York cautions against federal funds for religious organizations on NPR

Communications Staff — July 17, 2008

Although there is nothing immoral about receiving federal funds for social programs, religious organizations should consider carefully whether receiving such funds will compromise their theological identities, Hershael York said on National Public Radio July 11.

York, Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, appeared on NPR’s “Tell Me More” along with Eugene Rivers, pastor of Azusa Christian Community and a community activist in Boston. The two discussed federal funding for faith-based initiatives in light of the approaching presidential election.

“My view is a little bit complicated,” York, who also serves as pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky., said. “First of all, I believe that federal government is correct and ought to provide funds to organizations that are providing services that the government won’t have to do. Churches like Rev. Rivers’ church that are doing good works in parts of the city—they deserve those dollars to help them feed and clothe and shelter and whatever works that they’re doing.”

York added though, that he personally would not receive federal funds to do religious work.

“As a Baptist minister, I would not receive such funds because I do not trust the government and its long tentacles,” he said. “It really is like hugging an octopus. And I fear, even as Sen. Obama has already said, that in his approach to faith-based initiatives, he’s wanting to limit hiring practices of the organizations that do faith-based initiatives, and I just don’t want anybody telling me who I can and cannot hire.”

Rivers countered that he has never been forced to compromise religious convictions in order to receive federal funds. To refuse government funds in order preserve theological identity is not prudent and wrongly makes the perfect an enemy of the good, he said.

“The Lutherans, the Catholics, the smarter end of the evangelical community, and the black churches—I’ve heard, and I’ve worked with the initiative since its inception politically in the Bush administration—I’ve never heard anyone complain who was a recipient of the money that somehow their theological integrity was in any way diluted,” Rivers said.

York said being forced to hire someone living a life of sexual immorality is one way in which religious organizations could be forced to compromise when they receive federal funds for social programs.

“For instance, if we are feeding the poor and we’re taking federal dollars and those dollars are going to buy food, to then force me to not take into account whether or not someone I hire is living out of wedlock with someone of the opposite sex or someone who is in a homosexual relationship, that is to go against the core of who we are as a church,” York said.

When asked whether he has ever felt forced into a compromise because of receiving federal funds, Rivers said he has hired homosexuals to work in social programs, but they have never let their sexual orientation interfere with their jobs.

All recipients of Rivers’ assistance “have always been clear on where Rev. Rivers was,” Rivers said. “And they knew personally in terms of sexual ethics and money and the rest of it, Rivers is a very conservative guy. … The irony is that has actually worked for me because once you establish a presence which exhibits integrity and people notice…the moral consistency, they respect that.”

Rivers challenged York to ask Jesus to send him the money if he does not wish to comply with federal regulations while doing social ministries.

York replied, “That’s precisely what we do. That’s why we don’t take federal dollars. We do ask Jesus to send us the money.”

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