Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Separation of Church and State

Interesting development today as reported by MSNBC, with FEMA said to be setting up guidelines for reimbursement of certain disaster relief expenses of "faith-based organi(z/s)ations" - OK, churches - responding to critical public requests for humanitarian services in their communities due to the hurricane(s).

As may be expected, divergent and critical viewpoints are aired in the story, and the whole thing should be read to catch their true flavor. The most illuminating bit, however, in my view is the final portion:
No income coming in
For some individual churches, however, reimbursement is very appealing. At Christus Victor Lutheran Church in Ocean Springs, Miss., as many as 200 evacuees and volunteer workers have been sleeping each night in the sanctuary and Sunday school classrooms. The church's entrance hall is a Red Cross reception area and medical clinic. As many as 400 people a day are eating in the fellowship hall.

Suzie Harvey, the parish administrator, said the church was asked by the Red Cross and local officials to serve as a shelter. The church's leadership agreed immediately, without anticipating that nearly a quarter of its 650 members would be rendered homeless and in no position to contribute funds. "This was just something we had to do," she said. "Later we realized we have no income coming in."

Harvey said the electric bill has skyrocketed, water is being used around the clock and there's been "20 years of wear on the carpet in one month." If FEMA makes money available, she said, the church definitely will apply.
Full disclosure: The writer serves both on the board and finance committees of a small (under 150 member) independent protestant church, and has some familiarity with church budgets, exclusive of the mega and mainstream varieties. This type of use is exactly why the church is there. The churches on this continent, and probably the world, could no more turn down a request from a public entity for this kind of emergency aid than they could promote a professional tractor-pulling contest - OK, they probably could do that in North Dakota or Saskatchewan - but you get the picture.

Almost no churches are so well-off they have enough funds available to live without regular giving (income) from their members for more than a short period, probably one to four months. Beyond that, to be prudent they would need to restructure their long-term debt, cash in CD's, adjust their payroll (cut people or hours back) and/or make other adjustments to their outgo. Just the fact they still have a facility to use for worship and service is truly a blessing.

That said, I would caution churches to be extremely careful if they decide to request any degree of reimbursement. Things like extra ministry or payroll support costs should be scrutinized, and only costs associated with specific line items or services requested in writing by the public entities, such as excessive janitorial, maintenance, utility and security expenditures - all clearly over and above like periods from previous years - should be submitted. The expense to replace fixtures or items accidently destroyed due to excessive or careless public use should be clearly prorated to reduce the amount sought by the extent of the known previous wear and tear.

Absolutely no storm damage or ministry opportunity costs or supplies should be included, no matter the amount. The occasion is simply a gift from God of an opportunity to serve others. What more could a church seek? Why else would we exist?

One other thing. Likely all requests will be classified as public records, meaning any unabridged financial records included could become fodder for every self-styled investigative anti-religious crackpot to travel down the pike for years to come. Figure out a way to comply with requests for cost or expense verifications that do not include submitting an intact annual financial statement. Or else refuse to submit the request.

Churches should gratefully use this opportunity to serve, care and demonstrate selfless love for their neighbors and community members without regard to financial gain. To do otherwise is to shame the name of the Lord we serve.

6 comments:

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Let's hope some of the people who are currently benefiting from the church's ministry will become permanent members, when they get back on their feet.

We moderns rely so much on government for help in a time of crisis. It makes me feel good to see churches with an opportunity to step forward like this, and do what they're called to do.
Q

Bill said...

Excellent point of view 49erDweet. Churches need to lead by example, this is the perfect opportunity. That said, if the government wants NGO's (such as Churches) to take on social programs as they have in the past, then some relief for the churches in extreme circumstances should be in order.

Sadie Lou said...

Hi!
I wanted to thank you for visiting my blog the other day. Are you a friend of Bill and Q's?
I had a post very closely related to this one. It was making me frustrated to see so much emphasis on the government's inaction instead of how quickly church ministries stepped up to bat.

49erDweet said...

SL, you are most welcome to visit this humble blog, though I am embarrassed beyond tears at how long its has been tended - the weeds are everywhere!

Q is a unique friend. Have only corresponded with him via the net. He runs a couple of really fine blogs, and is a joy to cross swords with. Always gracious and kind, I would love to be able to cast aside unwelcome remarks with the grace he displays on those occaisons.

Have encouraged/invited Q (and family) to contact me should they ever visit Cali. Used to live near and work in Yosemite, and love to play the tour guide for visiting friends in that unique national park.

Don't know Bill very well, so am in a developmental mode ala him, I suppose. Although he may not be too crazy to cooperate with that since I sort of 'jabbed him in the eye' in a recent comment on his blog.

IMHO the world seems to look at the 'separation' issue as if it were settled law and was designed to put churches in a submissive place to the government. But in the US it was proposed by the founding fathers and articulated by Jefferson as a means of keeping government out of the business of usurping the role of churches. (I don't know where they ever got that idea). The legal issues surrounding it are far from set in stone. So the world likely WANTS to believe the first view, and Christians aren't really pushing the other side because in this time period that's just not happening - so why push it?

Read your profile (and well remember Petticoat Junction and its offshoots) so need to tell you your dad's idiosyncracies may well be yawnsville, but as your own children grow you will be dismayed to find yourself turning into an updated virtual image of your parents. And what fun that will be for them, too!

The MSM wants always to rely on government. They are "the professionals", and journalists only feel truly secure around other professionals. The problem with that, of course, is that professional bureaucrats usually only learn to perform to the level that supports the continued funding of their favorite bureau. To go beyond that is to acquire "notice", and "notice" eventually leads to unwanted change. True bureaucrats do not want change.

I've bookmarked your blog and as time allows (truly busy the next month or so) will visit, and likely comment when the subject matter seems to call for it.

Thanks again for visiting here. I will come in and weed this garden sometime in March, and should then do better at keeping it trim and safe.

I'll be watching on the 23rd.

May the Lord bless you.

Bill said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bill said...

RE: "Don't know Bill very well, so am in a developmental mode ala him, I suppose. Although he may not be too crazy to cooperate with that since I sort of 'jabbed him in the eye' in a recent comment on his blog."

No worry, I wear glasses, you missed.

If you are referring to the Same Sex marriage / intolerance issue, worry not supporting the issue as a Christian puts me in direct line of fire (or Finger).

That said, I suspect that there are a good many, good people, that would disagree with me on my stance on the issue.

I suspect that even some of my co-editors of "The Art of The Rant" do not agree with my position.