First Amendment Advocate, Vol. 2, No. 1, June 2001
The Newsletter of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United
Cornerstone Assistance Network's Dilemma
By Bruce Prescott
The Cornerstone Assistance Networks in both OK City and Tulsa are unashamedly evangelical Christian organizations. Faith in Jesus and involvement in a church is foundational to the solutions they offer to people who are in families that are divided, dependent, disabled, homeless, imprisoned, addicted, jobless, poor, sick and needy. They sincerely believe that social ills are ultimately rooted in spiritual problems and that Jesus Christ is the only answer to the problems that plague families, culture and society. Sharing their faith is integral to the social services they provide. To strip away the faith component would render them ineffective.
When funded by private, voluntary donations, the Cornerstone Network’s ministries could be commended. Now that they are funded by public, involuntarily collected tax dollars, the integrity of their motives is compromised and the credibility of their Christian witness is being undermined.
The Cornerstone Networks cannot serve as an “Intermediary Organization” for organizations from other faiths groups without compromising their conviction that Jesus Christ is the only answer to the problems of society. To most evangelicals, treating other faiths equally implies that social problems could be solved by faith-in-general or by a generic spirituality with no explicitly Christian content. That is why the Cornerstone Networks resisted working with the agencies of other faith groups.
At the recent Faithlinks Conferences the Cornerstone Networks discovered that their status as “Intermediary Organizations” made them agents of a pluralistic State. At bare minimum, in a society in which establishing one religion is prohibited, the State must treat all religions and faith groups equally. Equity and justice demands that the State fund them all — a quota system, perhaps — or fund none of them.
Persons of minority faiths do not believe that Oklahoma’s office of Faith Based liaison has treated them fairly or equitably. Many of them felt that they were being treated as second class citizens by agents of the State of Oklahoma. They resented being forced to sit through more than three hours of Christian sermons in order to learn about government funds for faith based social services. Some are considering legal actions against the State and/or the Cornerstone Assistance Networks.
Since the controversy surrounding the Faithlinks Conferences, the Cornerstone Assistance Network’s have moderated their evangelical commitment and have begun to strip away the unique faith component that they claimed would make them more effective than other social service agencies. With government money in hand, they now say they can work with all faith groups.
The Cornerstone Networks, however, will soon face a dilemma. Throughout the Faithlinks Conferences attendees were told that they would not have to change their organization’s “religious character” or mission to qualify for government funds. Organizations were advised to refuse government funds, or return them, if receiving them required that they change their “religious character” or mission.
Sooner or later, the Cornerstone Assistance Networks will have to decide whether they will practice what they have been preaching. Either they will become an interfaith agency, giving up their claim to offer a solution to society’s problems that is unique to the Christian faith, Or, they will maintain their evangelical Christian identity and return the government’s money.
Once the Cornerstone Assistance Networks resolve their dilemma we will know if they were truly formed to “share the love of Jesus Christ in word and deed” or whether they just used religion to cloak fingers intent on reaching into taxpayer’s pockets.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”
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