The attempt to fund faith-based social services through the government is revealing deep fissures between white and black as well as suburban and urban churches, according to two reports.
The Washington Times (March 26) reports that minority religious leaders who work with the urban poor tend to back the government’s call to expand a 1996 law that allows ministries to use federal welfare funds, while academics and other clergy concerned about church-state separation oppose the measure as merging public money and religion.
“The debate also is highlighting a difference in outlook between suburban houses of worship, which are predominantly white and focused on doctrine and membership, and in black and Hispanic urban ministries,” writes Larry Witham. Surveys on church-run welfare ministries show that black congregations and more liberal churches are far more likely than conservative ones to run such services and accept government funds.
At the same time, the strongest criticisms of government supported faith-based welfare have come from lawyers and lawmakers with “predominantly white mainline Protestant or Jewish constituencies,” Witham adds. In the New York Times (March 26), Laurie Goodstein writes that black clergy are “confronted daily by the needs of the poor [and] are more willing to consider government assistance.” As one black minister said, “. . . if I have to remove the Bible, remove the cross from the wall, remove the Ten Commandments to get that government money, I’ll do it. God is in me, that’s good enough.”
White suburban clergy, meanwhile, are more concerned about freedom from government interference. Goodstein notes that the Bush administration has recognized the emerging gap between these faith groups and, in speeches and a presidential visit with black clergy, has started to frame the initiative as an antipoverty issue.