Monday, February 9, 2009

The Intersection of Politics and Religion

On last week President Obama unveiled his own version of his predecessor's faith based policy which makes federal grants and contracts for social services delivery available to religious groups and churches. Some of the benefits of a Church-Government partnership are non-debatable. First of all, church people are tax-payers too and should have access to the same resources as others that pay taxes. It also, when effectively administered, moves the church from a rhetoric of empowerment to the actual delivery of power when beneficiaries are enabled to experience economic, educational, or social change through the acquiring of affordable housing, jobs, and businesses. Presently many activist churches are addressing neighborhood problems and improving social conditions for the disadvantaged and distributing goods and services as a supplement to those provided by public agencies and private markets.

Despite the fact that the Faith Based Initiative increases capacity of many churches to deliver social services, provides employment opportunities, and two of my distinguished fellow alums, Dr. Otis Moss,Jr. Pastor emeritus, Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, Cleveland, Ohio and Bishop Vashti M. McKenzie, Presiding Bishop, 13th Episcopal District, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Knoxville, Tennesse are a part of the 25-member President's Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the intersection of politics and religion is fraught with potential hazards and must be approached with extreme caution.

Some of the blind spots or unexpected obstacles include the following:

1. Separation of Church and State:

African American churches were formed out of a demand for social justice and have served as voices of opposition to unjust policies and politicians. It is impossible to take money from Pharaoh while criticizing him. Will taking government money buy the church's silence and compromise it's message of social justice? Can you critique the government when eating at the government's table?

2. First Amendment Protection:
A potential conflict arises when personnel matters arise as a result of religious beliefs that run counter to the First Amendment protections against discrimination. When churches bring their theology or religious dogma into their hiring or firing decisions occasions where the rights of persons whose lifestyles, behaviors, values or beliefs are different from the church may be violated.

3.Capacity of Staff for Regulation, Compliance, and Monitoring
Government funding carries with it mountains of paperwork, reports, and rules which change frequently and without notice. This exposes the church to possible inadvertant fraud, incarceration, and negative publicity. The time and attention devoted to mountains of paperwork and policies can be distracting causing the church to lose its identity and cloud it's focus.

The social problems to be addressed in early 21st century America are great. A partnership between the faith community and government that seeks to overcome these enormous problems for the common good is a noble thought. Aid to black churches in carrying out this mission is appealing but the cost in terms of the church's prophetic voice and moral leadership could be disastrous in the long run. Proceed with caution!

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finis it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying this man began to build, and was not able to finish. Luke 14:28-30.


underOvr (aka The U) said...


I agree for the need to "Proceed with caution". Too many jackals anxiously await the errors by those who are well intentioned and by the unscrupulous in order to point the finger and say, "Ah ha, told you so!"

There are genuine needs to be met. There are genuine ministries standing in the gap to alleviate the needs of its community.


jjbrock said...

Rev I agree with your post. The church have to be and must be very careful this is a very slipper slop.

The Government will have power and control of the pulpit because the church would have sold it for a small morsel of bread.

The Government will be telling the church what can be spoke and taught from the pulpit. We no what the government will do with anything they get their hands on.

Gabriele said...

I enjoyed your blog and will be back to read more. Yes you are right to be cautious.
God bless you.

Mista Jaycee said...

I wrote a post last year Double R stating I was not in favor of The Church mixing with the State. I would hope Mr. Obama would end that because the old rule applies. If you take my money you wear my brand.

Whoever pay gets a say!

Only God gets a say dig?
Much Love

Lisa Renee said...


Very thought provoking and very true, whenever you throw politics and money into something, it creates issues. Once you've gotten used to the income, you find you are more willing to do things that you would never have considered as far as watering down beliefs/expectations to keep what you have.

Believer 1964 said...

Proceed with caution is a given, as well as with prayer and seeking other alternatives to raise funds/capital for your ministry. Still, no matter who's funding it there can be a conflict of interest, and more.

msladydeborah said...

This is a good analysis of the situation. I was not aware that Bishop Vashti McKenzie was active in this effort. She is a dynamic leader and a very intelligent woman.

I am a member of the Presbyterian Church. Having access to funding would tremendously boost up our ministry within our community. We give away over a thousand food packages a month. Currently our congregation funds that effort. We also work on saving homes, providing health care and transportation for the members who cannot drive to doctor's appointments or to run their errands.

I believe that it important to proceed with caution in this area. I have only been a member of this body for a little over five years but it would be difficult for me to imagine having our silence brought by the Feddies. I may be wrong on this point but after attending meetings and seeing how business is conducted, I would be the first to warn Obama and any other politican to beware of how they tread on us. We will have our say and if necessary work hard to refund the money to preserve that right! said...

Hi Pastor,

I am glad you are willing to really take that discussion where FEW are willing to go!

I am continually blessed by stopping by here!

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

Vérité Parlant said...

Proceed with caution is right on the money (no pun intended). Sometimes with all the controversy brewing over separation of state and church, which largely focuses on the idea of protecting the integrity of the American people and democracy from becoming a theocracy, Christians forget that separation of church and state also protects the church from undue governmental interference.

I think one danger is that some church members may use the church receiving government funds as an excuse to shirk their own financial responsibilities to the church.

Also, we have to remember how often in both the Old Testament and the New Testament that God makes it clear that he loathes compromise of trying to serve two masters.

Thank you for this provocative post, Rev.