May 2004 Church & State | People & Events

Angry Religious Right groups are pressing the White House to increase federal funding for evangelical Christian groups that say they want to fight the spread of AIDS overseas through abstinence-based programs.

Congress appropriated $2.4 billion for AIDS relief in 2004, and evangelical groups want to make sure they get their share. So far, they are not happy with their slice of the pie.

World magazine, an evangelical news journal, reported March 27 that "a number of well-known evangelical personalities including James Dobson and Chuck Colson" went to the White House for a private meeting with Randall Tobias, who heads the White House's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

World reported that the discussion, which also included Franklin Graham, Todd Bassett of the Salvation Army and Bailey Marks Jr. of Campus Crusade for Christ, was "heated but helpful."

The Religious Right groups are angry because to date, little of the AIDS money has gone to evangelical groups that stress abstinence. So far, only $5 million has been appropriated for groups that promote abstinence. The conservative groups say congressional mandates mean those organizations should have received $320 million.

World reported that only a handful of religious groups have received federal support to combat AIDS, among them Catholic Relief Services, World Relief and Habitat for Humanity. Two groups that World calls "secular humanitarian" have also received funding: the American Red Cross and Save the Children.

Groups denied funding in the first round include World Vision, Graham's Samaritan's Purse, the Association of Christian Schools International, the Salvation Army, Prison Fellowship and Campus Crusade for Christ's Cross­Roads program.

A staffer at CrossRoads told World that he believes that officials at the Department of State and the Department of Health and Human Services, which administer the program jointly, are biased against "faith-based" organizations.

"We feel that we've been the victim of some bureaucratic policies," Matt Kavgian said. "What has been changed at the political level by this administration has not been changed at the agency level. Much of the public-health establishment appears to be waiting for the end of the election season, and if Bush is not reelected I am sure they will simply return to the status quo of excluding faith-based organizations like us from the federal grant process."

Kavgian claimed that officials at the U.S. Agency for International Develop­ment urged his group to apply and then refused to tell the organization why it was turned down for funding.

Tobias apparently told the group heads to remain patient.

"I'd really like for people to judge me a year from now on what I have done, rather than being apprehensive about what I'm going to do," he told World. "I would be the first to say that we do not yet have answers to every question."

Tobias also assured the religious groups that he shares their opposition to emphasizing condoms as a way to halt the spread of AIDS in Africa.

"There's no evidence in generalized populations that a broad-based use of condoms as the backbone of prevention efforts has worked," he said. "I've come to believe, not just intuitively or by guessing about it, but based on a lot of data that we've been able to collect, that abstinence is the best approach."

At least one of the organizations already funded is pursuing a religious approach. A representative at World Relief, which received $10 million in federal support, told Focus on the Family's Citizenlink, "World Relief mobilizes churches in developing countries, and these churches use a Bible-based teaching to guide people towards God's designs of monogamous sexual relationships and fidelity within marriage."