Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ignorance of God and Other Tiny Concerns.

If we believe our national leaders, God is partial to the Presidents of the United States.


Jimmy Carter claimed a personal relationship with the Big Fella. So did Ronald Reagan. Dubya was a praying man, who claimed that God alone (with a little help from Laura) kept him off the bottle and walking the straight path to global supremacy.  Under his administration, the United States instituted a way to pay tax dollars to the churches doing the work they should do without the money.


Dubya created a whole new branch of government, and called it good. The Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives has a clergy man at the helm, and billions of dollars in its coffers. They fund everything. I mean everything. They fund the presence of religious groups in federal prisons with the clear and certain purpose of converting offenders to the love of Jesus Christ. They fund health initiatives, for heaven's sake - claiming faith-based groups can assist in a pandemic.

Our own dear, darling, blessed Mr. Obama is a faith-based initiative fan as well.  Makes sense.  He's ordained President of the United States.  He sitteth at the right hand. 


So, let me put the record straight, right here and now.


Before I start my rant, rememer, I'm an ordained Presbyterian Pastor.  And clergy around the nation know who and what the church is. Granted, it is many things. It is not, however, a social service agency. Sunday-go-to-meeting protestants are not trained, nor are they equipped to negotiate housing, jobs, child custody and parole for convicted and released sex offenders.


Here in Minnesota, our Governor sends tax dollars down that hole, however. For many years his Commissioner for the Department of Corrections held a contract with Inner Freedom Initiative, a faith-based program instigated by Chuck Colson, former Watergate conspirator. The program cherry picks offenders from the prison population, isolates them in tax funded facilities, teaches them Christian principles and when they are fully "discipled," gives them special privileges while they are incarcerated and promises special benefits when they are released.

One of these freedoms apparently, is the freedom to form a prison "gang;"  a group of righteous offenders, roaming the prison grounds together, professing eternal truths that other offenders may not access because they are not "chosen" into the IFI program.

Other freedoms as well - freedom to access housing in your neighborhood when released. A "mentor" on the outside, and a job.


None of this is available, mind you, if the offender is a Presbyterian, Methodist, Roman Catholic or Jew who refused the indoctrination of the program.


In the real world, the Salvation Army offers resources to poor people. Food, shelter, clothing - but first they must submit to a sermon and a little moralizing.


A little tough for some poor folks to take, but they have a choice. If they want the free food, they'll listen to the free message. The Army raises charity funds for these services - there are no other strings attached.


In the prisons, that ain't the case. Imagine yourself incarcerated for ten years. Your family abandons you - your church ignores you - your life, it seems, is over.

You learn through prison gossip, that your whole experience inside the prison will be different if you confess Jesus Christ as Lord and savior, give yourself over to the gang of religious thugs running the IFI program, submit to their tenants and relinquish your will.

You learn also that life on the outside will be easier as well.  Do you give up your Catholicism?  Do you turn your back on your Lutheran upbringing?  You're all ready in prison - why not? 

I'll tell you why.  Because faith is not for sale.  No matter what Pawlenty and his commissioners say.  Faith, real faith, does not come to those of us who need it to hide.  Faith is a gift, wrapped in grace.  It is not to be grasped when offered in order to gain creature comfort and false safety.




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