But more fundamentally, federal grants will change the way churches think about how to serve their communities. Time, energy and creativity will no longer be focused on coming up with creative solutions to problems but on how to structure programs to qualify for grants. Even now, as the welfare-reform time limits are running out on millions of single women with children, their pastors are busy attending seminars on how to apply for federal funding.
On the grant-decision-making side, we know it will be impossible for these decisions to take place independent of politics. It's the nature of politics that money and favors go hand in hand.
This whole thing is of particular concern to me regarding its impact on the black community. Many of our problems today stem from the destructiveness of the welfare state and government dependency. The black church has been our pillar of strength. Why would we want to lean that pillar up against government for support?
I believe the president is a man of genuine interest; however, there are better ways in which the objectives of the faith-based initiative can be achieved without the corrosive influence of government grants.
One approach, which is already starting to be done to a limited degree, is vouchers. This allows individuals to choose what program they want.
In conjunction with this, provide tax credits for supporting these institutions. This gets government out of the way and lets the marketplace truly work between private funders and organizations competing for funds.
The president could encourage community leaders to step forth to help mobilize funds for local faith-based institutions. In the last presidential campaign, for instance, the Republican Party raised upwards of a billion dollars through a pure grass-roots fund-raising effort. Why should such efforts be limited to politics?
In its current form, the faith-based initiative will succeed only in strengthening faith in government. It's bad for blacks and for all Americans. Let's hope we can move beyond this.