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‘Faith’ is most important part of faith-based initiative, Mohler says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The faith-based initiative making its way through Congress will have success only if the most essential element of the bill — an organization’s faith — is left unimpeded, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said on the nationally-syndicated radio program “The Connection” Aug. 1.

Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was one of three guests invited to discuss President Bush’s faith-based initiative, which will allow federal funding of religious-based charities. One version of the bill has already passed the House of Representatives. Other guests on the show were Eugene Rivers, head of the Ten-Point Coalition in Boston; and Jack Moline of the Interfaith Alliance.

Mohler said the president’s initiative brings both promise and peril. It is good, Mohler said, that the president and other officials in Washington are recognizing that the government isn’t the solution to all problems. However, he added, Southern Baptists should be wary of federal involvement in faith communities.

“My concern again comes down to this — where Caesar gives the money, Caesar sends the rules,” he said. “… It’s that intervention and supervision that causes — as a Baptist — all of my defense mechanisms to come in to play here, because the last thing I want is for Caesar to have any hand in the operation of the church, to be able to dictate anything about how we can and cannot witness.

“My concern is … that there will be very little faith left in the faith-based institutions.”

Mohler advocated a voucher approach, which other conservative evangelicals have also proposed. Under that proposal, a person in need would receive from the federal government a voucher, which could then be exchanged for services at either a religious or secular charity. This, Mohler said, would allow a religious charity to keep its program intact without interference from the government.

It is imperative, he added, for a person’s spiritual as well as physical needs to be met.

“I cannot meet those (physical) needs without stipulating that I believe the deepest human need is for a saving relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord,” Mohler said. “I’m going to be right up front about that and very honest about that. I’ll be glad to give people food and to help them with job programs and to be advocates in the courts. Those are good things in and of themselves. But I can’t consider my responsibility completed until I have shared a positive witness concerning Jesus Christ.”

Mohler and Rivers got into a discussion over what it means to minister “in Jesus’ name.” Rivers, a faith-based initiative supporter, disagreed with Mohler’s approach.

“Does ‘in his name’ mean that every 20 seconds I’ve got to say ‘Thank you Jesus’ and I’ve got to tell the recipients to say ‘Thank you Jesus’?” Rivers asked. “I’m sure that’s not what my brother (Mohler) is saying. Everything I do in life, I do in Jesus’ name. Whether that requires me to articulate verbally or to engage in some homiletic extravaganza for the recipient of my assistance, my view is that I don’t need to. When we go to court to advocate for kids, I go in Jesus’ name.”

Mohler, though, said that to have a “strict separation between witness and service” would be “lethal.”

The Interfaith Alliance’s Moline, a Jewish Rabbi, opposed the current bill on the belief that it will take money away from government charities. He used a fictional story to illustrate his point. Imagine, Moline said, a town where citizens suddenly began seeing babies floating down the river.

“People run to the banks and start pulling the babies out — which at first reaction is the right thing to do,” he said. “That’s what faith-based initiative funding wants to do — it wants to get more people to pull the babies out of the river. I think somebody ought to run upstream and find out why those babies are falling in in the first place and stop it. That’s the role of government in our society. I don’t think that’s something a local black church can do or even a network of local black churches can do — even for the black community.”

But Mohler argued that the federal government cannot be the solution to all of society’s problems.

“I do think we have a severe clash of perspectives here,” he said. “There are some who believe that government is the end-all — that the secular government can do everything. I don’t believe most Americans believe that at all, and I think that the great achievement of this administration is in finding a new way of framing the issue.”

The Bush administration, Mohler said, deserves credit for its proposal.

“I really do support what the administration is trying to do here, and I think there are two very important issues on the table. First, there is the bipartisan recognition that we have [seen] the exhaustion of the expansion of the secular state. The government has taken up just about all of the economy it can. It cannot meet all human needs. The second thing is the very valid recognition that many religious groups are meeting those needs — are meeting them more effectively with great stewardship of funds and reaching persons with a credibility that government simply can’t have.

“… I certainly support the administration as it is trying to remove what it calls ‘hostility towards religious groups’ delivering these services.”

This show can be heard on the Internet at http://www.theconnection.org/archive/2001/08/0801b.shtml

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  • Michael Foust