|"...many people do humanitarian work from deep faith."_FEMA_Image via Wikipedia|
E.J. Dionne Jr. opined ("Contraception and the cost of culture wars"-2/12/12_The Washington Post) about recent controversial mandates for contraceptives to be paid for through religious helping institutions although this goes against the beliefs of some. There are deeper background facts than Mr. Dionne provided regarding similarities between government "help" and Church outreach.
Defending the Church’s helping role in society, Mr. Dionne, a Catholic, wrote: "When it comes to lifting up the poor, healing the sick, assisting immigrants and refugees, educating the young… comforting orphaned and abandoned children…the church has been there [my emphasis added] with resources and an astoundingly committed band of sisters, priests, brothers and lay people….make the words of Jesus come alive every day.”
More than 'being there,' the Church was 'there' first. Mr. Dionne noted the Church’s assistance to "immigrants,” a modern synonym for strangers, that in scriptures are "strangers among you" and "strangers in the gates." To say that the Church has “been there,” as Mr. Dionne wrote, is not precisely correct; the Church led there. Synagogues and then the Church were there long before empires and governments got there. I imagine that Mr. Dionne intended to paraphrase the prophet Isaiah and other scribes. They cannot be left out of historical perspectives on helping the poor and others. You can read, for example, Isaiah chapter 58 and 61. Faithful believers led, and before Stephen became the first Christian martyr he led the first work of Christians to help widows and others in need. The Church led in education, as well, and many priests and others died for the cause of evangelism and these ministries.
Secular entities like governments began to follow this path centuries later. Secular efforts since have tried to imitate Judeo-Christian initiatives outside religious or spiritual identification.
However, the secular cannot co-opt what religious entities deem to be sacred. First leaders of this country saw the separate motivations or tactics likely to appear between sacred and secular works, and wisely separated church and state. The Church has its gospel works to do. When in its right spiritual mind, it is uniquely alive and present in the midst of societies and apart from their governments. Religious freedom is at the core of American design and American distinctiveness.
In defining their missions, religious institutions are not under the secular, especially government. National and local governments are not to be allowed to cross a line to gain control or direction over the Church, its teaching, worship, and serving ministries.
Churches became subject to recurring conflicts when they began to receive public monies in payment for operational ministries. The Church, by circumstance and/or choice, has come to rely often on private payments and public reimbursements for rendered services. Hence, private works by Christians and/or the Church are fewer than ever, for most of the health ministries can not operate free of government oversight. The cases of Christian institutions grossly breaking their own moral and legal codes have given good reason for government diligence. The culture war that Mr. Dionne writes about arose recently when "church and state" joined forces. This is not to criticize those actions, but to point out the potential dangers of such collaboration, such as reimbursing religious entities for services without strings attached.
As a Christian non-Catholic, I believe that godly Christians and their institutions should react strongly to God's calling through the Church and its spiritual history. That is what E.J. Dionne Jr. and others are saying now. The historical background, whether inside or outside church buildings and worship, should be known and acknowledged as God-initiated. When secular entities imitate the calling of the Church to help the poor and others, they are free to do so. Yet, they will always do it differently, on a purely human scale. Sometimes, governments look to the Church for help, including emergencies, refugee assistance and resettlement, for example, and other needs. What the culture calls humanitarian work is what God put first before His people to do by faith and selfless service. It is not surprising that many people do humanitarian work from deep faith. Today, the mixture of public money with beliefs, as in mixing public funds for insurance payments to religious caring institutions, does continue to cloud the matter. Ways must be found for solutions that do not interfere with religious freedoms.
Leaders outside the Church know that without the service of religious institutions the nation would have poor, homeless, and others in greater need on a scale unimagined. One duty of each person who desires religious freedoms is to speak out about the leadership history of the Church. This divine institution imperfectly working on earth led the way there by a repeated divine mandate to care for the homeless, the poor, the neglected, the voiceless, and the weakest, and to seek to heal.
For people of faith, speaking out about these things can and must be done within and, one hopes, above the fray of political and cultural designs, trends, and wars.
Ed. note: "Church" and "the Church" here refer to all entities of worship and service and care institutions and groups that hold firm belief in Jesus Christ as risen and living Lord.
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