Don’t Take Government Money. Don’t Kiss Caesar’s Ring

“Do not take government money.” 

I have said this to every religious ministry who has given me a venue to speak ever since I came back to public office in 2002.

The only people who give you free money are people who love you, like your parents. The government does not love anybody.

Government money hooks you into government policies, including those that are anathema to you. Religious groups that take government money — and it does not matter which party is in power — will eventually face the requirement that they bend their knee to Caesar and kiss his ring.

I’ve seen leaders of whole Protestant denominations abandon things they have fought for like pro life in response to political pressure.

I remember a few years back reading that national Catholic Charities had received a huge grant from the federal Health and Human Services Department.

I was appalled.

I knew that this money would lead to demands that the Church compromise its teachings. Based on what I’d seen Protestant groups do, I assumed that the Catholic Church would accede to these demands. I thought the money would buy the Church’s moral and prophetic voice, the way I’d seen it buy other religious voices.

I knew that you can not be true to Christ and take government money. You. Can. Not. Do. It.

You can not be an authentic Christian leader and toady to secular power. You. Can. Not. Do. It.

I wrote a post Saturday in which I talked about our personal allegiances; our friendships. I said that sooner or later, you have to chose. You cannot maintain deep intimate friendships with anti-God people and follow Jesus. You have to chose.

This is a parallel post addressed to religious leaders. My point is the same. You cannot base your efforts to bring the Kingdom of God on politics and supporting politicians and political parties. You cannot follow a political party and follow Christ.

You have to chose, and I don’t mean sooner or later when the politically powerful rub your nose in the fact that you “belong” to them and demand that you abandon your beliefs for them. I mean from day one. You cannot bend the Gospels to fit the platforms and the behaviors of either political party and preach Christ.

You will either preach politics.

Or you will preach Christ.

But you cannot do both.

Many Catholic priests are just as guilty as their Protestant brethren of bending the Gospels to suit their politics. You find both Republican and Democrat apologists in their ranks.

They will spout Canon Law and attack good people who oppose the death penalty because, somehow, that isn’t being “pro life” enough about abortion. Not, mind you, that the people they attack support abortion, but that they aren’t focused on it to the exclusion of every other possible sin. Others will try to make us believe that ignoring abortion is the necessary price for concern for the poor.

This is bending the Gospels so they don’t discomfit the politics of one political party or the other. It is not preaching Christ. Both types of priest lead people astray from following Christ and teach them to follow politicians, instead.

The Church itself, however, has been amazingly faithful.

It didn’t take long for what went around to come back around concerning those federal grants. Before you could say three Hail Marys, the Church was embroiled in lawsuits and broadsides, demanding that it refer the women it was helping for abortions or lose the money.

“While the Catholic bishops were entitled to their beliefs, freedom of religion does not mean imposing religious doctrines on others with the use of taxpayer dollars,” said Sarah Wunsch, an ACLU staff attorney.

She was referring to a lawsuit to end a federal grant to Catholic Charities for work aiding victims of human trafficking. A few months after this lawsuit, the federal Department of Health and Human Services revised its guidelines for human trafficking grants to require all recipients to refer for abortion.

The Church could have done as so many others have and simply “wink-winked” its way through this. All it would take was a 3×5 card listing “abortion providers” tucked, ever so casually, into a pile of intake forms. Just touch your lips to the ring. It will be over quickly, and it won’t hurt for long.

Besides, “it was the law.”

That’s what the Church could have done. It’s what everyone else has done. It was the wide and easy way.

I’m sure the government coffers would have opened and rained down gold on the Bishop’s heads if they had just done this. It would have been money, money, money for whatever they wanted.

But they said no. They took the narrow road, the hard way.

The price is that the federal government is now attacking the Church with broadsides like the HHS Mandate.

There is nothing in the Gospels that says you must first acquire a government grant to help the least of these. Following Christ’s teachings means, among other things, that the Church must reach out to people like victims of human trafficking, regardless of what the government wants or does.

The Church has responded to this situation with a new ministry called Amistad.

“We lost a contract, but we’ve not gone away,” said Nathalie Lummert, special-programs director at the USCCB’s Office of Migrant and Refugee Services (MRS). “We’re taking a decade of experience and now are rolling out a new program that brings communities directly into the fight against human trafficking.”

