September 19, 2005
Cashing in on Katrina
Trust the churches to use Katrina as a fund-raising opportunity:
Where the government stumbled, churches rushed in. That’s the message religious disaster relief groups already are bringing to Capitol Hill, hoping the dramatic example of how they sped aid to Hurricane Katrina survivors along the Gulf Coast will build new momentum for President Bush’s drive to expand federal funding for faith-based groups.
… Critics are alarmed by this latest push, saying the work of churches following the tragedy - while heroic - does not resolve the complex constitutional questions surrounding Bush’s faith-based proposals. But religious leaders contend with such overwhelming need, lawmakers must act quickly.
Bob Reccord, who is coordinating the massive relief operation for the Southern Baptist Convention, plans to lobby federal lawmakers and last week testified with Hood before a Senate subcommittee on behalf of the CARE Act. The legislation would provide tax breaks and other incentives to Americans making charitable donations, and is part of a broader campaign to ease restrictions on federal grants for social service providers with a religious mission.
… “If the president wants to really put his money where his mouth is on the faith-based initiative, now is the time,” said the Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the “The Purpose Driven Life.” “Long after the Red Cross pulls out and FEMA pulls out, the churches are still going to be there.”
Bishop T.D. Jakes, who gave the sermon Friday at the Washington National Cathedral service marking Bush’s day of prayer for victims, has told the president that more money should be channeled directly to religious groups responding to the tragedy.
“I felt it was incumbent upon me to share with him that the faith-based community is working with 10 percent, or a tithe, of people’s income, while the government is working with 30 percent of everyone’s income,” said Jakes, a best-selling author and pastor of The Potter’s House, a 30,000-member Dallas megachurch. He has been working with Dallas city officials, religious relief groups and individual churches to raise money, find housing for survivors and bring them food, clothes and other aid.
… Opponents, however, say it would be a mistake to set policy based on the Katrina response.
They contend secular relief groups also have been key contributors to relief efforts, as have some arms of government, such as the Coast Guard, whose members spent days under dangerous conditions plucking hundreds of New Orleans residents off the roofs of flooded homes.
James Dunn, who served in Washington for more than two decades with the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, which works to protect the separation of church and state, said that among the unresolved constitutional issues is Bush’s desire to allow church groups to consider religion in hiring, even if they receive federal grants. Critics say that’s discrimination.
“I think what’s happening is they’re trying to dismantle the civil rights program without saying it,” said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., a member of the House Judiciary Committee.
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