As part of his inaugural festivities, West Virginia Gov. Cecil Underwood held a 90-minute prayer service Sunday, during which he asked churches to join with the state to fight illiteracy, joblessness and poor health habits. Whether they respond will depend on whether the governor can keep the promises he made in his speech.
Underwood said he was not attempting to breach the wall of separation between church and state. Cooperation among citizens will not be ordered by the government, he said, but "sparked by the level of trust we have in each other."
Trust is the key, because more than a few churches have expressed concern about which responsibilities might get shifted to them when the safety net provided by government is trimmed back. Any attempt to formalize the programs churches handle by adding government regulations, inspections and the like will chase houses of worship away from these tasks.
That said, however, Underwood has a point when he says that churches have facilities - meeting rooms and the like - that are only in use one or two days a week. Using this space for literacy training classes, for example, makes good sense. It is also consistent with churches' mission of encouraging members to love their neighbors by helping them get skills they need to succeed in the workplace.