Dick Runge has spells of loneliness. His wife Barb takes off a week or two every once in a while to do good things for good people. This month she was in Beaumont, Texas in an all-women church project to build a Habitat for Humanity home for a mother and two daughters who have lived in sub-standard housing since Hurricane Rita hit the Texan Gulf Coast over two years ago.
Last October, she and her fellow church members met in Bosnia and Croatia with women left impoverished by the Balkan wars. Dick has made construction trips to the southern Gulf Coast and Greensburg.
Barb’s church did not receive money from the faith-based initiatives President George W. Bush began within days after his first inauguration. But they were eligible for subsidies by their fellow taxpayers in the traditional American way. The tax codes permit deductions for contributions in cash or in kind for charitable church work. For Kansans in the highest brackets, that means 40 cents in government tax expenditure and 60 cents private contribution.
I like tax deductions for charitable works by churches and other religious and qualified entities. It is likely money well spent, and does not require a government bureaucracy to oversee it. That is why Jane and I have given to our church, the Salvation Army, and to Barry Feaker’s exemplary Topeka Rescue Mission. And taken tax deductions on an itemized return.
In Monday’s State of the Union message, the president asked Congress to permanently extend federal laws permitting religious nonprofit organizations to compete for federal grants. The following day, John J. DiIulio, Jr., the 2001 director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and David Kuo, the deputy director in 2002-2003, wrote a New York Times op-ed requesting congressional action, while, paradoxically, explaining the failure on their watch.
They confessed, "Every nonpartisan study has concluded the initiatives have not delivered the grants, vouchers, tax initiatives and other support…that the president originally promised."
For explanation, they used the words of Michael Gerson, former Bush speechwriter, in a recent book: "The faith-based initiative was not tried and found wanting. It was tried and found difficult--then tried with less and less energy."
David Kuo explained one great big difficulty in his book, "Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction." He said he could not do his work because he was directed to provide money to Bush political allies, and his every move was checked to assure favoritism. Surprised?
The writers celebrate court approval of funneling government money to churches and religious organizations "as long as they do not proselytize or engage in sectarian instructions; serve all persons without regard to religion; follow applicable federal anti-discrimination laws; and use public monies only to serve grant-specified secular purposes."
Telling evangelicals and other believers "not to proselytize or engage in sectarian instructions" is like telling a fish not to swim--to both the evangelicals’ and fishes’ credit. And, knowing the enthusiasm of the reverend Phill Kline, former Kansas Attorney General, and many black ministers for their religious political brethren, would make it necessary to provide a government chaperone with each grant or tax-credit. And, one more time, money is fungible.
But DiIulio and Kuo think they, or their successors, deserve another chance. They find each presidential candidate has had something favorable to say about federal money for churches’ welfare efforts.
Hillary Clinton’s Jan. 19, 2005 statement provoked their closing "amen."
"But I ask you, who is more likely to go onto a street to some poor, at-risk child from the community, someone who believes in the divinity of every person, who sees God at work in the lives of even the most hopeless and left behind of our children? And that’s why we need to not have false division or debate about the role of faith-based institutions, we need to just do it and provide the support that is needed on an ongoing basis."
I don’t want George Bush, Phill Kline, or Hillary Clinton ear-marking money for churches.. Nor, in the long run, should the churches.
Let’s thank Barb and Dick for helping the old-fashioned American way.
Dr. Roy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org