Inside County Government

Some insight into Mecklenburg commissioner’s idea for a ‘council of faith’

Matthew Ridenhour scrolled through Facebook and found a post that alarmed him: A mother who had fallen on hard times asked for a bed.

The Republican Mecklenburg County commissioner first wondered whether his family had a bed to donate. Then, he thought: “I know she attends church. Surely her church can assist her with this and, if not her church, then certainly some church should be able to meet that need.

“Why is she having to post this on Facebook?”

She shouldn’t, said Ridenhour, who called for a “council of faith” Tuesday during a news conference after board Chair Trevor Fuller gave his State of the County address. Ridenhour, a Christian, said he wants faith leaders to assemble together to address the needs of people in the community.

The goal, he said, would be to reinforce the church and community as social services sources and reduce reliance on government services and overtaxed nonprofits.

“We have churches that have multiple campuses, high-tech AV equipment, invest heavily in foreign missions. And you know what, that’s fine,” Ridenhour said. But “let’s not also overlook the fact that there’s somebody out there that needed a bed and they had to go to Facebook to ask somebody.”

Here’s how it would work: People needing help could call a phone number or go to a website, which would then connect them with the council. Then, “almost like a phone tree,” the call for help would go out to council members who respond to the need, Ridenhour said.

“This offers people of different faiths, different backgrounds, different socioeconomic positions (the chance) to come together with a common cause,” commissioner Jim Puckett said.

But could Ridenhour making the call for the council be perceived as endorsing the co-mingling of church and state?

Probably not as long as the council includes various faith groups, doesn’t get public money and doesn’t use taxpayer-owned property not typically open to other community groups, said Mitch Kokai, policy analyst with the conservative John Locke Foundation.

Still, many government organizations and “secular nonprofits” do similar work, said Mike Meno, spokesman for the ACLU of North Carolina. “The government shouldn’t be in the business of promoting ... religion over non-religion,” he said.

Ridenhour said he’s not proposing the county fund or organize the council. And he doesn’t expect it to duplicate work from other nonprofits but meet needs those groups can’t because of program requirements.

The council “provides people with the opportunity to find (an) answer in the church, find that answer in the community, find that answer from their neighbors rather than look to the government or some social program,” he said.