For centuries we have relied on the charitable efforts of churches to positively influence not just our culture, but each of our communities in practical ways. It was once accepted by all that the presence of a church raised education, lowered crime, increased community spirit, and decreased hostility. The church in the community was the epitome of helping hands lifting up the hurting in the name of Christ.
Debate now surrounds the Bush administration’s efforts to develop faith-based initiatives in communities across America. It’s an attempt to utilize the expertise and passion of churches and other faith-based ministries in order to solve some of our most desperate social problems. Some say it’s risking federal funding of Christian evangelization. Others say it may dilute and undermine the primary mission of the Church “to make disciples of Jesus Christ.” Both are valid concerns. But neither objection captures the two core issues from an ecclesiastical standpoint.
To assume, on the one hand, that federal funding of social services through the Church will eviscerate the spiritual commission Christians have, underestimates the resilience, focus, and strength of identity endemic to the Body of Christ. The Church has existed for millennia and will continue after the Faith-Based Initiative concept is history. We know our Biblical identity and are secure in our evangelistic mission in the world. There is an active discernment within the Church that will resist the incursion of secular society on the fundamentals of our faith and mission. If federal money comes with too many strings attached, we will say “no” – and keep ministering as we always have. The ability of the Church to fulfill its social ministry has never been, nor will it ever be, dependent upon Washington. It will not be federalized. The Church is secure in its identity and need not compromise its essence for the sake of money.
Conversely, the Church is not seeking any special privilege from government. We embrace the first amendment’s affirmation of religious freedom for everyone. Yet there remains social suffering that the Church is called to address – and so it will, with or without the Faith-Based Initiatives plan. Washington recognizes the effectiveness of the Church in community transformation and is, in essence, asking for help to solve the toughest problems past public policies have not conquered. This isn’t about the government helping the Church, this is about the Church helping government. We’ve been doing this for centuries as one part of our mission, but our Kingdom call is far larger. We can be of service to government in helping the poor and disenfranchised without compromising our identity or call to spread the gospel.
So, amid the rhetoric that is apparently based on the assumption that this is a political debate, the National Association of Evangelicals has gone on record in support of Faith-Based Initiatives with quiet confidence in the identity of the Church. This is not a battle for the survival of the Church. We will not alter our Biblical foundations, but we are willing to be of assistance in helping the least, the last, the lost among us. After all, it’s been part of our mission for 2000 years.
Bishop Kevin W. Mannoia, President Bishop T. D. Jakes
National Association of Evangelicals The Potter’s House