A new Indianapolis- produced documentary film suggests that President Bush"s faith-based initiative may lead the government slip-slidin" down a slope toward mixing welfare with evangelism.
Tempting Faith, underwritten by the Ford Foundation and the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment at IUPUI, will air on WFYI TV 20, Jan. 16 at 9 p.m., and on Sunday, Jan. 19 at 2 p.m. The program will also air on Butler"s WTBU at a later date. The documentary is part of an IUPUI project devoted to measuring the impact of faith-based social services. Filming in Indiana, North Carolina and Massachusetts, the Indianapolis-based team of writer/producer Nora Hiatt, photographer Dustin Teel and editor Mike Ullrich explored the street-level implications when government pays faith-based organizations to deliver social services like shelter, counseling and health care. The broadcast is well-timed. Just last month, President Bush signed an executive order mandating that religious groups get equal access to government contracts, even if they hire on the basis of religion and display religious icons. One of the venues for the Tempting Faith filming was Indianapolis, where all of the emergency shelters for homeless men are run by religious organizations. "There are good and honorable people doing this work for reasons of faith," Hiatt says. "And what can"t be denied is that, for all the talk of a blueprint to end homelessness, the city is not providing a secular alternative to this type of shelter." Tempting Faith shows bureaucrats reciting regulations that insist faith-based government-funded programs not preach to the people they serve. A secular option is supposed to be available for aid recipients who desire it. But the film, with some subtlety ("I"m not a fan of documentaries that dictate to the viewer who is right and wrong," Hiatt says), shows problems that arise when government and evangelism mix. In some areas of rural North Carolina, the only real option for indigent health care is a government-funded faith-based clinic. A lesbian counselor talks on camera how she was fired by a Kentucky government-supported Baptist children"s home because her lifestyle is contrary to the faith"s "core values." And then there"s the question of how realistic it is to expect evangelical groups to follow rules demanding they separate proselytizing from social service. In an interview for the film, Indianapolis" Good News Mission director Dan Evans candidly said that providing shelter and food to homeless men is secondary to his goal to convert the men to Christianity. Evans, whose shelter received $42,000 in local government funds in 2001, had to make some adjustments to receive those funds, specifically a "group counseling" option to the shelter"s mandatory chapel services. But Evans acknowledged on tape that he doesn"t let government regulations stop him from trying to save souls for Jesus: Hiatt: Is it [the counseling session] faith-based? Evans: Entirely. (Laughs) What would we counsel them on otherwise? How to have good morals? Hiatt: Does anyone raise any objections? Evans: No. Just a couple of Muslims. Updates and stuff State Sen. Vi Simpson (D-Bloomington) has created an exploratory committee for a possible run for governor in 2004. Among many accomplishments in her 19-year Senate career, Simpson ("Practical Progressives," NUVO, Feb. 1, 2001) was the chief legislative hero in the fight to obtain desperately needed Medicaid benefits for disabled Hoosiers. As part of a nationwide series of anti-war demonstrations, Indiana folks opposed to the proposed Iraq war will gather Saturday, Jan. 18 from noon to 2 p.m. at Monument Circle. Speakers include Rep. Julia Carson, former Rep. Andy Jacobs and six City-County Council members. Brylane and UNITE (the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees) have reached an agreement to allow workers at Brylane"s Indiana catalog distribution centers to decide if they want union representation ("Scarred Up and Fed Up," NUVO, Nov. 21, 2001). Brylane and UNITE agreed to a secret-ballot mail-in procedure set to conclude by Jan. 23. If 50 percent plus one of the center"s 800 employees choose the union, Brylane has promised to recognize it. Marion County Treasurer Greg Jordan announced last week he would withdraw his lawsuit alleging the state illegally collects fees from the county for incarcerating juvenile offenders ("Marion County Leads State in Incarcerating Kids," NUVO, Jan. 2, 2003). Ameritech has been sending 37-minute prepaid phone cards to some customers as settlement of a lawsuit alleging the company sold useless inside wire maintenance plans. Because the calls have to be made from an Ameritech pay phone, many recipients have found the cards less than useful. (The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor objected to the settlement, to no avail.) But the Marion County Family Advocacy Center is accepting donations of the cards, and will then give them to victims of domestic violence who may need to call a family member or a shelter. You can donate your prepaid phone card by mailing it to: Family Advocacy Center 4134 N. Keystone Ave. Indianapolis, IN 46205