When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are a man given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food. (Proverbs 23:1-3)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; …. (U.S. Constitution, Amendment I)
When G. W. Bush established the Office of Faith based initiatives, I was among those who made myself unpopular by telling fellow believers in Christ that I thought they should steer clear of such government largess. Now, as if to confirm the truth of that warning, the present occupant of the White House is moving quickly to transform what was supposed to be a helpful support for socially beneficial religious initiatives into a means of enforcing a godless approach to public life, albeit clothed in the pietistic language of church-state separation. Obama ordered the establishment of a White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships to replace Bush’s bureau. According to an online AP story (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/02/05/obama-attends-prayer-brea_n_164190.html)
Obama said the office would work with nonprofit organizations “both secular and faith-based” and would help them determine how to make a bigger impact in their cities, learn their obligations under the law and cut through government red tape. … To lead the office, Obama appointed Joshua DuBois, a 26-year-old Pentecostal minister who headed religious outreach for Obama’s Senate office and his presidential campaign. He also named 25 religious and secular leaders to a new advisory board.
The big picture is that President Obama believes faith-based and smaller secular neighborhood organizations can play a role in American renewal. They can work with the federal government to address big problems,” DuBois said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We’re also going to make sure we have a keener eye toward the separation of church and state.”
The story goes on to make clear that the Obama people intend to develop a stricter policy on issues like the hiring requirements to be imposed on institutions getting funds from the government
“There is a pretty clear lack of legal clarity and data in this area. This mechanism allows us to explore those areas on a case-by-case basis and find out exactly where things are,” DuBois said.
Lupu [Ira Lupu, a professor at George Washington University School of Law] said Bush-era faith-based regulations were ambiguous and sought to limit faith-based groups as little as possible. Obama’s order, on the other hand, emphasizes oversight of how taxpayers dollars are spent, making sure they don’t go to religious purposes, he said. “He’s signaling, ‘We are going to take more seriously than the Bush people did the constitutional concerns about what it is the government may or may not directly support with government money,'” he said.
It takes but a little imagination to catch the sub-text of these words. So-called faith-based initiatives will be welcome so long as their basis in faith is checked at the door. This closes the door on conscientiously Christian action, since its goal must be to share the Gospel, and so bring people to Christ. Jesus said “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”(Matthew 5:16) Scoured of all outward signs of the connection to God and Jesus Christ, the glory of works of mercy is more likely to go to government, and of course to politicians running for re-election.
But isn’t it just as well to help people with their material needs, regardless of who gets the glory? Maybe, if such help represents real benefit. But the word benefit refers to the good we do for others. According to Christ, “No one is good but God alone.”(Mark 10:18). Consequently, we cannot do good except in connection with God’s intention. The Apostle Peter described the Lord as “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) And Jesus said “He that believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”(Mark 16:16); and he warned “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake, but he who endures to the end will be saved.”(Mark 13:13) Does not a Christian therefore believe that no action truly benefits others unless it is connected with God’s will for their salvation; and with the repentance and transformation in Christ that is the way to that salvation; and with the unwavering witness to the power of His Holy Name that is the test and seal of our rebirth in Him? If working with Obama’s plan requires the surrender of these characteristics, what Christian purpose is left in so-called Christian activism?
I sometimes think that one of the purposes of evil in this world is to encourage people to do “good” on one condition: that they leave God out of it. This turns our natural disposition to conform to God’s law of love into a subtle but deadly weapon against our own salvation. What ought to be sublime expressions of God’s presence in and through our lives, become instead empty assertions of our own will and intentions, offerings made rather in the spirit of Cain than in the true spirit of love for our Creator. In this light, the purported constitutional requirement of church-state separation appears to be a lie intended to put the power of the U.S. government behind this wicked deformation of our good nature.
The self-worshiping American power elite that Obama represents has promoted a false understanding of the proper relationship between piety and politics based on the shibboleth of separation. In an environment marred by acceptance of this false understanding, truly faith based institutions expose themselves to great spiritual and material damage if they make any part of their sustenance dependent on a government stipend.