Can marriage ministry prosper without federal funds?

Christian News Northwest

VANCOUVER, Wash. — In 2006-07, a locally based marriage enrichment organization made national headlines because of legal action surrounding a federal grant it received.  That organization, Northwest Marriage Institute, in 2007 survived that legal challenge, and its director, Bob Whiddon, at the time gave total credit to God for the victory.  But now the institute faces another challenge — continuing its work now that the federal funding has expired.  “The five-year funding we received from the federal government has ended,” said Whiddon. “By October we will vacate our offices here in Orchards and will need a place out of which to work. We are hoping to find facilities at low cost or no cost to us.”
Whiddon said the goal is to continue to offer marriage classes, parenting classes and marriage/parenting workshops at little or no cost.
“We are praying that churches and other community organizations will host such events for us,” he said.
He said the institute has three part-time workers, including himself. He plans to continue to offer professional counseling and to guest preach at local churches to supplement his own income.
In 2007 a U.S. district court judge in Tacoma, Wash, dismissed a federal lawsuit that accused the Bush administration of violating the separation of church and state by funding Whiddon’s agency. U.S. District Judge Franklin D. Burgess ruled in a 15-page order that Americans United for Separation of Church and State failed to prove its claims against Northwest Marriage Institute.
Whiddon, who served as pulpit minister at the Eastside Church of Christ in Portland for nearly 10 years before starting the marriage institute in 2004, had maintained since the lawsuit’s filing that the organization was “squeaky clean in this matter.”
The judge’s ruling came after what Whiddon described as a very stressful six months for him and the organization, whose supporters include congregations and individual members.
Americans United, a political watchdog group, had claimed that the Northwest Marriage Institute used federal money to provide “Bible-based” marriage education, alegedly violating the constitutional prohibition against government advancement of religion.
Along with the marriage institute, the lawsuit named Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt as a defendant. The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal services agency based in Scottsdale, Ariz., offered free legal representation to the institute.
But the case took an emotional toll on Whiddon, who maintained all along that the allegations were false. The lawsuit generated widespread media coverage. The institute laid bare all of its financial records, e-mail records, curriculum and newsletters and disclosed donors, its current work and any future work in progress.
In his ruling, the judge noted that the institute was loosely organized in June 2004 to provide biblical marriage counseling but noted that the programs funded through the federal grant were not explicitly Bible-based. Northwest Marriage Institute was seeking to provide a service available to all people regardless of their beliefs.
Whiddon said the goal is to have new funding in place by Oct. 1 so as to continue the institute’s work, which is often done in partnership with such ministries as MarriageTeam, which provides marriage coaching, and Restored & Remarried, which provides special help to remarried couples, and with other religious and community groups.
“We are way too involved in building healthy marriages to stop now,” Whiddon said.
Whiddon holds a doctorate in Biblical counseling from Trinity Theological Seminary in Indiana, as well as a doctorate in pastoral ministry from Northwest Graduate School in Seattle. He is a licensed clinical pastoral counselor and certified temperament counselor with the National Christian Counselors Asso-ciation, is a licensed minister of pastor counseling in the Florida-based National Conservative Christian Church and has 33 years experience in ministry and counseling.
For more information on the institute or how to help support its programs, phone 360-260-1100, send e-mail to [email protected], or go to

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