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Am I the only person outraged by this? Future generations will look back on December 12, 2002 as a bleak day in the history of Christianity in America. On this day, President Bush signed an executive order allowing churches and other religious organizations to compete for federal funds for charitable purposes. This is a horrendously bad thing for a variety of reasons.
To begin with, this is an executive order. There is no constitutional basis for the president to rule in such a fashion. Bush is a president. He is not a king or a dictator. Presidents do not make the rules. It does not matter if you like the president. It does not matter if you like his intentions. The executive branch may only carry out laws. The legislative branch must make them first.
Conservatives become indignant when liberal judges "legislate from the bench." Our freedom is similarly threatened when presidents legislate from the Oval Office. Just because presidents have been issuing executive orders for decades does not make it right. Kings and dictators rule by executive order. Presidents of constitutional republics restrain themselves from acting in such a manner. But then we stopped being a constitutional republic nine decades ago.
Bush's rationale for issuing this executive order was that he had difficulty getting his Faith Based Initiative through Congress. Well la-de-da. Is this how it will be from now on? Whenever a president does not get his agenda through Congress, will he just implement it by executive order? What precedent does this set for a future president, who is loved by secular folks and despised by Christians, when he wants to push an agenda that is not popular with Christians? Why do we even bother with a legislative and judicial branch? In the words of Clinton PR flak Paul Begala, "Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Kinda cool."
There was a time when conservatives hated the welfare state. But those days are long gone. Today, they praise its expansion. "Compassionate conservatism" is just another name for Clintonian socialism. Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice hails the order as removing barriers that discriminated against churches that compete with secular organizations for federal funds.
There is nothing Christian about the welfare state. Its very existence violates the Eighth and Tenth Commandments, which forbid theft and envy. II Thessalonians 3:10 says that if you don't work, you don't eat. When churches take taxpayer funds, it further violates Scripture. II Corinthians 9:7 says that God wants a joyous giver, not one who gives out of compulsion. Taxation is compulsory. It is theft. You either pay your taxes or you go to jail.
There is nothing compassionate about the welfare state. Be honest: do you pay your taxes out of compassion or out of threat of jail? This is strictly my personal opinion, but I believe we have lost a lot of old-fashioned Christian compassion for the poor because so many of us are taxed into the pavement to support the welfare state. On the receiving end, so many people have their hand out thinking someone else owes them a living that many of us ignore legitimate suffering.
But doesn't the Constitution delegate to Congress the power to provide for the general welfare of the United States? Yes it does. (1) However, the Article I, Section 8 spells out in detail what "general Welfare" means. It speaks of things like coining money, a post office, courts, copyrights, weights and measures and so forth. It says nothing about massive transfers of wealth from producers to non-producers. The Tenth Amendment forbids Uncle Sam from engaging in any activity not authorized here.
Federal aid always results in federal control. (2) Making churches eligible to participate in federal welfare programs will poison them. This is not speculation. It would be instructive to look at the history of federal aid in other areas. When Congress launched aid to college and university students, everyone was assured that this money would not lead to federal control of higher education. Before long, colleges and universities learned that, in order to keep receiving this aid, they would have to comply with federal affirmative action regulations, racial hiring quotas, and numerous other requirements.
Any university, corporation or other organization receiving federal monies or contracting with the federal government must now comply with an endless labyrinth of federal regulations on everything from racial hiring quotas to drug testing. For states to receive federal funding for education, highways, and numerous other purposes, they must likewise surrender a measure of their autonomy.
Can you imagine your church being faced with the choice of having to perform homosexual marriages or otherwise losing federal subsidies? Can you imagine having sermons subject to federal scrutiny if your church wishes to keep receiving federal money for a day care center? Can you imagine your church losing federal money because one of its alcohol counselors violated church-state separation by telling the story of the Prodigal Son to an alcoholic in desperate need of help?
Based on the history of federal funding of education, this is what awaits us. If Caesar has the gold, Caesar makes the rule. Do you want to risk the possibility of a president Hillary Clinton manipulating the purse strings of your church? Administrations and legislative majorities are temporal. Are you willing to subject your church to the whims of a government that hostile to Christianity?
Much of this will be lost on many Christians. 501(c)(3) churches -- and that means most churches -- must either refrain from endorsing or opposing political candidates or risk losing the tax-deductibility of contributions. I do not know if 501(c)(3) is the reason, but contemporary church culture has developed a taboo about any serious discussion of social and political issues. I can respect pastors who prefer to keep things apolitical, but it is madness to abstain from political discussion altogether. Because the Bible discusses political issues, churches must talk about them from time to time. God's people suffer for lack of knowledge. (Hosea 4:6)
In the Old Testament, earthly rulers were the greatest enemies of the children of Israel. In the New Testament, the greatest enemies of Christians were the Roman authorities. In the modern world, the greatest enemies of Christians are civil governments.
Christian preachers can fulminate against Harry Potter, Britney Spears and Ozzy Osbourne all they want with impunity. But let them get too vocal politically and the IRS starts asking all kinds of questions. Christians must ask if their local church is built on a rock so that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18) or is it just an elaborate tax dodge? Could your church survive if it lost its tax exemption?
When it comes to vice, you can change the channel or hit the delete key very easily. However, you cannot do so with government. Government steals half our money before we can even buy groceries, provide for our families or -- oh, by the way -- tithe to churches. Government forces children to attend its socialist, secularist indoctrination pens for 12 years and forces everyone to bankroll these indoctrination pens. Government disarms innocent law abiding citizens leaving them defenseless against street thugs and other criminals. Government incinerated 80 innocent people at Waco, Texas. And America's preachers are silent about this!
It is governments that perpetrate untold horrors against Christians in the Sudan, Red China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and numerous other countries.
The church must bear a great deal of the blame for the abject ignorance of American Christians about these matters. "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" (Matthew 22:21) does not mean pay all your taxes, obey all the laws, sit down and shut up! This is America! "That which is Caesar's" is spelled out in the 18 clauses and 431 words of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. We must rendereverything else unto God. This includes child rearing, aiding the poor, instilling morals, rehabilitating alcoholics and drug addicts, etc.
There was a time when families and churches shouldered these responsibilities. People were not raped on taxes and ministers were not whining and weeping and wailing about how the government was not doing enough to usher in some kind of optimal Christian society. The government cannot perform effectively the duties God has placed on churches and families. Seventy years of the failure of the welfare state, the drug war and so forth bear witness to this.
It does not matter how nice and wholesome your president's program may sound. When you take federal money you subject yourself to federal control. Do you want your church to come under federal control? Then go ahead! Take the money and see if it doesn't end in disaster! I am no great clairvoyant. I don't read tea leaves. But federal aid to churches will be just as disastrous as federal aid to schools and colleges. Dependence on federal money will poison the churches! Just watch!
American Christians need to learn that government is not their friend. It does not matter who is in the White House or who has a majority in Congress. Once government oversteps its constitutional limits, bad things start happening. It cannot provide anything for free. It can only do for you insofar as it can first do to you. Its goodies carry a stiff price in both money and freedom.
December 12, 2002 was indeed a bleak day in the history of the American church. To paraphrase the 1980s hit song by R.E.M., it's the end of the church as we know it. I don't feel fine.
(1) The Preamble states, "promote the general Welfare." Article I, Section 8 states, "The Congress shall have the Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Excises, to pay the Debts and to provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States " (Back)
(2) For more on this subject, see "A Faith Based Recipe for Disaster". (Back)
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Freely Speaking: Speeches and Essays by Doug Newman
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