Funding Faith Efforts

    In El Salvador, two destructive earthquakes left thousands of people homeless. To the rescue came Samaritan's Purse, a Christian relief group. With the help of U.S. funds, it is helping victims build temporary housing -- combining elbow grease with evangelism. Now, the Salvadorians don't have a problem with that -- but apparently American liberals do, and they've seized upon this program to bash President Bush's faith-based initiatives. It's an example of how far opponents of faith-based efforts are willing to go to shut them down -- or at least, shut them up. By all accounts, Samaritan's Purse is doing a great job helping earthquake victims. It has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the U.S. Agency for International Aid -- money that will help earthquake victims build new and temporary shelters. But what sticks in liberal craws is the fact that Samaritan's Purse distributes religious tracts along with building shelters. Even worse, it holds prayer meetings before showing Salvadorians how to build their homes. That's only natural. As Dr. Paul Chiles of Samaritan's Purse explains, "When we build things, we say we build it with the love of Jesus, because that's why we are here." But Samaritan's Purse helps the needy whether they accept the gospel message or not. And as Chiles told the New York Times, its mission "was understood and accepted by the federal government." But the group's dual mission -- saving souls while preserving lives -- is not accepted by others. According to the Times, some American aid officials have "serious reservations" about the evangelism Samaritan's Purse engages in. Some bureaucrats and New York Times reporters even hint that Samaritan's Purse is engaged in something not quite legal. The reality, of course, is that there's nothing illegal or unethical about faith groups having voluntary Bible studies before they start projects. In times of tragedy, divine intervention is always welcome. But the real motive behind the criticism is meant to sour people on faith solutions. It's unfair and bigoted. It's also ridiculous, given that Salvadorians themselves aren't complaining. One earthquake victim told the Times that hearing the word of God from Samaritan's Purse "is a comfort and helps give us strength." So my question is: If evangelism helps console Salvadorians, and if Samaritan's Purse follows the rules, what's the problem? Well, the problem is that secular elites do not like the witness these faith- based programs provide -- the testimony to the power of Christ to transform lives. For example, Teen Challenge drug treatment programs have an 80 percent cure rate -- far higher than that of secular programs. In Boston, Christian groups working together have brought down the youth-homicide rate dramatically -- something no secular group has been able to do. Secular liberals hate that, just as they hate it when Prison Fellowship's InnerChange programs out-perform secular programs in reducing recidivism. They hate these ministries even as those who benefit from them thank God that they exist. In weeks ahead, no doubt, we'll be hearing plenty of bogus attacks on government's support of faith-based solutions. And we need to know how to answer the charges, and try to understand what's behind all the yelling. It's not because faith-based ministries don't work. It's because they do work -- all too well. For further reading: Gonzalez, David. "U.S. Aids Conversion-Minded Quake Relief in El Salvador." New York Times, 5 March 2001.


Chuck Colson



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