Feeding God’s Children: Tennessee Town Debates Faith-Based Funding For Ministry

“How do we determine which ministries to donate to?” –Alderman Bob Markli

Sid Kemp is upfront about the agenda of Feeding God’s Children. The ministry, affiliated with Two Rivers Church in Lenoir City, Tenn., provides food and other assistance to children in Appalachia and Guatemala, and it provides evangelism as part of the package.

Although recipients and volunteers don’t have to be “believers,” he said, religious outreach is a big part of the ministry’s work.

“We want to tell them about Jesus because we know that changes their lives permanently,” Kemp said.

So when Kemp came to the Farragut, Tenn., Board of Aldermen to request $8,000 in public funding, the proper relationship between religion and government quickly became an issue. (Kemp wanted the money to buy a tow-behind grill to be used at fund-raisers and events.)

According to the Farragut Press, Vice Mayor Dot LaMarsh thought the city, a Knoxville suburb, should go ahead and make a contribution. But others raised constitutional and practical considerations.

Alderman Bob Markli told Kemp he would “be happy to contribute my personal funds,” but thought tax funds should be spent on broad-based activities that benefit the general public.

According to the local newspaper, Markli and Alderman John Williams noted that public funding of one faith-based organization would almost certainly lead to requests from others.

“This is a ministry,” said Markli. “How do we determine which ministries to donate to?”

Williams said questions would be raised if the city approved a donation to one denominational ministry but not another.

“What a quagmire that would be,” he exclaimed.

Unlike church-state conflicts in some communities, the discussion in Farragut had a happy ending. Perhaps sensing that things weren’t going his way, ministry representative Kemp withdrew the funding request, indicating that he didn’t want to “to create a hardship or controversy.”

Kemp did the right thing. Ministries such as Feeding God’s Children ought to be funded by voluntary donations, not taxpayer dollars. That’s what our Founders intended, and that’s what our Constitution requires.

It doesn’t hurt that it’s also sound public policy and common sense.