Some American issues of church and state need explanation from
editors elsewhere. *The Economist* (Feb. 11) explains "faith-based
social work" to an international audience, and illustrates why this
issue both inspires and divides citizens across most lines.
Why is the issue complex and troubling or energizing to so many
religious leaders and citizens at large? As *The Economist* puts it,
the "35 years of failure" of Great Society welfare legislation has
people scurrying around for alternatives. One possibility became
legitimate thanks to Congress's authorization of "Charitable Choice"
in 1996. This legislation allows, under certain circumstances, for
tax funds to be directed to religious organizations so long as there
is strict accounting and no support at all for acts of worship,
nurture, or evangelizing.
So far, surprisingly, mainline church groups have been working the
faith-based approach more than conservative churches. And,
unsurprisingly, African-American churches have also been active in
One would expect those on the religious right, for example, to simply
cheer this new governmental support for "charitable choice" -- and
many do. But many do not. Why would many Southern Baptists and
other evangelicals be cautious or opposed? Many are still historic
separationists who favor a clear distance between church and state.
More are anti-big government and fear that the governmental eye will
follow the governmental hand, leading to bureaucratic intervention,
supervising, or even snooping on church ventures.
On the left there is also criticism. Jews, long nervous about any
erosion of the line between church and state, remain wary about even
indirect governmental support of faith-based ventures. And, more
generally, the whole faith-based and charitable choice appeal looks
to many liberals like an invention to get politicians and government
off the hook in terms of social responsibility, making it seem as if
welfare needs can be met through this new instrument.
But right and left mostly agree that it is difficult to draw a line
between a religious group's core religious activities, which all
agree should not be tax-supported, and its humanitarian and
charitable activities. *The Economist* illustrates this point by
highlighting African-American church endeavors that successfully
minister to prison inmates and those battling addictions. But these
churches achieve results only be stressing religious experience such
as being "born again."
The political campaigns of 2000 will have "faith-based" citizens and
others busy learning more, pondering, and making choices about