Tuesday, January 30, 2001

Local church agencies welcome federal funds

But groups say they wouldn't compromise beliefs

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The issue of church-state separation can be a tangle, but Greater Cincinnati faith-based social service agencies were united in cautious optimism Monday over President Bush's movement toward integrating them in federally funded programs.

        Many, however, are resolute in not entering any government deal that requires a compromise of their religious belief system.

        There's the rub.

        “I'm very interested in seeing where the parameters are,” said Bishop Michael Dantley of Christ Emmanuel Christian Fellowship in Bond Hill. “Cautious optimism is very accurate. I'll never compromise my ideology for money, but if this administration is going to reach out to people, they're going to have to be open to creative ways.”

        Bishop Dantley returned last week from Washington, D.C., where he met with a national coalition of pastors and scholars to discuss concerns of African-Americans. The Bush initiative was discussed.

        Bishop Dantley called the plan “not only a good move but a shrewd one for the administration.”

        Critics say the move erodes the wall between government and religious advocacy, which would be unconstitutional. Supporters say funding faith-based groups taps into a wide network of agencies at a time when demand is exceeding supply.

        Being religious, local supporters say, doesn't mean preaching.

        “We welcome this initiative,” said Brigid McLinden-Swartz, spokeswoman for Catholic Social Services of Southwest Ohio, “because ultimately it serves people in need.”

        Several faith-based agencies said Monday that if it meant being secular, the debate would be moot.

        They'd simply pass.

        “You hear all sorts of horror stories, where a church gets government money and then all the regulations come in,” said Wendell Mettey, founder of Loveland-based Matthew: 25 Ministries, an interfaith Christian relief group. “You see that with the Boy Scouts, so there's some areas to work through.”

        Matthew: 25 transports disaster-relief supplies on Air Force cargo flights. No money is exchanged, yet the government requires that no religious material is included in shipments. Matthew: 25 finances that separately.

        “I think we're all afraid we'd lose our autonomy,” Mr. Mettey said.

        Senior pastor Pat Hartsock of College Hill Presbyterian Church agreed.

        “Some who object would say, you're going to bring your belief system in, but even humanist agencies do,” he said. “Everyone has a belief system.”


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