Adversaries No More?

by Jefferis Kent Peterson

Must the State be an enemy of the Church? For our ancestors, the role of the State was to protect the church and the people’s right to worship. The State was considered benevolent at best, neutral at worst. And the Constitution guaranteed that the government would not play favorites, establishing one denomination as the State Church. Our ancestors were well aware of the wars and persecutions caused by State sanctioned religion. So, the U.S. Constitution prohibited a State Church and guaranteed freedom in worship.

Since the 1960’s, the benign relationship between the churches and the State was disrupted by a new view of the Constitution. Overt hostility towards Christians has been displayed, even forbidding people from expressing their faith privately in schools [by praying or reading a bible in their free time] or in the public square [as if speaking about God in a public park could be considered State sponsorship of religion]. Happily, the Equal Access Act, and the Charitable Choice Act of 1996, have clarified the Supreme Court rulings and have created a climate for renewed cooperation between the Church and the State.

How is this so? The failure of the public welfare system and of the Great Society of the 1960’s has left the government without credible options for resolving the problems of poverty and crime in the city. The Charitable Choice Act allows for the churches to receive government grants to provide services to the community. Faith based organizations can remain faithful to their religious convictions, AS LONG AS they are willing to give away their services to all without discrimination. In other words, a church organization could establish a job-training center in the community [or a day care center, a drug rehab center, or an elderly housing project, e.g.], and receive federal funds to run the program. The church would not have to remove all references to Christianity, but it could continue to be up front about its faith. The only thing it could not do is to force someone to accept Christianity as a condition of getting job training. In other words, you train all who come and who are willing to work, within the limits of your program’s capacity, without regards to their faith. But this is as charity should be. God causes the rain to fall on the unjust and the just alike {Mt. 5:45}. Charity is like the rain; it is meant to fall upon all.

Since all governments have been ordained by God to repress evil and promote the general welfare [according to Romans 13], human governments are part of the general grace of God for all of society. When any government fulfills its proper function, the Church should be able to cooperate with that government to better the community as a whole. It is only when the government becomes hostile to the Church that this adversarial relationship develops. But this hostility is not necessary.

There are now Christian organizations cooperating with businesses, foundations, and with the State, creating Community Development Corporations [CDC’s], with the express purpose of bringing social ministry to the needy. The Charitable Choice Act has made this new relationship a reality. The government will never be perfect in this imperfect world, but it doesn’t have to be totally evil either.

For more information, check out the web site of the Center for Public Justice. And then go help your community.


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