At the Mercy of the Church

Franklin Graham’s assertion that the government needs to leave the care of the jobless and the needy to the Church asks us to cede the care of all Americans to religious authority.  This brings us to an appropriate topic for this Blog Against Theocracy 2011  post: Charity vs Social Justice and how it feeds into the power hungry tendencies of organized religion.

Charity is about giving to those in need, Social Justice is about addressing the reason people are in need.  There is a story about a man who comes upon a river, and sees a child drowning.  He dives in, and pulls the child to shore.  As soon as he reaches the shore he see’s two more children drowning.  Upon rescuing them, he see’s three coming down the river.  At some point, we need to ask what is going on upriver.

So how does this connect to Graham’s statements, and the role of the Church?

Charity can exist within the right-wing theocratic dream society, social justice cannot.  Charity allows us to help the visibly suffering temporarily but keeps us from addressing the systemic roots of the problem.  Charity puts the have-nots at the mercy of the haves.  The poor depend on the whims of the rich.  This is precisely what happens in Graham’s ideal world:

If you didn’t have a job, you’d go to your local church and ask the pastor if he know somebody that could hire him. If you were hungry, you went to the local church and told them, “I can’t feed my family.” And the church would help you. And that’s not being done.

Where does that leave atheists?  Where does it leave Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists?  At the mercy of the Church.

Which is precisely where right wing theocrats want us – at the mercy of wealthy and the ostensibly holy.  Without the equality of a safety net by the people and for the people, help could be tied to church attendance (or come with a heavy evangelical price tag: “You want to eat?  Sit through a lunch hour advertisement for Jesus”).

a hundred years ago, the safety net, the social safety net in the country was provided by the church.

But the government took that. And took it away from the church. And they had more money to give and more programs to give, and pretty soon, the churches just backed off.

For those churches that backed off – it is an indication of their character and commitment to their fellow man (contrary to implication: not all churches backed off providing a safety net).  Our national character must be made of still deeper compassion and wisdom.  Not only must we continue to fight for social justice on an national level, but in our own lives work to address the systemic suffering in our world.  For that we don’t need religious authority – only our own innate sense of right and wrong.

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One Response

  1. This is a great post; thanks for helping clarify what I have been struggling to verbalize for a while about the differences between charity and social justice. So real, but they often get lumped under the same “do-good” blanket, perhaps in an attempt to obscure the points you are trying to make.

    Also loved the bit about church and charity. Even if we allow for some level of religious involvement in the upkeep of a community (and in many cases such as clothing drives, etc, this is not so bad) the best a church could ever do, even the best church, is act locally. So you are totally spot on, we can eschew social justice for local charity.

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