A Missed Opportunity for a Lesson in Charity… and Independence
Marc addressed the intention of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence to request that its pastors advocate during Mass on Sunday for maintenance of welfare payments. Dan Yorke expressed dismay, as well.
What I find most discouraging about the initiative is its indication that the Church is misassessing (or not adequately considering) the political tides. Religious organizations are facing increasingly pointed questions about the justification for social and political exemptions when it comes to the practical expression of their faith. The most prominent example has been Massachusetts’s refusal to permit Catholic Charities to apply its religious beliefs to the practice of placing children in adoptive homes consisting of a mother and a father. With the swell of the same-sex marriage movement, those questions will become demands.
What the diocese and the Church must do is to define religious organizations’ position in contrast with the state — delineating distinctions of priorities, appropriate approaches, and independent value. Preaching political activism from the pulpit in the service of maintained government spending and services does not take the wise path. It affirms the principles that will smother the vitality right out of America’s religious institutions.
Observing budget-driven hardship among those who rely on government services and handouts, the Church should strive to pick up the slack, not to crack the whip. The homilies that Rhode Islanders hear this weekend should not focus on asking the Statehouse’s little Caesars to wield the the power of their thumbless economic hands, but on asking parishioners to target charity toward people in need, to consider hiring from among the ranks of the unemployed, especially the long-unemployed. Rather than using its structure in the fashion of a political action committee, the hierarchy should mobilize an institutional brainstorming session to determine how the diocese’s own programs and resources might be leveraged for the benefit of those whom the state can no longer afford to support financially.
Stepping in to do God’s work when the government cannot (or should not) will reestablish religious organizations as an important institution apart from the political structure, deserving of maximum freedom to do what they do. By contrast, not only endorsing, but advocating for statist economic policies will inevitably compromise the Church’s strength when it comes to resisting the social and cultural policies on which those who deify the state will insist.