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Scrambling church and state: Faith-based institutions

By Staff
Feb. 18, 2001
Usually, I'm just hunting a word or three. This time I was searching for a paper clip I dropped beneath my desk. There I was scrambling around on the newsroom floor. I heard the thunder even as the lightning bolt struck.
Her assault softened as she continued. "On the other hand I can't think of anyone who needs prayer more than you twisters of truth. Whatever facts your reporters stumble across get spun by you wanna be editors into this puff you call news."
Too old to run
For the record, I have exercised a bit of editorial discretion in recycling her commentary. "Puff" was not the word she used. But there I was, trapped. My choices were to run or engage my friend. Clearly I'm too old to run. It was confrontation time.
Lighting the fuse
She snorted, drew a breath, and hammered the words "faith-based institutions" a second time. It would have been pointless to correct her about the role of the media in the last election. So I centered on the words that seemed to have lighted her fuse.
To buy some time before the axe fell, I resorted to a question. "What do you mean?"
Her open hand hit my desk. "Scaggs, you can't even ask intelligent questions. How many Presbyterians have you seen selling flowers at airports or peanuts at intersections? Even you must sense a difference between Arafat and Sharon. And there does seem to be a slight difference between their faith-based' positions." She drew a breath and continued to exhale fire.
She actually stood up and glared toward my lowering eyes. "Calm down! I am calm, you sanctimonious do gooder. Of course, faith-based institutions work. You do remember the children's crusades? A faith-based institution called children to translate faith into deeds and with support from various governing authorities over 50,000 kids were lost."
Thinking I saw an opening I charged. "That was centuries ago. Don't you think human beings can learn?" And before I'd closed my mouth I realized I had inserted my foot again.
She was not assuaged and rambled on. "Cut the kowtowing and listen to the music. Sounds like trumpets circling the wall of separation between church and state to me. Are you deaf or just dense?"
My response was slow, as usual. "Probably both. But I'm also an idealist. Maybe we can protect our tradition of separation of church and state and at the same time more effectively engage faith-based programs in helping solve tough, tough problems. Let's watch. Very critically."
She spun and stalked away. And looking over her shoulder she proclaimed "You bet your Utopian posterior I will."
Bill Scaggs is president emeritus at Meridian Community College and a senior consulting editor for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at