Ministries Gather in Concern of Faith-based Initiatives

( [email protected] ) Jan 24, 2004 12:11 PM EST

COLORADO SPRINGS – While President Bush’s faith-based initiative become increasingly controversial, faith-based organizations met in Colorado Springs on Friday to talk about President Bush’s faith-based initiatives.

Among the groups who participated, Focus on the Family, one of the nation's largest Christian ministries, proposed not to accept federal money from a faith-based program funded by the federal government.

"We believe that with federal dollars eventually comes strings," said Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy for Focus. "Our donations come in small amounts from a whole lot of people, and as long as we serve those people we'll be in existence, and if we stop serving those people we don't deserve to be in existence."

Minnery said Focus supports the president's faith-based initiative and believes it will work the way the president has proposed.

"It would work fine by setting up the income structure so that the money from the federal government clearly goes to the soup and the kitchen and the bed and the heating, and separate funding goes toward the preaching, if that's part of the offering, so there are separate funds," Minnery said.

Others disagree, saying they fear recipients might not receive services if they did not agree to listen to a sermon or gospel.

Bush's faith-based initiative has been controversial since he introduced it early in his presidency, especially among groups such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State and several gay advocate groups.

"We're appalled that this discredited approach (ex-gay ministry) would be legitimized by our United States Congress," said David Tseng, executive director of PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, "We have Democratic and Republican families. This is not a partisan issue."

The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said: "This field hearing appears to be little more than a showcase for the extreme views of Focus on the Family. That's bad enough. But for Congress to provide a forum for the views of ex-gay ministries is beyond the pale and an insult to millions of Americans."

Jean Robinson, associate director of Denver Urban Ministries, said the organization functions under the same goal as other social service providers – to provide help for people. She said she does not believe faith-based agencies that provide social services have been discriminated against by the government. The government has given money to Catholic Charities, United Jewish Communities and smaller organizations such as DenUM.

"The people who come to us are in crisis and they are vulnerable. They need assistance, not prayers and coercion. They need common-sense solutions to their problems," Robinson said.