In 2001, President Bush established an office within the White House called the “White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives” or OFBCI for short. Now called the “White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships” (renamed by President Obama), the basic idea behind the faith based initiative is to provide federal dollars to social services organizations (both church-based and secular) in order to help serve the needs of local communities.
According to President Obama, the faith based initiative “will be a resource for nonprofits and community organization, both secular and faith based, looking for ways to make a bigger impact in their communities, learn their obligations under the law, cut through red tape, and make the most of what the federal government has to offer.”
If this is your first time hearing about the program, you may be thinking one of two things:
That sounds like pretty good program. Providing churches and community organizations with funding to reach out to the community can do a lot of good.
What on earth is the government doing by distributing taxpayer money to churches and other community organizations?
To quote one of my favorite economists, Thomas Sowell, “Economic policies need to be analyzed in terms of the incentives they create, rather than the hopes that inspired them.” No matter how well intended a program may be, there will always be opposition because of the incentives that stem from the policy.
While we may be hard-pressed to find someone who is completely against helping those in need, it’s easy to find people who do not support faith based initiatives. Those who oppose the provision of government funds for faith based organizations may argue that these groups will still try to spiritually influence those in need of the social assistance.
The biggest question is this: Should taxpayer dollars be used to support religious organizations? Many people argue that federal money shouldn’t be used by religious organizations regardless of the well intentions of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
The Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has defined a set of guidelines for churches and organizations receiving funding as outlined below:
- The organization may not use government funds to support religious activities such as: prayer, worship, religious teaching, or proselytizing.
- Any religious activities offered by the faith based organization must be offered separately from the government funded activities.
- The faith based organizations cannot discriminate on the basis of religion as they provide their services.
I personally feel that the church shouldn’t have to rely on taxpayer dollars to provide outreach to the community. We as Christians are called to meet the physical needs of our community as well as share the message of hope that is in Christ. Through the generosity of those in the church, I think that we should be able to meet the needs of our community without relying on federal assistance to do so. It takes a committed congregation of generous people to create change like this – but I’ll save that discussion for another article.
I would love to hear your opinion on this issue. Do you think that it’s wrong for churches to receive federal money to meet the (non-spiritual) needs of the community?