I am so proud of my church for standing for the Gospels in the face of the federal government. I am just as proud of them for their concern for trafficked women and children.

The fact that the Catholic Church refuses to kiss Caesar’s ring on the one hand, or abandon the least of these on the other is, in my opinion, the single best hope we have.

A National Catholic Register Article concerning Amistad says in part:

WASHINGTON — A new innovative weapon in the fight against human trafficking and sex slavery is coming this year from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, more than a year after abortion politics led the Obama administration to kill federal funding for the Church’s top-rated outreach effort.

“We lost a contract, but we’ve not gone away,” said Nathalie Lummert, special-programs director at the USCCB’s Office of Migrant and Refugee Services (MRS). “We’re taking a decade of experience and now are rolling out a new program that brings communities directly into the fight against human trafficking.”

The new initiative of the U.S. bishops’ Anti-Trafficking Program is “The Amistad Movement,” an MRS program that puts the USCCB back in the fight against human trafficking in a major way.

Until 2011, the USCCB had directed a highly regarded, $15-million anti-trafficking program that networked victims with services offered by local interfaith groups, including the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and Jewish Family Services, as well as secular nonprofits.

The USCCB program came to a sudden halt, however, when the Department of Health and Human Services announced that “strong preference” would be given to groups that would refer all victims to family-planning services, including “the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care.” A Washington Post investigation revealed senior HHS political appointees threw out the strong recommendations of an independent review board to renew the USCCB’s contract and disqualified the USCCB over its refusal to reimburse groups that referred victims for abortion and birth-control services.

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/u.s.-bishops-bring-new-weapon-to-human-trafficking-fight?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+NCRegisterDailyBlog+National+Catholic+Register#When:2013-01-28%2007:05:01#ixzz2JIFe2mvP

  • http://nebraskaenergyobserver.wordpress.com neenergyobserver

    Good for your bishops, yet again. In fact, that is not strong enough, Three cheers for them!!!!

    The old rule always applies “He who pays the piper, calls the tune.”

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      … or the golden rule … he who has the gold, rules.

  • FW Ken

    I worked for the local Catholics Charities for a few months 15 years ago. I was the only Catholic in my area (Refugee services), and the entire agency was pretty much like that. Not bad as social services go, but hardly “Catholic”. A lot of our money came from the feds, but there was a problem prior to the funding: back in the 70s, the organization decided that what mattered was not helping the poor, but “advocacy” against the systems of poverty and oppression”, and the like. Personally, I think there is a place for some of that, but to be “Catholic”, a service provider must do all in the name of Christ. It it’s in the humble provision of care that Christ is made known. Or goal is not just to feed the poor (an intrinsically good act), but the bring to all the Bread of Life.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    “Government money hooks you into government policies, including those that are anathema to you. Religious groups that take government money — and it does not matter which party is in power — will eventually face the requirement that they bend their knee to Caesar and kiss his ring.”

    Amen! And that’s not just for religious organizations. Everyone, including state and city governments, should be very wary of taking government money. The government is not there for your benefit. Don’t ever think it’s doing you a favor.

    • http://fpb.livejournal.com/ Fabio P.Barbieri

      “The government is not there for your benefit.”
      “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
      Compare and contrast.

      • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

        So, whet does that prove? Government does not give you anything free. You pay with it, either from your hard earned labor–of which you have no say–or by following their mandates, which decrease your freedom.

  • Dr. Peter John Resweber

    “The only people who give you free money are people who love you, like your parents. The government does not love anybody.”

    That has an awful familiar ring to it. Where did I hear that before?

    Didn’t someone once write: “Government’s innate and guiding principle is not love. Government cannot love, does not love, will not love and shall never be able to instill love”?

    Oh that’s right, it was here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/publiccatholic/2012/10/archbishop-chaput-on-politics-and-a-few-reflections-from-me/#comment-6573

    ;)

  • Dr. Peter John Resweber

    …and yet somehow we are to believe it is “unloving” and “unChristian” to argue against making the poor ever more dependent upon government.

