May 5, 2004
By Elliott Wright*
(UMNS) –– The General Conference of the United Methodist Church advised
its congregations and related institutions in the United States to walk
cautiously in relation to one of the central concepts of the Bush
administration’s “faith-based” agenda.
resolution adopted without debate addressed “charitable choice,” which
involves the use of public funds for social services and community
issue is not whether church-related programs should accept tax dollars
but concerned hiring practices and legal structures of organizations
choice” entered the U.S. political and social-service vocabulary as
part of a welfare reform act in 1996. It allows religious organizations
receiving federal funds to hire only persons of their own religious
persuasion. It also permits religious organizations to directly receive
government money without setting up separate nonprofit corporations, a
practice of concern among United Methodists.
George W. Bush incorporated “charitable choice” into a program to make
more faith-based organizations federal service providers. It is a
central plank in the president’s “faith-based and community
resolution reminds United Methodists of existing guidelines on the
receipt and use of public dollars, including non-discrimination in
hiring. Language specifically discrimination based on race, gender and
religious affiliation was removed in a legislative committee, but a
provision already exists in a measure adopted by General Conference in
“Charitable Choice,” the resolution as amended was passed without
opposition in a legislative committee. It was approved on a
consent calendar and was not debated on the floor.
resolution originated with the United Methodist Board of Global
Ministries, which relates to community centers and other programs
affected by federal social service legislation, regulations, and funding
Methodists, according to the new resolution, should “abide by the
historical and prudent principle of separate nonprofit incorporation for
organizations and programs receiving public service funds, including
the setting up of separate service corporations by congregations so
engaged.” It said this approach was needed to protect “the church from
liability claims.” This is long-standing United Methodist policy.
also agreed that congregations and church-related social service
institutions should carefully investigate the terms and implications of
all public grants and contracts “to ensure that the tasks undertaken and
expected outcomes are consistent with the United Methodist Social
provision encourages United Methodists to engage in dialogue on the
public policy and religious liberty implications of “charitable choice.”
* Wright is the information officer for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
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