From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Agency staff applaud, voice caution about initiatives office

Date 01 Feb 2001 15:00:40

Feb. 1, 2001   News media contact: Joretta Purdue ·(202) 546-8722·Washington

WASHINGTON (UMNS) - Executives of the United Methodist Church's social
action and advocacy agency are voicing both praise and concern about
President Bush's new Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.

The new office, established Jan. 29, was created to facilitate the community
services provided by religious and other organizations, the president said.
It would do this by making it easier for such organizations to get
authorization, funding and regulatory relief to create or expand programs.

Faith-based organizations have long been eligible for federal funds to
implement social service programs, said the Rev. Eliezer Valentin-Castenon,
a staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. 
Valentin-Castenon and other board executives were quoted extensively in a
press statement prepared by the agency in response to Bush's action.
The problem has been that many religious groups have not known that they
were eligible or known how to apply for funds, and many government agencies
were unaware that they could grant funds to religious organizations for such
programs, Valentin-Castenon said.
"We hope this new executive order will focus strongly on educating both
faith-based organizations and the government on what the law already
permits," he said. 
"Christians are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and give the
thirsty something to drink," said board executive Jaydee Hanson, referring
to Matthew 25:31-46. "We should applaud the idea that church and state could
work more closely together to curb crime, conquer addiction, strengthen
families and overcome poverty." 
Gretchen Hakola, an executive in the board's communication department, cited
the denomination's Social Principles, which urge both church and government
to avoid striving to rule the other. "We believe that the state should not
attempt to control the church, nor should the church seek to dominate the
state," she said, quoting from the principles. "Separation of church and
state means no organic union of the two, but it does permit interaction."
The Social Principles are adopted by General Conference, the church's top
legislative body, which meets every four years. It is the only body that can
officially speak for the denomination.
The church's 2000 Book of Resolutions says that public funds should be used
only in the best interests of the whole society, Hanson noted. The
resolution warns that extreme caution must be exercised "to ensure that
religious institutions do not receive any aid directly or indirectly for the
maintenance of their religious expression or the expansion of their
institutional resources."
The United Methodist Church's resolutions neither support nor oppose
initiatives such as the president's, but the church should proceed with
caution, according to Hanson. "Most United Methodist churches who have
received funds to implement social services have established 501(c)3
non-profit corporations to ensure that social service delivery monies are
kept separate from the operating funds of the church," he said.
Hanson noted that the United Methodist Church has also adopted six criteria
regarding church-related agencies receiving government resources. This list
is included in a resolution revised at the 2000 General Conference: 
1) The services to be provided by the church-related agency shall meet a
genuine community need. 
2) The services of the agency shall be designed and administered in such a
way as to avoid serving a sectarian purpose or interest. 
3) The services to be provided by the agency shall be available to all
persons without regard to race, color, national origin, creed or political
4) The services to be rendered by the agency shall be performed in
accordance with accepted professional and administrative standards. 
5) Skill, competence and integrity in the performance of duties shall be the
principal considerations in the employment of personnel and shall not be
superseded by a requirement of religious affiliation. 
6) The right to collective bargaining shall be recognized by the agency.

Hanson noted that although the term "charitable choice" is new, the
initiative adopted by Bush builds on the past. In 1995, then-Sen. John
Ashcroft (R-Mo.) introduced legislation into Congress to make it easier for
federal funds to go to faith-based organizations that provide social
services. At the time, the church board opposed that legislation, since it
would have permitted faith organizations to discriminate in their hiring
practices despite receiving public money. 
Valentin-Castenon said he will meet with representatives of other faith
groups as each studies the proposals of President Bush and seeks to clarify
their concerns. He also anticipates a dialogue with United Methodist
churches that already receive federal funds for their social service
ministries. He said he hopes to hear their recommendations or concerns
related to the expansion of the current law. 
"We look forward to working with the White House Office on Faith-Based and
Community Initiatives to ensure that the principles of 'pluralism,
non-discrimination, evenhandedness, and neutrality,' as the president said,
are insured," said Valentin-Castenon. 
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United Methodist News Service
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