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O.C. RELIGION | QUESTIONS OF FAITH

Do partnerships with the government help or hurt faith-based institutions?

February 03, 2001

PASTOR CHRIS GLEASON

Living Hope Christian Fellowship

At the most basic level, I think it is a great idea: taking money designated for helping those less fortunate and getting it into the hands of those who are on the front lines doing it. Then I think about the history of several faith-based organizations that have taken government money to more effectively reach those people and in the process have lost sight of their biblical calling. It is interesting that we are talking about faith-based organizations. In the Christian context, faith means to depend on God as our source. So I ask the question, if faith-based institutions partner with the government, who is their faith dependent on?

KAREN WILSON

Mariners Church Lighthouse Ministries

Partnerships are effective if they do together well what cannot be done separately. Partnerships are never easy, but with good organizations, they are worth the effort. Is a partnership with government good? As long as the individuals in authority--in both government and faith-based organizations--have, as their primary goal, the good of others and operate under the basic principles that guide their goals. An appropriate proverb for Lighthouse Ministries' partnership with government, in our effort to reach out to the poor and needy in Orange County, is found in Proverbs 31:8-9: "Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves; ensure justice for those who are perishing. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice."

PASTOR MIKE FOELL

Community Bible Church of Huntington Beach

I am definitely in favor of faith-based groups working in conjunction with the government as the government should reflect all of the people's interests, and certainly faith-based groups represent numerous people. The poor and homeless, gang members and substance abusers need to be helped by people who are willing to look beyond their "problem" to see the person in need. Partnerships can work. Faith-based organizations are filled with compassionate people who see that helping their society begins with helping the individual, whether or not that person embraces a particular religious philosophy.

RABBI MICHAEL MAYERSOHN

Temple Beth David, Westminster

Religious institutions cannot become entangled with government. Any entanglement, including receiving money for worthy social justice programs, compels the religious body to follow inevitable government guidelines and restrictions and leads dangerously to public money helping to spread particular religious teachings and doctrines. This violates the American principle of separation of church and state.

THE REV. DR. GARY COLLINS

St. Mark Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach

The idea is intriguing, but there are questions still unanswered. I have not heard anyone yet stipulate that there will be an increase in federal funds for social services. Without a significant increase in funding, faith-based organizations will compete for available funds with the social services agencies currently providing various kinds of services for the poor, homeless, chemically dependent, unemployable and underemployed, the sick and dying. Some social service agencies are doing a wonderful job; others do a poor job and waste tax dollars. No doubt, faith-based agencies would provide the same kind of mixed record. Many churches do charitable work well. But the danger of charity is that we use it as a substitute for justice. Sending some Thanksgiving baskets and blankets to the plantation slaves would have done nothing to free them from slavery. The biblical call for justice demands that people of faith keep an eye out for injustice--why do migrant workers need our charity in the first place? What structures need to change so that they [and others] can pay for the food, housing, medical care and higher education their families need?

PASTOR V. "KASS" KASSOUNI

Geneva Presbyterian Church, Laguna Hills

Faith-based communities should not receive government help for community services unless they band together and use or create inter-faith community service organizations for this purpose, thus ensuring them against sectarian use of government aid. I would welcome and applaud such efforts. The strength realized would be that of collective credibility in the eyes of society at large.

EVANGELIST GRAYLON A. FREEMAN

Church of Christ, Cypress

A partnership between church and state has always been a difficult issue. People must understand that government was never established to regulate the moral fiber of a society. We ought to be governed by the principles of righteousness, but we have systematically dismantled the standards that should guide us. Thus, government feels a compulsion to offer assistance in matters that they typically have left to faith-based institutions. Those members of the church must not embrace the thought that government is to do what the Lord's church (that is, his people) are to be doing.

If you have an issue you'd like Questions of Faith to explore or would like to participate, please fax us at (714) 966-7711 or e-mail us at ocreligion@latimes.com.

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