Dispatches from the Creation Wars

My colleague Andy Birkey at the Minnesota Independent reports that his state has spent $2.4 million since 2007 funding the Teen Challenge program, a faith-based evangelical Christian substance abuse treatment program.

Eric Vagle, Teen Challenge’s communications director, acknowledges the religious nature of the treatment centers but says state money is kept separate from evangelical programming.

“The program services that are funded through the government are non-religious in nature, and while we do offer religious programming, it is not funded by government dollars and clients voluntarily choose to participate,” he said.

But this is a false distinction. It’s one thing for a ministry to run a soup kitchen and get state funding because providing food is not an inherently religious act, nor does it require any religious belief. They can serve food to the homeless without proselytizing those who eat the food and the expenses can be separated to some degree from the ministry itself.

But that is not the case with Teen Challenge, where the rehab program being paid for by the state is inherently religious in nature. The whole program is based upon pushing those in the program to embrace Christianity as an alternative to using drugs or alcohol. The money is being paid to them specifically for the purpose of pushing Christianity on those who undergo the treatment program.

While MNTC’s Vagle says state funds don’t go to evangelical programming, most of the language about the program — coming from its managers, Web site and clients — references the transformational power of Jesus Christ, as opposed to chemical health and behavior therapy…

Pastor Rich Scherber, executive director of the program, used similar language when he took Minnesota Teen Challenge’s message of healing to the Minnesota State Fair this summer. During a live show there by Christian talk radio station KKMS, he spoke of the “perfect storm” last fall when the economic recession reduced donations and a scandal involving Tom Petters wiped out a foundation that supported a large chunk of Teen Challenge’s programs.

“God has helped us. I mean, we are operating in the black, not in the red,” he said. “That’s what Teen Challenge is all about. God is working miracles at Teen Challenge.”

Scherber said that Christian teaching is one of two keys to Teen Challenge’s success: “Number one, the Christian approach,” he told KKMS listeners. “That’s by far… The Bible says that any man that be in praise, he’s a new creation, old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.” The other key Scherber says is the fact that the residential treatment lasts longer than the typical 28-day program.

Scherber brought a number of current and former clients on the KKMS show to tell their stories of transformation through Jesus Christ.

This is something the government has no business funding under any circumstances.