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Many Faithful Sacrifice Freedom in Disaster Relief

Posted on July 17 2010 3:00 pm
Lisa Graas has covered politics and religion at her blog since 2008. She has served as a crisis pregnancy counselor, youth speaker, mental health advocate and legislative consultant.
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On Tuesday, I reported that the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty is working to blot the name of Jesus from ‘legislative prayers’, many NRB readers rightfully responded with dismay.  Now comes news that many Baptist State Conventions are actually striving to become more comfortable with the idea of separation of church and state, and they are not alone.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), American Baptist Churches in the USA (ABCUSA) and the National Baptist Convention USA (NBCUSA) rank among the faith groups who are reflecting what the Baptist Standard characterizes as a “commitment to church-state separation” as they require their disaster relief crews to remain silent about their faith when working to assist organizations like FEMA and the Red Cross.  This commitment is in keeping with the goal of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), a coalition of various faith groups who work together to assist those affected by disasters.  VOAD is led by a representative of the SBC, and also counts Catholic Charities, Mennonite Disaster Service, Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, Jewish Federations of North America, and Latter-Day Saint Charities among its long list of members.

VOAD’s values keep the issue (of church-state separation) on the table,” [Baptist General Association of Virginia relief coordinator Dean] Miller said. “What I have witnessed at disaster sites, if there’s a prayer or some kind of spiritual sharing, it’s usually at the request of victims. They‘ve come over and said, ‘Will you have a prayer with me,’ or have asked why the volunteers are there. I don’t see any groups making disaster relief a quid pro quo for listening to a sermon or Bible study.”

These organizations may not be “making disaster relief a quid pro quo for listening to a sermon or Bible study”, but it seems clear that pressures like those brought on by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty ultimately result in a quid pro quo for people of faith who want to assist in disaster relief.  If your faith group is a member of the VOAD and you believe that it may be your calling to assist in disaster relief, keep in mind that you will be asked to please pick up the proverbial shovel and leave your freedom of conscience “at the church.”


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