    Fascinating. ;)

    • http://fpb.livejournal.com/ Fabio P.Barbieri

      As opposed, I take it, to making them dependent on nothing at all. Have you ever been poor? I have. if you wallow in the rich man’s delusion that poverty motivates and sharpens wits and ingenuity, I probably won’t be able to break it for you – after all, all I have to offer is real-life experience, and since when has that meant anything to anyone? But let me inform you that in real life, poverty means failure, and failure demotivates, depresses, crushes. If you can’t go to a job interview because you have neither a presentable dress nor the money for a bus, you are not going to have your wits sharpened or your willpower strengthened. If you have fallen asleep on a bench and you hear the passers-by refer to you as “the hobo over there”, you are not going to have your self-image improved. The State may not love you, but what little pittance it will give you – and it is a pittance – will keep you from starvation and degradation. It is poverty itself that is demeaning, especially in a society where wealth is automatically taken to be meritorious.

      • http://www.rosariesforlife.com Dave

        I believe it should be done by the churches and social organizations at a more local level, and the feds should have nothing to do with it other than, AT MOST, doing what you said Italy does. Admittedly, I have never been poor, but it seems to me that it would mean a lot more to me to know that actual people in the community are with you in your struggles rather than just getting an impersonal check from Uncle Sam.

        • http://fpb.livejournal.com/ Fabio P.Barbieri

          Since I have been there, let me explain to you the difference as clearly as I can. Claiming unemployment support from the government, I am a citizen who is asking something that the law entitles him to, and for which he has paid tax when he was working. Asking for support from a private charity, I am a beggar. I have no entitlement to anything and depend on what they think I should get. That is not to say that I have not , on one terrible occasion, had to use private faith-based help, and been grateful for it, but I would rather ask for unearned grace from God alone.

          • http://www.rosariesforlife.com Dave

            I’m confused. I don’t think “unemployment” really counts as a government BENEFIT, it’s more of an everyone-funded insurance policy, though obviously government mandates the policy. Anyway, I was under the impression that unemployment benefits were run by the states, not the feds….no?

            • http://fpb.livejournal.com/ Fabio P.Barbieri

              Benefit is what it’s called in Britain, Dave. I agree that it’s a stupid term.

      • Dr. Peter John Resweber

        Re: “As opposed, I take it, to making them dependent on nothing at all.”

        Wrong!!

        I provided you the link to extensive elaboration on the idea. But, if you’re going to be so lazy and unfair as to immediately twist my statement (without investigation) into the self-serving “conservatives are evil and greedy” tropism, why should I assume you are willing to have a reasonable discussion?

        • http://fpb.livejournal.com/ Fabio P.Barbieri

          I am not terribly interested in “extensive elaboration” on things I have experienced on my own hide, thank you very much. I am perfectly capable of doing it myself. And your patronizing attitude does not suggest that I was wrong in suspecting that my experience would mean nothing to you.

          • Dr. Peter John Resweber

            Actually, what you seem to be revealing is that you are “not terribly interested in “extensive elaboration” on” any point of view that does not fit with your preconceived narrative.

            If you had bothered to follow the link (or simply had the decency NOT to assume I was an inhuman beast) you might have discovered that my argument was ACTUALLY about taking care of your fellow man.

            You might have discovered that my argument was actually about the absolute moral necessity to fully live out the corporal works of mercy.

            But, since I don’t believe in your policy positions, you immediately dismissed me with a wave of the rhetorical hand (aka: “Have you ever been poor? I have. if you wallow in the rich man’s delusion…”). Apparently, if I don’t agree with Fabio, I must be an out of touch rich guy just trying to justify my stinginess.

            That is so far off the mark as to be laughable…yet, somehow *I* am the patronizing one.

            Maybe you should look up the term “patronize” (and perhaps “projection” while you’re at it).

            • http://fpb.livejournal.com/ Fabio P.Barbieri

              It’s not about stinginess, it’s about insensitivity. It’s about having your own narrative and to Hell with reality or with the experiences of others. As a matter of fact, a generous rich man is more dangerous than a stingy rich man. Which is likely to do more damage, Scrooge McDuck or Bill Gates? Bill Gates has placed his immense wealth in the service of his ideals. Should his ideals be unsuited to reality, he will be in a position to do an enormous amount of damage, and to do it quite irresponsibly, since nobody can really tell him how to spend his wealth. And as it happens he is pro-abortion. If you have a dominant narrative to which reality must be subordinated, the best thing is for you to be poor and unknown.

