We humans are both physical and spiritual. Ideally these should
function happily in harmony. Often they don’t. This war waged within
is eloquently described by many religious greats through the ages, the
apostle Paul in Romans 7:23 (“another law at work in my members …
making me a prisoner”), the Sakyamuni in verse 1 of The Dhammapada (“the wheel of the wagon follows the hoof”) and others.
of us do “not too bad,” hitting an OK balance with the two sides of
life, but beyond the occasional “pretty good” individual, the spiritual
and secular stay at pretty stark odds. Once we get past the single
self, the larger social units pretty much spin out of control. It’s
very hard to get even a single whole family in order, and with each
broader unit the problem exacerbates. But the time we get out to big
groupings, like cities and states for example the likelihood of balance
between the material and the spiritual is slim. For this reason,
“church – state” relations always remain in a tumult. They constantly
swing this way and that.
These days a fascinating and
important series of issues have arisen in this relationship. The
church and not-the-church have gotten themselves tangled up in the
world of help. Caring for the poor, the needy, the downtrodden, the
disaster stricken is a responsibility both for the state, and for the
person of faith. But these often struggle in nature and motivation.
One issue I’ve already treated in these pages is the problems created
in the world of global disaster relief by aid organizations comprised
of proselytizing believers.
Here’s another one that
looks very difficult. The Catholic church, and the city of Washington
DC are facing what looks like a possible impasse. Tim Craig, Michelle Boorstein, and later Carol Morello did a fine job last Thursday and Friday
making the issues clear, and as importantly capturing the heat, the
tone, the ignorances and arrogances that are coming to participate in
this thorny issue:
The Catholic Archdiocese of
Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social
service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn’t change a
proposed same-sex marriage law.
Council members are hardening their opposition to the Catholic
Archdiocese of Washington’s efforts to change a proposed same-sex
marriage law, setting up a political showdown between the city and one
of its largest social service providers.
is being made in planned legislation designed to protect gays and
lesbians from discrimination. “Under the bill, headed for a council
vote next month, religious organizations … would have to obey city
laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians.” But
this puts the Catholic Church in a quandary, “Church officials say
Catholic Charities would have to suspend its social services work for
the city, rather than provide employee benefits to same-sex married
couples or allow them to adopt.”
serves 68,000 people in the city, including the one-third of
Washington’s homeless people who go to city-owned shelters managed by
At issue is $18 million to $20 million
in city funds for 20 to 25 programs run by Catholic Charities, but the
church pointed out that it supplements funding for city programs with
$10 million from its own coffers.
So, as we can see,
these bodies (the city and the church) are very tightly wed. They have
combined intimately to do much good, lots of lives and great work is at
stake, lots of money is all tangled up together, but when something
unanticipated like this happens remarkably complex issues arise.
officials insulting believers is not a healthy approach to addressing a
complicated matter with much at stake, but sadly bluster is all too
often the coin of the political realm. Far better would be quiet
discreet, reflective and respectful conversation from sincere adherents
on both sides of the opinion.
Any sincere Catholic can
only be happy for advances that erode bigotry and persecution.
Conversely one cannot expect the Church to conform to obligations
contrary to its sacred traditions.
I for one hope that
a creative solution can be found that allows the pleasant marriage
between city and church, that helps so many in need to persist. I
think it can be done. Some fiddling about with nuances, structures,
divisions on paper, and solution driven thinking can open the way for
all sides to remain in the help game in good conscience. The good work
and the collaboration should continue. We should not let the careless
and the loud make things harden up. There is no creativity for the
sake of good when the mind is rigid, and the heart is prideful.