April 5, 2012; Source: KAIT-Jonesboro, Ark.

KAIT in Jonesboro, Ark. reports that faith-based food pantries could lose their federal funding, but the analysis in the article isn’t clear. Although the reporter suggests that federal officials “threatened to pull federal Emergency Food Assistance Program funding from Community Provisions of Jackson County, a food pantry in southern Indiana, if volunteers continued to offer prayer to recipients,” it said that the feds reached an agreement with Community Provisions that it could offer prayer, “but only after recipients receive food.”

It would seem like KAIT gave the story a scarier headline (“Faith-based food pantries could lose funding”) than it deserved. The Helping Neighbors network of 23 churches and one synagogue said that it doesn’t asked people about their faith when they come for food. The head of the organization’s board said, “I don’t want to see it mixed because if people are hungry they’ll say or agree to almost anything. I would.”

On the other hand, the church food pantry operated by the First Assembly of God doesn’t accept federal money because it wants doesn’t want, according to its senior pastor, to be “restricted from presenting the Gospel, offering prayer to people, and spiritual resources.”  First Assembly won’t lose federal funds because it has chosen not to accept them in the first place.

Stories like this tend to place the federal government in the position of being seen as an evil, threatening overseer. In reality, the three cases cited in the article demonstrate one food pantry that reached a settlement with the federal government about when to pray and when not to, another which is run by churches but doesn’t take advantage of people’s hunger to proselytize, and a third which wants to stick to the Gospel and therefore doesn’t take federal money at all. If you get beyond the headline, you’ll find that the federal government is quite willing to provide support to faith-based food pantries.—Rick Cohen