Atheists have blocked a $65,000 grant the Kansas City, Mo., government had allocated for use during the National Baptist Convention USA (NBC-USA) annual meeting Sept. 5-9 in the city.
John Modest Miles of Modest Miles Ministries had counted on the Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund grant to help cover ground transportation costs for delegates at the 31,000-church NBC-USA meeting, saying the funds would support tourism. But after American Atheists Inc. and two of its Kansas City members contended in a lawsuit that the public funds would support religion, the city withheld the grant pending additional documentation from Miles, the Kansas City Star reported.
As Miles works to recoup the money through other sources, including private funding, a GoFundMe page set up Aug. 26 by the Black Health Care Coalition had raised about $1,500, with all funds designated for the NBC-USA Kansas City meeting.
“Let’s join together to honor the social service agenda of the National Baptist Convention,” the GoFundMe appeal reads, noting criminal justice, disaster relief, hunger relief, employment advocacy, housing and health among the NBC-USA’s concerns. “We need this. Service saves lives.”
Miles was not available for comment Aug. 29, but he told the Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer days earlier he had been troubled over the loss of funding.
“All of us are in tears,” said Miles, who also pastors the NBC-USA congregation Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City. “I’m up at night praying. That’s all I know to do.”
NBC-USA President Jerry Young, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss., spoke during the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2016 annual meeting in St. Louis in connection with his joint promotion of racial reconciliation with immediate past SBC President Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas.
An estimated 20,000 delegates and family members are slated to attend the convention, occupying 8,200 hotel rooms and yielding a $7.9 million economic impact, VisitKC, the city’s convention and tourism agency, told the News & Observer.
Miles continues to meet with city officials to find another source of funds. City Manager Troy Schulte told the News & Observer that private funding is Miles’ only option, and said the city would assist Miles in finding such support.
“At this time, we will not be using public money,” Schulte said. The American Atheists’ lawsuit has not been heard in court, and the atheists had sought to resolve the problem in meetings before the lawsuit was filed.
“The National Baptist Convention is inherently religious – and it is clear under Missouri law and the First Amendment that Missouri taxpayers should not be paying for it,” Amanda Knief, American Atheists National Legal Director, said in a press release on the group’s website.
City tourism funds were also allocated to Miles’ ministry when he served as chairman of the host committee for NBC USA national conventions in 1998, 2003 and 2010, Miles told the Kansas City Star, but the paper said in a July 26 report that it was unable to verify the allocations because the city’s database records only go back five years. According to American Atheists Inc., the grants amounted to $100,000 in 1998, $142,000 in 2003 and $77,585 in 2010.
Young told the Kansas City Star that the convention is strictly a business meeting, with some sessions open to the public.
“I would hope that those who are part of the atheist movement would not take the position that the money used by the city to market the city and to bring economic development and enhancement … ought to apply to everybody but Christians,” Young told the Star. “When you spend money to bring 20,000 people to your city, you’re not spending that money to promote the cause. You’re spending that money because it just makes sense.”
The convention will continue as planned, Young said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)