Caption: This man was immersed, but he's still not a good man.
One of the trademarks of the Bush administration has been the promotion of "faith-based initiatives" which allow religious groups to offer social services using taxpayer dollars. Last year, these groups received $2.1 billion in federal funding.
An editorial in the Sept. 6 Charleston Gazette highlights some problems found by the General Accounting Office (GAO) after an investigation.
These included failures by some groups to offer statements describing the rights of beneficiaries as required by law; failure to provide statements regarding hiring policies; failure to provide safeguards to prevent discrimination against people with different religious beliefs, etc.
Some apparently did not understand the requirement to separate prayer or worship services from services financed by the federal government.
(One would hope that religious groups should care enough about their religion to promote it on their own time and on their own nickel.)
Beyond that, there is some the question of whether some groups receiving federal money are actually doing what they proposed to do. There are often no clear standards by which to evaluate the effectiveness of these programs.
Most people would agree that religious groups can and do provide vital services and advocacy, but as the Gazette states, "the public must keep a closer eye to learn whether these groups spend tax dollars to promote their own agendas."
El Cabrero would suggest that another issue is at stake here, one which should be of particular concern to religious people. Nearly all religions call for compassionate treatment of the unfortunate and urge followers to perform acts of charity to relieve suffering.
But at their best, religions (particularly those derived from the biblical tradition) also have a prophetic duty to call for social justice. Those religious groups which depend on Caesar's coin to perform compassionate services may unfortunately be unlikely to heed the prophetic call.
It's a little hard to criticize the empire when it needs it if one's group is directly funded by it.
One of the tasks of authentic religion is to balance the demands of both justice and compassion.
John Dominic Crossan, the controversial New Testament scholar, summed it up pretty well in the conclusion of his 1998 book The Rise of Christianity:
When there is justice without compassion, there will be anger, violence, and murder. A thirst for justice without an instinct for compassion produces killers...But compassion without justice is equally problematic. In any unjust system, there are people needing immediate assistance. And, even in a perfectly just system, there will still be those who would need compassion. But compassion, no matter how immediately necessary or profoundly human, cannot substitute for justice, for the right of all to equal dignity and integrity of life. Those who live by compassion are often canonized. Those who live by justice are often crucified.
They'd probably lose their federal funding too.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED