When charity becomes the weapon

When charity becomes the weapon
David R. Weiss, November 16, 2009

Two thousand years ago Roman citizens, from peasants to philosophers mocked the early Christians for their foolish beliefs. How could anyone seriously believe that there was only one God, that this God took on flesh not in a Roman emperor but in a Jewish peasant, or especially that this peasant, Jesus, was worthy of worship even after he was crucified?

But on this singular point, the Romans offered begrudging respect: “See, how they love.” In a society that doled out care only to those with honor, a society that routinely abandoned children and consigned many to the margins, the early Christians were noteworthy in their care for everyone—including those not among their kind.

Thus, when I read (St. Paul Pioneer Press, 11/13/09) of the Catholic Church’s threat to cut its social service programs to some 68,000 of our capital city’s most marginal folks should the District of Columbia decide to allow same-sex marriage, I was embarrassed. What tragic irony that because the church doesn’t agree with the way that society increasingly chooses to honor the love of some of our citizens, the church threatens to forsake the very practice of charity by which it is known.

This much seems clear: Jesus would not have made such a threat. Not that he was beyond issuing threats. Indeed, in a telling scene (Matthew 10:11-15) as he sends his followers out into the countryside, where they will travel in pairs but otherwise be vulnerable to the whims of the towns they enter, he issues words that might give the church itself pause today: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”

I certainly recognize the right of the church to govern its own affairs. And I wholeheartedly believe the church is called to live according to a counter-cultural value. But that value is an unimaginable depth of unconditional compassion, not a readiness to play Russian roulette with services to the needy. So I can only lament choices that govern the church’s affairs in ways that are so at odds with the choices made by Jesus and his earliest followers.

If the Washington Archdiocese makes good on its threat to close up shop on Catholic Charities in order to preserve “the interests of the religious community to be able to practice religion freely,” I can’t help but wonder, what religion is it they’re practicing? And how likely are the homeless to say in appreciative wonder, “See, how they love”?


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