Written by J. Bennett Guess
July 2, 2008
Following Barack Obama's July 1 speech calling for continued government funding for faith-based initiatives, the Rev. John H. Thomas issued a statement reiterating church support for cooperative programs as long as church-state separation is honored and protected.
While calling on both presidential candidates to make poverty a central theme in their campaigns, Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president, underscored a 2002 UCC report that insisted that "any initiatives seeking to deepen and institutionalize the partnership between government and faith communities honor certain criteria," including a non-blurring of church-state separation; protections against proselytism, discrimination or favoritism in service; adequate training for program providers; and assurances that the church's prophetic voice is not compromised.
"Over the years many health and welfare organizations and congregations related to the United Church of Christ have made effective use of government funds to care for the elderly, to respond to the needs of at risk children and youth, and to develop community based programs addressing poverty," Thomas said.
The full text of Thomas' statement follows:
Yesterday, in his speech in Zanesville, Ohio, Senator Barack Obama proposed a new form of partnership between government and faith groups. The United Church of Christ has long affirmed that religious groups share with government a fundamental responsibility to address poverty and serve the most vulnerable of our citizens through ministries of compassion and advocacy for justice. From the days of our Puritan forebears in New England, we have embraced the notion of "commonwealth" in which the wealth of the community is to be used to enhance economic justice and be shared for the common good. Over the years many health and welfare organizations and congregations related to the United Church of Christ have made effective use of government funds to care for the elderly, to respond to the needs of at risk children and youth, and to develop community based programs addressing poverty.
In "Building on Faith: A UCC Perspective on Charitable Choice," published in 2001, we insisted that any initiatives seeking to deepen and institutionalize the partnership between government and faith communities honor certain criteria:
- The Constitutional separation of church and state must not be blurred.
- Initiatives to fund faith based organizations cannot simply be cover for transferring responsibility away from government, but should represent a true expansion of our national commitment to address poverty.
- No monies should be used for programs that include overt or subtle proselytism.
- There must be no preference in service based on the religious commitment of those being served.
- Anti-discrimination laws in hiring shall be honored by religious groups receiving funds.
- Faith-based programs cannot blunt the church's readiness or ability to speak truth to power as a prophetic voice on behalf justice.
- There needs to be adequate training available to ensure that government funds are used effectively and appropriately.
Senator Obama’s speech yesterday recognizes this shared responsibility for the poor in our midst. His proposal for a Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships addresses the key concerns that the United Church of Christ has set forth as essential criteria for an acceptable and responsible partnership. I look forward to his further elaboration of this proposal in the weeks ahead, and I urge him and Senator McCain to make poverty and the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors a central theme in this year’s Presidential Campaign.