Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has even suggested that foreign aid should be increased as long as it is channeled through private agencies like religious groups, as if missionaries don’t have enough problems now being viewed as possible agents of the U.S. government. Baptists, in particular, should remember that Adoniram Judson, our first missionary, was imprisoned and almost executed in Burma because he was suspected of being a foreign government operative.
Fortunately, alarms have been raised from all sides of the religious and political spectrum. Even Pat Robertson, a political ally of President Bush, has spoken out against the proposal, warning it “could be a real Pandora’s box.” He notes that groups such as the Unification Church, the Hare Krishnas and the Church of Scientology could all be financial beneficiaries of the proposal.
Of even greater concern are the inevitable strings which come along with government aid. John Stossel, of ABC News, broadcast a piece about HOBO, a program in Austin, Texas. HOBO (Helping our Brothers Out) was started by Marion Morris and Alton Dyer, who professed that they had been delivered from homelessness and alcoholism by the power of Jesus. With financial help from family and friends they bought and rebuilt an apartment complex for the homeless, utilizing the labor of homeless people and others. The program was such a success that the government decided to contribute tax dollars. Along with the aid came government rules. When local people donated lunches to the program, the government disallowed them because they weren’t sure that they came from sanitary sources. There were also rules about religion. When Dyer began to talk to one of the HOBOs about Jesus, a security guard told him he must desist, leave the property, or be arrested. Ultimately the program died because volunteers decided their contributions were no longer needed.
The conservative Christian columnist, Cal Thomas, highlights the latter concern:
...many churches and charities might see government involvement as a good excuse for individuals to abdicate a personal calling to "feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit those in prison,'' as well as caring for widows and orphans. Charity is a two-way street. It helps the receiver but it's also supposed to transform the giver. That is what is meant by "it is more blessed to give than to receive.''
©2001 C. David Hess