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to be cautious
about accepting tax money for disaster work
September 30, 2005, Washington, D.C. – The General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA has urged caution on the issue of whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency should reimburse faith-based groups for their efforts to aid victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that FEMA has decided to reimburse religious organizations that have provided shelter, food and supplies for hurricane victims. FEMA’s decision marks the first time taxpayer money has been used to make payments to faith-based groups following natural calamities.
However, the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar pointed out Friday that such reimbursements “could easily upset the delicate balance that is the separation of church and state.”
It would be too easy, Edgar said, to cross the line of reimbursing churches and faith-based groups that assisted in the recovery “to actually funding the church with tax money.”
FEMA’s plan “raises all sorts of questions,” and Edgar urged the agency to follow the biblical mandate to “abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22) and avoid threatening the separation of church and state.
Edgar’s complete statement:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) decision to reimburse religious organizations for aiding victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita could easily upset the delicate balance that is the separation of church and state. While on the surface this decision is not bad in and of itself, it makes us pause because of the ease in which the line could be crossed—moving reimbursement from supplementing recovery funds to actually funding the church with tax money.
FEMA’s plan also raises all sorts of questions: Should the government reimburse churches for doing what they do? What criteria will be established in order for churches to qualify for reimbursement? What about accountability for how the money is spent? If I give a local church $1,000 for actions, and the government also gives $1,000; does this replace the contributions that have already been raised, or does it add more to the recovery effort, or does it go into the church’s reserves?
1 Thessalonians 5:22 says, “Abstain from every form of evil.” We strongly urge President Bush and FEMA to heed this biblical mandate as it pertains to the recovery efforts. Tragedies like hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the Asian tsunami need non-partisan, bipartisan, collaborative responses that cut across political and theological lines and do not threaten the separation of church and state. Attempts to exploit these tragedies for political gain or to advance a political agenda are a sin and unconscionable.
The National Council of Churches is composed of 35 Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, historic African American and peace communions representing 45 million Christians in 100,000 local congregations in the United States.
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