              • Dr. Peter John Resweber

                Re: “It’s not about stinginess, it’s about insensitivity.”

                Actually it seems to be about using continuing (if somewhat shifting) ad hominem attacks to avoid engaging ideas.

                Re: “It’s about having your own narrative and to Hell with reality or with the experiences of others.”

                See above.

                Re: “As a matter of fact, a generous rich man is more dangerous than a stingy rich man.”

                Why this obsession with the rich? Which parts of my ideas are limited to the rich? Oh that’s right, you never even bothered to determine what my ideas where. You just immediately decided I was rich and out of touch. How convenient for you.

                Re: “Which is likely to do more damage, Scrooge McDuck or Bill Gates?”

                Actually they both have the potential to do immense good and immense damage. In both cases I also have the option to voluntarily withdraw my support from them if they are doing more damage than good. I have no such option with the government.

                Re: “Bill Gates has placed his immense wealth in the service of his ideals. Should his ideals be unsuited to reality, he will be in a position to do an enormous amount of damage, and to do it quite irresponsibly, since nobody can really tell him how to spend his wealth. And as it happens he is pro-abortion.”

                Newsflash: You have a bit of a point there. What you seem to miss is that the government’s potential for damage dwarfs the most ambitious schemes of Bill Gates.

                You undoubtedly read the quote I posted above:

                “Government’s innate and guiding principle is not love. Government cannot love, does not love, will not love and shall never be able to instill love.”

                Of course, since you refused to follow the link, you missed the elaborating paragraphs that immediately followed it (in the original posts):

                That is where I argued that ultimately “[g]overnment is about the shared application of coercion backed by deadly force. As such, its actions should primarily be limited to those where this is appropriate. Using deadly force to prevent positive evils (such as murder, rape, abortion and other criminal activities) is viable. Using government to express community standards (such as against pornography or coerced sexualization and secularization of the culture) may be viable in certain cases (but is less sure). Using government to try to force us to “love one another as I have loved you” will only lead to hypocrisy and hardness of hearts. Teaching us to love is the province of churches and families and God.

                Government shall never be a proper substitute for God.”

                For all his evils, Bill Gates only has the power of the purse and of persuasion to advance his ideas. The government rather more coercive attributes (ultimately including the ability to jail and to execute).

                Re: “If you have a dominant narrative to which reality must be subordinated, the best thing is for you to be poor and unknown.”

                My dominant narrative is that I am commanded to care for the sick and the poor and the helpless. What’s yours?

                • http://fpb.livejournal.com/ Fabio P.Barbieri

                  No your dominant narrative is that government is the Devil. I am not interested in being further initiated into the mysteries of this religion; having spent the last several years in close contact with several True Believers, I know as much of it as anyone needs.

                  • Dr. Peter John Resweber

                    Ah, your psychic powers are astounding! You know me better than I know myself!

                    Yes, dear Fabio, if you can’t adequately debate your opposition, make sure that you thoroughly mischaracterize and demonize them.

                    Again, I must bow to your splendid flair for patronization and demonization. ;)

          • Dr. Peter John Resweber

            Of course, if you’d really prefer the pithy and patronizing response.

            Daffy would only be too happy to oblige: http://youtu.be/y3Z2MP8vMWU

            • http://fpb.livejournal.com/ Fabio P.Barbieri

              You mean you think you weren’t patronizing enough?

              • Dr. Peter John Resweber

                Ah, Fabio, have no fear. :)

                I readily concede your superior deftness at patronization and demonization. ;)

                • Rebecca Hamilton

                  I’ve been busy today and didn’t see this exchange until now. You each seem to have a viewpoint that you are passionate about. I think you also both have good points that you are making.
                  Try to make them without getting so hostile with one another. I’ve read enough of both of your comments to think that you actually agree with one another on your basic values.

