Way to politicize charity

It happens occasionally, but none more so than by inviting a Presidential contender to speak on your behalf. Teen Challenge USA is bringingSarah Palin to Missoula on September 12. Tickets are $100 per person.

I don’t know much about Teen Challenge, but I don’t see publicizing and endorsing politicians in their mission statement:

To provide youth, adults and families with an effective and comprehensive Christian faith-based solution to life-controlling drug and alcohol problems in order to become productive members of society.

For the Missoula program, it costs $1500 a month per student to provide a residential drug-rehabilitation program for women. I’m not sure if that is the best way to help folks with their addictions, but it seems like an admirable alternative to incarceration.

It is hard to evaluate the effectiveness of any charity, but Charity Navigator gives one of the chapters of Teen Challenge their lowest rating. It seems that the Midlands group spends nearly 30% of their income on administration and a bit less than 20% on fundraising expenses, leaving only 54% for drug rehabilitation programs. Admittedly, other chapters do better but I have to wonder what sort of oversight the national office has on the hundred or more regional centers.

Skylar Browning at the Missoula Independent asks the same question – mulling over whether Teen Challenge PNW Missoula will even make a profit on the Palin talk. If Palin typically charges up to $100,000 per talk and there are other expenses involved like hiring security guards, booking the Hilton, providing food, etc., then you have to wonder how 1,600 tickets at $100 will cover the costs. Maybe other groups are helping, but it isn’t clear.

What is obvious is that this is a very successful marketing ploy by Teen Challenge. They’ve brought attention to themselves, perhaps raising awareness that Missoula is one of the “drug capitals” of the nation(that should be great for attracting economic development to our town).

But, by bringing such a polarizing political figure they are risking the political message dominating the event. For instance, Jan Henderson, director of the treatment center here in Missoula, expressed admiration for Palin’s strength in “standing” up to media scrutiny of her life and politics. A classic Republican line, blaming the ‘liberal’ media for all that is wrong with this country.

It makes you wonder about Faith-based partnerships, doesn’t it? Here is one charity plainly aligning themselves with one side of the political divide and not the other. Perhaps they all do. And, maybe your faith-based charity is better than mine, but if your political benefactor gets elected then I’m sure yours will fare better than mine.

The real losers of this politicization of charity are probably the beneficiaries of those charities. Because I know a number of people who will now question how much of their donation is going to support politicians, as compared to really helping those in need.

Jesus and Gay Marriage

Let’s get something straight. The message of Jesus was one of compassion, love, and inclusivity. It was not the message of division, lies, exclusion that the Republican Party tries to make it out to be. The issue of gay marriage provides particular insight.

I do not believe for one second that Jesus would want homosexuals to be relegated to second-class citizen status simply because of their sexual orientation. Would Jesus think that homosexuality as expressed in a committed, monogamous relationship is a sin? Maybe, maybe not. While we don’t know his views on this for certain, we can look at how he dealt with the second-class citizens of his time to get an idea. Did he run away from prostitutes and tax collectors? Did he exclude them from his love and grace because they were “sinners?” No, he didn’t. He welcomed them, as they were, into his fellowship. They had full membership in his inner circle. And he didn’t say, “First you have to quit collecting taxes or quit being a prostitute before I will welcome you.” He welcomed them, fully, as they were. Their decisions to give up tax collecting and prostitution were their own decisions, not ones that Jesus’ imposed on them or forced them to make. Looking at this example, I believe that Jesus would have fully welcomed practicing homosexuals into his community. He would not force them to change or give up their homosexuality first. Maybe, later, they would choose to give up their homosexuality (if homosexuality is a choice…I believe research shows otherwise), but I don’t believe Jesus would have made that a prerequisite for being in his community.

Denying homosexuals the right to get married and to experience all the legal benefits of married couples (being able to visit their spouse in the hospital, being able to file a joint tax return, being able to reap the benefits of their spouse’s life insurance policy) is discrimination based on sexual orientation. And the Gospel accounts reveal that Jesus never would have supported discrimination of any form.