President Bush wants to do for churches and Christian charities what the Department of Education has done for pubUc schools; Attach them so firmly to the teat of big government that it would be impossible to unlatch them without financially crippling them. The funny thing is, this does not appear to be a concern for most Catholics, evangelicals, and mainline Protestants, as long as they get their money.

Bush inaugurated his Office of Faith-Based Initiatives in January 2001, shortly after taking office. “We will help all in their work to change hearts,” he said, “while keeping a commitment to pluralism.” Carefully sidestepping the concerns of ACLU watchdogs who feared that this initiative amounted to a federal establishment of religion, the Presidents staff stipulated that the funding would only provide assistance for the charitable functions of faith-based ministries, such as drug-addiction programs. “It can fund the soup,” said former Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith, and “it can fund the shelter. It shouldn’t fund the Bibles, and I think if we maintain that division, we’ll be in the right place.” Goldsmith has been selected to head the wildly successful AmeriCorps volunteer program (part of Bill Clinton’s legacy), which will now also network with faith-based charities.

President Bush appointed John Dilulio, “a devout Roman Catholic,” to be his faith czar, and Dilulio immediately began meeting with the leadership of such groups as Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Ministries, and the Salvation Army. After meeting with Dilulio in D.C.. Fred Kammer, S.J., president of Catholic Charities USA, was upset not that government regulations might be imposed on groups receiving federal funds, but that the Bush tax cut might undue any good done by the proposed “$700 million compassionate capital fund.”

The Salvation Army, on the other hand, issued a memorandum on May 1 to Dilulio —complete with language urging him to “minimize the possibility of any ‘leak’ to the media.” The memo requested that—in exchange for annual p.r. support in the amount of $110,000 and the lobbying of “more than 100 divisional command members to Congressional offices, encouraging support for the charitable choice provisions in a prearranged agreement with the White House”—the President’s team offer the Salvation Army a “firm commitment” that, by executive order or federal regulation, Washington would override state and local governments’ attempts to force the church to hire homosexuals. It took two whole months for some deep throat to squeal to the Washington Post, but after the story ran in early July, the White House issued its usual affirm/deny response. For evangelicals and Catholics far and wide, this was a victory, and they lauded the Army for initiating this protective provision. (Never mind that it feeds yet another growth spurt in the federal leviathan.) But one bad turn apparently deserves another.

The Bush plan’s legislative counterpart, the “Community Solutions Act” (H.R. 7), introduced by Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK), passed through the Ways and Means Committee by a 23 to 16 partyline vote and went to the full House for debate in mid-July. At that time, H.R. 7 contained the same stipulations that the Salvation Army requested from Dilulio and President Bush.

Whether by Congress or through an executive order, some form of Bush’s faith based initiative will pass, and it will have several effects on its potential victims: First, it will cause churches and Christian charities who follow the yellow-brick road to marginalize the truly Christian aspects of their ministries—the administration of Word and Sacrament—and bury them in red tape. Second, it will allow these organizations—especially the ones hurting for money— to become fully dependent upon federal aid. And third, it will open the door for President Gephart, Daschle, or McCain to exploit this new dependency by eliminating anything distinctly Christian in these well-funded churches and charities (see, once again, the Department of Education). Churches will bend over backward to keep the gravy train rolling. The Salvation Army is already doing it. After their memo to Dilulio was leaked to the Post, they issued a press release stating that, “among our 45,000 employees in the USA, there are people of all races, religions and sexual orientation. . . . In practice, we consistently seek competent individuals who believe in our mission to serve.” And serve, they will—all of them.