Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Is the Church Council Being Co-Opted by the Federal Government?

The mere effort of writing the above title makes me chuckle. Could anyone believe that the Church Council, with all its work over 30 years on changing the systemic problem of homelessness, is being co-opted by a grant of a few thousand dollars to abandon its justice ministry?
Well that's exactly what a local activist is saying. In his blog entitled, Apesma's Lament, Real Change exec Tim Harris suggests that the Church Council, along with United Way of King County, the Committee to End Homelessness, the City of Seattle, King County, and several others are dropping our federal advocacy by accepting a $100,000 grant from Fannie Mae to hold a series of local anti-homelessness events called Unite to End Homelessness. Harris' theory goes like this: $100,000 was received by these orgs, that constitutes fairly big money, acceptance of which constitutes a shift in these orgs' priorities, and since this is "charity" not "justice" the event should be roundly condemned.
Harris went so far as to create a parody of a Unite to End Homelessness flier and mail it out to his list. The parody suggested that Unite to End Homelessness partners were forsaking their responsibility to combat federal neglect of homelessness and, like the federal government, are looking purely to charity rather than the larger, institutional problems that cause homelessness.
Tim suggests we "follow the money" to see how the co-optation works. OK, here goes down the money trail: The Church Council has received $10,500 of the $100,000 grant which is being used to hire an outreach worker for four months.  While that constitutes a whopping 0.038% of our annual budget, the entire amount will cover the hard cost of one employee - not the administrative overhead associated with the employee. Since our admin overhead is budgeted at 13%, this federal co-optation fund will actually cost us a net of $1,365. Not a very enticing effort at a payoff by the feds.
Further, Tim suggests this series of events consists of an act of "charity" not a demonstration of larger "justice" issues. First, we certainly understand the difference between charity and justice - we've already held two events this Fall that focused on the justice dimension. Tim liked the keynote of one of them enough that he printed the speech verbatim on his blog. Second, the federal government's lack of funding simply does  not affect the mission of churches.  As long as homelessness exists - whether or not anti-homelessness work is funded by the federal government - we will still be fighting it. It's our mission. Specifically, the Church Council's goal is to activate congregations in effective anti-homelessness ministry. We can't wait for adequate federal funding. It'd be nice to have an effective partner in Uncle Sam, but that's not going to stop our work one way or another.
I'm proud of the Council's work on homelessness. Frankly, we've done more against systemic homelessness for the last 30 years than most anyone in town - including Real Change and its editor, Tim Harris. This new effort, partly funded through a tiny trickle of federal money, helps our grassroots congregational efforts. We're smart to participate, even if the occasional homeless advocate doesn't quite find it politically correct.