  • http://fpb.livejournal.com/ Fabio P.Barbieri

    In Italy there is an interesting compromise. When the Concordat was renegotiated in 1988, it was decided that 0.8 per cent of income tax (IRPEF) would be shared out, according to the choices of taxpayers, between any religious body that was willing to take part. A few things must noticed. First, this comes exclusively from income tax, that is, from the earnings of individual citizens and residents. Second, each taxpayer gets to decide which of the bodies who take part (apart from the Church, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist bodies have registered; the only religious group to have consistently shown no interest is Islam) and the money is shared out according to the percentage of taxpayer choices. It is also possible to choose to give your share to the state, over and above the rest of your taxation. The money has to be spent for stated and specific purposes – roughly speaking, the payment of religious personnel, the upkeep of buildings and other properly religious requirements, education, and charity both at home and abroad; but other than making sure that this is how it is spent, the government has no say in programs, and each religious body spends it as it likes. The government of 1988 was no friend of the Church, and the agreement was expected to reduce Church income; in fact, it has increased it to the extent that the Usual Suspects are now yelping to have it cut unilaterally. (Someone neglected to inform them that a Concordat is a treaty between sovereign bodies and has the value of law, like all treaties.) It has also been a surprising godsend for some smaller bodies, such as our native Protestant church, the Waldensians, who get on average four times as much as one would expect from their membership. Evidently they have impressed people outside the churches with their own charitable work.

  • http://onecatholicsstruggle.weebly.com Theresa

    “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
    Rebecca- you so nailed it (again!).

    • http://fpb.livejournal.com/ Fabio P.Barbieri

      Nonsense. Mammon is private wealth, and Jesus did not even mean that you should not have it, but that you should not pursue it as a goal in itself. As for the State, his answer is curt and famous: Give Caesar what is Caesar’s, and God what is God’s. Oddly enough, He seems to have had nothing to say about “the state” as a demonic, corrupting vampire bat to be always kept at arm’s length whatever the cost, which seems to be the contemporary American notion.

      • http://www.rosariesforlife.com Dave

        Ah…so (from another post) you are not American. That explains a lot of the misunderstanding, I believe. Many Americans object to the FEDERAL government taking on control of many areas which the Constitution has not enumerated as one of the rights which the states delegated to them. So, what sounds to you to be strictly anti-government is more of a complaint that the Constitution is not being followed, and a violation of subsidiarity.

        Having said that, I still believe that the more local that charity work can be done, the more personal and accountable the help can be. And if private citizens or private groups can help, all the better. Rebecca is right…the sooner that private charities and religious entities wean themselves from feeding at the government trough, the better. Because once you go there to feed, the government fences you in.

  • FW Ken

    Actually, cooperation between faith-based services and government programs works quite well on the local level. Our convicted felons have access to spiritual services they would not have if it weren’t for Christians reaching out with housing, jobs, food and clothing. It’s not always about money.

  • http://fpb.livejournal.com/ Fabio P.Barbieri

    After all I have said here, I would like to say that I think Rebecca is right, but not for the reasons she states. Here in Britain, all the leading charities take enormous amounts of money from the State for all sorts of reasons. The result is that they have effectively lost their freedom of action. And there is an element of dishonesty, too: charities present themselves as voluntary bodies driven by the enthusiasm and generosity of their members and donors, but how can that be credible when, in some cases, up to three quarters of their budget is paid from the State? In effect, they have turned themselves into government subcontractors. This situation may be convenient for the Government, that gets action in areas where it wants action on the cheap, but it is otherwise fraudulent. If the Government wants something done, they should do it themselves in their own name; and people who claim to be non-profit charity workers should not be anything else except what they claim.

  • http://scpeanutgallery.com Art Chartier

    I agree, and would go further. All church financing should come from its living constituent members. Sacrificial giving strengthen member’s faith. Outside funding sources weaken member’s faith. Further, outside funding eliminates administrators need to continually explain and interpret what they are doing and why it’s important. It’s not about raising funds, it’s about raising faith. People who give generously are engaged.

  • Oregon Catholic

    Rebecca,
    I think the case of the Catholic hospital in Colorado fits right into this narrative. They are looking to Caesar, rather than Catholic morality, for help to win a legal case and it is already backfiring on them, regardless of whether they deserve to win or not.


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