The group FAST, Faith and Action for Strength Together, is the Pinellas based political Activism group formed by local churches. The Sun Beam Times has offered analysis on how FAST misuses “Social Justice” to support its political agenda and has a top down agenda run by a small group of insiders that suppress any true democratic process. The Sun Beam Times is continuing its series on FAST and now reports on how FAST is an entirely Political group and uses parishioner funds from church offertories for political activism. In addition, the local Dioceses is contradicting the teachings of the Catholic church by ignoring catechetical directives that Pastors should not lead in political matters, only the laity should.
The leadership of FAST indicates that their work is entirely for “Social Justice”. However, the major portions of their work involve “demanding” that local government implement programs its limited group of decisions makers has called for. For instance, the group placed local officials on the stage and “demanded” that they fund a drug court. However, as reported in the Sun Beam Times, the Drug Court failed to produce on its promises, enrolling far fewer people than expected while also causing those people to give up their legal rights in the process. They have pushed for funding for “affordable housing” by demanding $10 million in county funds go to an undesignated, unbudgeted program. This year they wish to have the school board enact a Direct Instruction Reading Program, the Sheriff’s office to fund “Smart Choices” recidivism program and the City of St. Petersburg to hire only Pinellas county residents. Other examples will be analyzed next week, but these serve to demonstrate the political nature of FAST.At their most recent annual assembly (October 17) numerous testimonials were offered from the stage on how critical it was that FAST produce 3,500 people at the “Nehemiah Action Assembly” on March 19 so that they could get their agenda passed.
The videos below show the leadership advising members how essential it was to get the elected officials to vote in favor of their program. They proclaimed their success in getting a bill passed in Tallahassee to institute drug courts championed by Rep. Daryl Rousson through their direct political action.
There is little doubt that FAST is a purely political organization, with political objective relying on political power of its members to demand political change from politicians. Claims to the contrary are not credible.
Thus it is very concerning that church funds are being funneled to these political activities. In order to participate, each church (40 in total) must contribute thousands of dollars to the organization to fund its hired staff. The funds come from the regular church offertory in catholic churches. At the Parish of this author, there is no option to withhold funds from this cause. The Pastor is the sole arbiter of how the church funds will be used. This author has specifically requested that the contributions be made in a voluntary way through special collections. However, that request was denied despite the request also being made to the Bishop of the Diocese.
It is unfortunate that FAST uses church funds for political activities over the objections of its members. It is concerning that such taxation is done without any ability to participate in a representative democracy (see 3/7/12 article). Respresentatives to FAST are solely appointed by the Pastor and there is no opportunity to debate or vote on candidates. This is taxation without representation. In addition, the church and the Catholic Dioceses are tax-exempt organizations and are prohibited from directly participating in political activity of this nature in order to save that status. Any lobbying done by 501(c) organizations must be considered for tax reporting purposes and that portion not written off on taxes by donors. This jeopardizes the tax deductibility status of the actual individual donors who exempt their donations from taxation on their personal tax returns.
FAST should only take voluntary donations from church members and should leave the overall offertory alone. It violates the conscience of church members who do not share the political beliefs and agenda of the FAST leadership and members. Bishop Robert Lynch has eloquently spoken about conscience protection recently in the debate on mandated payment for contraception. There should be similar treatment of church parishioners whose conscience is violated with every dollar contributed to FAST against their will.
Finally, it is time for the Catholic Pastors and the Bishop to stop leading on political missions. Their role should be that of providing spiritual and moral guidance and facilitating growth in faith and a promoting a Christian Community that decides its own missions. There can be no more obvious proof of this than the quote from the Catechism of the Catechism that offers this:
“2442 It is not the role of the Pastors of the Church to intervene directly in the political structuring and organization of social life. This task is part of the vocation of the lay faithful, acting on their own initiative with their fellow citizens. Social action can assume various concrete forms. It should always have the common good in view and be in conformity with the message of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. It is the role of the laity “to animate temporal realities with Christian commitment, by which they show that they are witnesses and agents of peace and justice.””