Reprinted from Charisma News Service
A Texas church's successful job-training program is at the center of a national test-case lawsuit challenging the use of government money in faith-based social programs.
The Jobs Partnership of Washington County was founded two years ago at Grace Fellowship Baptist Church in Brenham, outside Houston, to help low-income workers find better paying jobs. It boasts an 80 percent placement rate.
But the American Jewish Congress and the Texas Civil Rights Project have failed suit, arguing that state officials should not have given $8,000 toward the program last year because by doing so they violated the constitutional separation of church and state, reported "The Dallas Morning News."
The Brenham program is one of 20 nationwide started by Jobs Partnership, in Raleigh, N.C., and is said to have been chosen to test the law because of Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush's expressed support for federal backing for social projects run by religious groups.
Several non-religious jobs programs are also available in the Brenham area. Those who choose the Jobs Partnership program attend twice-weekly classes for 12 weeks, with one of the evenings being focused on Bible study and the other on practical skills. Classes are opened and closed with prayer, and students are given Bible passages to study.
Although students are invited to consider a relationship with Christ, they aren't coerced. "We don't force people to accept Jesus," said church pastor George Nelson Jr., who leads the program. "No one is mandated to enter our program," he told the "News." "If a person is in a quandary about whether they want to go to church, do you really think they'll choose a faith-based program?"
Nelson said that through the courses marriages had been restored, some people who were homeless had gotten off the streets, and others had developed a work ethic for the first time.
Jobs Partnership's national director, Skip Long, said the program "brings together people of all races, all business backgrounds, all Christian traditions for a common cause." He added: "We have a biblical world view. That's who we are. We don't apologize for that."
The ministry was established in 1996, through a meeting between Chris Mangum, a white businessman, and Donald McCoy, an African American inner-city pastor. Mangum needed more employees, and McCoy knew of members of his congregation without work. They decided to form a partnership to train the unemployed for work and help them find jobs.
Now in addition to the current programs in 20 cities, 13 more are ready to start, and 75 other areas are considering one. Of the 1,100 graduates nationwide, 916 are currently in work, reported the "News." One graduate of the Brenham project is Ana Grant, a single mother of two, who has a part-time job as a bus driver. '"I don't have what most people have, but I'm at peace with myself knowing that I am raising my kids the way God wants me to," she told the newspaper. In Australia, a report by the Centre for Independent Studies has warned that religious groups that use government money to provide welfare services could lose their independence and their motivation. Citing British and American experiences, it said that "there is much evidence to suggest that government contracts gradually corrupt the culture of church welfare groups."