View from Yakima

Mission heads want religious liberty and tax credits

Issue: "Keep the faith," June 23, 2001

Our cover story (p. 20) emphasizes the view from the poverty-fighting front lines, but it's important to remember that battles are being fought in every city, large and small, not just the great urban centers. Here, for example, are thoughtful survey responses from five leaders of the Yakima, Wash., Union Gospel Mission: Program directors Stan and Betsy Benefiel: "When the courts order someone to get a treatment [for addiction] evaluation, if the evaluation recommends treatment it must be done at a licensed facility to be acceptable to the court. We believe individuals should be allowed to choose a faith-based treatment approach if they desire that. [For the mission] to get licensed as a treatment program, we would have to make all participation in 'religious' activities optional. But our entire program is religious. All of the classes are Bible-based. The counseling is Bible-based. We believe that chemical dependency is a spiritual problem that demands a spiritual solution." Chaplain Roy Brown: "On more than one occasion clients in our New Life program have been required to leave or take time from their program to participate in a court-appointed drug/alcohol program only to be discouraged and/or criticized for naming Jesus Christ as their 'higher power.' They were told that their 'faith-based' approach to victory over drugs or alcohol would not succeed, as this was some form of 'denial.'" Stan and Betsy Benefiel: "Even Alcoholics Anonymous requires trust in a higher power and talks openly about spirituality, and yet our courts order people to attend A.A. meetings as a part of their treatment. Why is this not considered religious? But as the licensing law stands now, licensing is impossible for us. We would also have to comply with federal hiring laws if we were licensed. Again, because of the intrinsic part that our religious beliefs play in our treatment approach, it is vital that we be able to hire staff members who share those beliefs." Executive director Rick Phillips: "I would apply for a grant to the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives if the reporting was not burdensome and we could continue to run our programs and ministries without government intervention. If I had to hire someone just to do the reporting for the grant or if I had to separate religious programming from nonreligious, I probably would seek private funding with fewer strings attached. I also have a concern regarding government funding for ongoing ministry. It is very possible that the current administration that is in favor of funds going to faith-based organizations may not be in office in four years. If missions become dependent on this type of ongoing funding it could be devastating to suddenly lose that support." Roy Brown: I'd accept government grants "only if they were one-time grants that we are presently qualified to receive and that would have NO present or future possibility of strings being attached." Development director Rich Woodruff: "Discretionary grants are the least desirable funding alternative. The government would decide how the money should be used." Stan and Betsy Benefiel, giving an example of governmental approaches: "Washington State Department of Social and Health Services policy does not allow people to receive medical coupons without also getting monthly cash benefits unless they qualify for a disability status. Many of our clients have significant health problems and need help covering that expense but do not qualify for disability. All of their other needs (clothing, food, housing, etc.) are met on the program. We do not allow participants in our program to receive outside funding (except medical coupons) because a person in recovery should not have extra cash coming into his or her possession. This greatly increases temptation to use, and reduces their commitment to treatment. Even when we have written a letter of explanation to the Department of Social and Health Services and requested that the client receive only the medical benefit, the request has been denied. It is all or nothing. This seems crazy! Is our system so awash in money that officials cannot find better ways to spend it than to give cash to drug addicts?" Rick Phillips, explaining why he's for poverty-fighting tax credits: "This type of incentive keeps government control out.... The next generation of givers is going to need incentives and more reasons to give." Stan and Betsy Benefiel: The tax-credit approach "gets people involved with the ministries they believe in. It encourages giving and urges personal involvement instead of dependence on government solutions."

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Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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