit everyone. Faith in Communities’ survey of more than 300 leaders of faith-based groups with government contracts for social service programs reported that 92 percent of the leaders said they were satisfied in relation to the government. Only 5 percent of those leaders surveyed expressed concerns.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington receives $12 million dollars a year from government sources, half of its total revenue, and served nearly 80,000 people last year caring for the homeless, and providing child welfare, food and emergency services.

“Government funding is an adjunct to help, but it is not the end-all and be-all of our mission,” said Ed Orzechowski, president of the Catholic agency. “The partnership is critical for people to move forward.”

But direct public funding is not the only option in helping faith-based charities. Mr. Gaddy says the ideal would be for the government to put as much money in social services and the religious community to do the same.

“You would see a revolution in people having their needs met,” Mr. Gaddy said. “The best solution is for the government to pass legislation that makes it attractive to make charitable gifts, but not to do that with public tax dollars.”

Critics say the public funding of faith-based service providers might: undermine the religious character of the institutions and drive away private giving; compromise faith’s prophetic role as a critic of government; make religion dependent on government money; expose ministries to government regulations; and sanction government-funded religious discrimination in employment.

The Rev. Robert M. Hardies, senior minister at All Souls Church, Unitarian, also expressed concern about the distinction between church and state. All Souls Church does not receive any government funds for its emergency medical and food assistance in Ward 1 because “we never really considered it for our programs; we are content to leave it to that,” Mr. Hardies said.

For Good Shepherd Ministries in Adams Morgan, the primary reason not to accept government grants is that types of government giving go out of style. “One year after-school programs may be big, and the next year that funding may not exist,” said Kim Montroll, co-director for the tutoring and mentoring ministry. “We decided to do steady relationship building with funders. We want to be able to shape our programs for the needs of community.”

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