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Watch out when pols talk religion

As I See It

Political winds are always shifting. In the presidential race many of the leading candidates have proclaimed their personal religious faith and are scheming to shuffle some work to “faith-based charities.” Vice President Al Gore has declared himself “a child of the Kingdom and a person of strong faith.” Similarly, Texas Governor George W. Bush has publicly described his decision to “recommit my life to Jesus Christ.” Elizabeth Dole recounts a talk she had with God.

I applaud the candidates courage in testifying to their religious convictions but I am suspect of their motives. Don’t suppose this is just a political strategy to distance themselves from Bill Clinton? I hope not. One’s spiritual faith is much too important to be bantered solely for political gain.

As if this parading of religious gusto were not enough of a novelty, the candidates have now concocted plans to assign certain government responsibilities to “faith-based charities.” Both Al Gore and George W. Bush have espoused greater reliance on church and community organizations to provide social services for the poor and infirm. Mr. Gore says that “freedom of religion need not mean freedom from religion.”

Mixing religion and politics is an idea which should be immediately discarded like last week’s meat loaf.

The die-hard libertarians say that the governments only legitimate functions are to carry the mail and defend the beaches. All other aspects of life should be left to individual initiative. Alternatively, die-hard liberals are always trying to expand the role of government to make things better for the downtrodden. Fortunately, the majority of the populace fall somewhere between these extremes.

Government is always an inefficient structure for accomplishing anything. There is no motivation in government for efficiency or effectiveness. Attempts to make government more business-like only result in more paperwork to justify the inherent inefficiencies that attach themselves to bureaucracies.

Charities, on the other hand, generally conduct themselves with a much higher degree of integrity and effectiveness than either local or national government. In addition to generally modestly paid staff, charities have a mission-driven focus that causes millions of people to contribute countless hours and dollars to further the work of the organization.

It is my regrettable, but considered, opinion that mixing government with charities would be detrimental to “faith-based organizations” much like one spoiled apple ruins the barrel of good apples. I foresee the vibrant energy of America’s charities becoming diluted and unfocused as their mission shifts from their historically noble causes to sophisticated grant-writers in hot pursuit of tax dollars.

The federal government has failed dismally in its post-60s agenda of correcting each and every social wrong while assuring all that no one is responsible for anything. Far from eradicating poverty, crime and injustice, many feel that the failed social policies of the last half century has had a mighty hand in the destruction of the American family. Now the great political minds of our day want to help our charities fail as well.

A much better tact would be for political leaders to examine that quagmire that our federal government is and see if many of the failed social programs just need to be discarded in toto. Returning responsibility to the individual severs dependency and allows room for the human spirit to soar. To balance our Statue of Liberty on the East Coast, perhaps we should erect a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.

Living a meaningful life is a constant struggle of choosing between good and evil. Faith-based organizations help us strengthen our spiritual convictions and encourage us to choose the good and oppose the evil. They are not broke and do not need fixing. We should leave them alone and encourage them to keep doing what they are doing without governmental interference.

THOUGHT FOR THE MOMENT

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with 10 thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

– MICAH 6:7

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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