It’s Not the Money!

A few days ago it struck me to inquire as to how some of the more liberal elements in Protestant Christianity were responding to the Obama administration’s insistence through the Department of Health and Human Services that services which violate the conscience of religious individuals and entities could be forced upon these individuals and institutions by federal law.  I have been gratified to see the conservative elements of Protestantism lining up with their Roman Catholic brethren to decry such policies and efforts to make the State the arbiter of religious conscience rather than the religious individuals themselves and the institutions they form.  Though you wouldn’t know it based on the amount of media attention it doesn’t receive, vast swaths of religious conservatives of all stripes are deeply and vocally concerned and committed to fight against these encroachments on the First Amendment of the US Constitution.  

So I went to the website for Sojourners, the organization headed by Jim Wallace.  While I believe deeply in the necessity of Christians being involved in the world beyond their congregational doors, I have grown to disagree vehemently with many of the assumptions that Sojourners makes about how this should be done.  So, how do liberal Christians make sense of this issue of contraceptive and abortifacient coverage that has their conservative brethren so riled up?
The short answer is, I can’t tell.  There’s nothing that I could find written on the topic at the Sojourner’s website.  The closest I could come a week or more ago when I first searched was a link to this commentary on allegations of Obama’s war on religion.
It wasn’t much of a surprise to me that this article sought to discredit the claims by conservative Christians that the Obama administration is systematically seeking to undermine the First Amendment.  But it was interesting to me how the author went about this.  She went about it by discussing the administration’s allocation of funding.  Essentially, her argument boils down to the fact that faith organizations are still receiving Federal funds to provide human assistance in their communities, and that if the administration were really at war with religion, it wouldn’t be doing this. 
I was struck with the naivete of the article.  Yes, the government disperses money to faith-based organizations that provide an amazing amount of human care services here in the US and around the world.  This is a convenient way for the government to fund such projects without having to reinvent the wheel itself.  While I imagine that such a reinvention is not too far down the road, for the time being, if the US wishes to be seen as concerned about human issues around the world, oftentimes religious organizations are the best positioned to address these issues.  This makes sense.  Speaking only of the Christian faith – which the author limited herself mostly to – Christians have been addressing these needs for a LOT longer than the US government has even existed.
I would rebut the assumption that money = support.  Money and funding can represent many things, but it doesn’t indicate a philosophical, political, or theological standing by the administration.  Certainly one way to appeal to liberal Christians who are more on board with some of the social justice priorities of the administration is to maintain funding to whatever organizations are providing social justice services.  Riling up the entire Christian community in America – which despite repeated assertions to the contrary *is* a rather formidable and massive majority – would be ridiculously foolish.  But angering only one segment at a time?  More manageable – at least that would appear to be the philosophy of the administration.  
And, if religious organizations are essentially brought under the full control of the State, then continuing to fund them is rather a no-brainer.  If a religious organization cannot live by the religion that it’s founders adhere to, it’s not really much of a religious organization any more.  Red tape already significantly muzzles what many faith-based organizations can do beyond the simple provision of services.  This is the cost of doing business, so to speak, and these faith-based organizations have decided it’s worth it to muzzle themselves in order to serve others.  That’s a whole different discussion in itself!
Funding faith-based organizations subject to government regulation for their funding is not an indication of an administration’s support of religious freedom.  If the State can gut the heart of religious organizations by regulating their conscience and their actions, why wouldn’t it continue to give them money to do things that it can’t or doesn’t wish to do itself?  What’s the danger?  
The only danger lies in faith-based organizations that refuse to muzzle themselves by refusing government aid and the restrictions that come with it.  At the congregational level, this should have been done long ago, right after President Johnson altered the IRS code to prevent congregations and pastors from speaking specifically on politics to their parishioners.  It is this sort of allegiance to faith, rather than the dictates of the State, that the administration seems to take umbrage with.  It is the refusal to acknowledge that the State knows best that seems to irritate the State the most.  If you’re willing to acknowledge that the State knows best, you cease to be any real threat.
What will likely happen – and the Church is going to have to come to grips with this – is that much of the infrastructure that has been developed over the last 200 years or so in terms of faith-based service organizations is going to need to be scrapped or substantially altered.  If the State refuses to allow religious people and religious organizations to honor their consciences, then religious people and organizations will need to adapt.  Part of that adaptation may in fact mean ceasing to exist in the forms they currently do.  It may mean a privatization to the individual level of the services and care that institutions have come to provide.  It may mean a great many things.
But it won’t mean that the State hasn’t overreached it’s boundaries just because the State finds it convenient to fund faith-based organization’s who have agreed to have the dictates of their faith neutered.  

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