A well-known pastor has some concerns about President Bush's faith-based initiative.

Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Potter's House Church in Dallas cautions tax-funded religious charities to serve everyone they can, but to reserve their right to hire only fellow believers.

Jakes says his church has provided input on President Bush's faith-based initiatives but has not taken any government funding for its own service programs. While the Dallas pastor believes it is possible to separate a church's spiritual and secular missions, he warns churches that accept federal money to keep it in a separate account.

"We don't want to end up in a situation where the government is telling us what to preach or how to minister," Jakes says, "and so, in order to facilitate that, I think there ought to be firewalls set up."

The pastor of the Potter's House even suggests that churches might set up separate 501(c)3s in order to handle social service ministries that make use of taxpayer money. "We need to be careful," he says, "that we make sure we do not merge the message with the outreach."

Among the minister's main concerns is that of maintaining Christ-centered integrity and autonomy as a church. Some religious leaders have questioned whether taking government money might open them up to attacks from proponents of the so-called separation of Church and State, who suggest that any organization accepting public funds should be forced to conform to secular government standards, such as non-discrimination policies in hiring.

Bishop Jakes says churches must guard against anything that could threaten their Christian distinctiveness. "For people who openly and flagrantly have no desire to align themselves with the principles of the scriptures, if we tear down that barrier then we cease to be the Church," he says.

"The Church is the Church because the tenets of our faith embrace the Bible," Jakes adds, "like the government is the government because we have constitutional laws. To ask us to remove those things is to ask us to lose our identity."

Federal faith-based initiative guidelines prohibit the use of public funds to support inherently religious activities such as proselytizing, worship, and religious instruction. But even before that program began, religious groups were allowed to receive government funds for performing social services, as long as strict guidelines were observed. Jakes suggests that churches continue to observe meticulous guidelines for separating their government-funded outreach from other church-related activities.

Many consultants suggest that churches accomplish this by setting up a separate nonprofit corporation to provide their government-funded social service ministries -- a 501(c)3 or other nonprofit entity that is distinct from the religious organization, with an independent board as well as equal opportunity guidelines governing its hiring practices and services.


© 2004 Agape Press