Blunt wants more cooperation between government, religious groups

Friday, September 28, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Gov. Matt Blunt launched an initiative Thursday aimed at strengthening cooperation between government and religious groups that provide social services.

Blunt's "Faith-Based Missouri" initiative includes two members of his staff and three appointees, who are to travel the state meeting with church and charity leaders about ways the state can improve its relationship with them.

The Republican governor said government anti-poverty programs and welfare systems have been expensive and "over the long term, in many cases, they have made life worse for our most vulnerable citizens."

By contrast, Blunt added, "faith- and community-based charities often provide services that deliver much better results than government could, because they have a holistic approach to rehabilitation," are less bureaucratic and are more in touch with human needs.

Blunt outlined his religious initiative at a conference jointly sponsored by the state Children's Division, which oversees the foster care program and child abuse investigations, and by Missouri Compassion, a coalition of churches and religious groups created to aid the division. The conference was hosted at First Baptist Church, which Blunt attended as a high school student.

Earlier this year, Blunt signed legislation requiring the division's parent agency, the Department of Social Services, to designate liaisons to work with faith-based groups to help people in need of state assistance.

Department director Deborah Scott said she has appointed 24 existing employees to serve as regional liaisons to religious groups. The department already has 262 contacts with faith-based services and 2,060 with community-based programs, she said.

The departments of Health and Senior Services, and Mental Health and Corrections already provide some services through religious groups.

Blunt said he was sensitive to the constitutional separation between church and state, but insisted neither his new initiative nor the state's existing efforts crossed that line.

"Clearly we have an obligation to ensure that people aren't pressured into some sort of religious commitment," Blunt said. "But at the same time, if there is a religious, faith-based program that is working, government should be excited about partnering with that in an appropriate way."

The members of Blunt's "Faith-Based Missouri" team are:

-- Reynaldo Anderson, an assistant education professor at Harris-Stowe State University and a member of St. Peter African Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Louis.

-- The Rev. Andrew Rollins III, of Kansas City, an ordained itinerant elder in the AME church.

-- Cole County Sheriff Greg White, who also is an ordained Baptist minister.

-- Blunt's chief of staff, Ed Martin, who previously worked with Americans United for Life and the Roman Catholic Church.

-- Angel McCormick Franks, of St. Louis, who is Blunt's director of the Office of Supplier and Workforce Diversity.

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