Thursday, November 12, 2009


About five years ago, the group of ultraconservatives who've committed themselves to torment and disrupt my denomination took it on themselves to help destroy a long standing partnership between my Presbytery and Presbyterians in East Africa. For the better part of a decade, we'd partnered to help build clinics and hospitals and safe-houses for young Christian working women. My own congregation was only part of the partnership for two years, but in that time we put a roof on one new church, dug a well for a clinic, and laid the foundation for another church.

But my Presbytery includes progressives, meaning, there are folks here open to gays and lesbians. So our ultraconservatives sought out the then-moderator of the PCEA, a witch-hunting, demon-seeing, self-aggrandizing Big Man of the most pernicious kind. Their priorities were the same. First and foremost: No Gays. Those hospitals were being built with gay-friendly money! That new tin roof is clearly a bit swishy! Don't drink the water from that new's homosexual water! I had one tiny sip the other day, and I'm already worrying more about whether these pants really match my shirt!

And so the partnership was declared a "partnership with evil." Further interactions were forbidden...and that meant clinics had less medicine for the sick, there was less clean water for the thirsty, and fewer churches were being built for the faithful. At the time, the ultraconservatives in the US declared they would fill the gap. But they didn't. They have their priorities, and having done the damage, they wandered off to find more things to break.

Today, we hear that the Catholic Church is threatening to pull Catholic Charities out of DC, eliminating services for adoptees, the poor, and the homeless. Why? Because of a new law permitting same-sex marriage in DC.

The church has asserted that it's freedom of religious expression would be impinged by this law. If it views gay and lesbian relationships as sinful, it should be under no obligation to provide benefits to same sex couples, or to be open to adoptions by same-sex couples. While I disagree with their perspective, I also think that churches and religious nonprofits should never, ever, be forced to adhere to particular ethical standards in our society...unless they are causing actual harm in a community. So the church does have a point. No church should ever be forced to marry or solemnify the relationships of individuals who do not meet the standards of their particular fellowship. That's what Unitarians are for.

But if you actually bother reading the legislation, that's not what it does. Want to do that? Follow this link, and enter "B18-482." Read it for yourself. If you look through the law, it bends over backwards to explicitly and repeatedly state that religious entities that oppose same sex marriage on the grounds of their faith are under no compunction to have anything to do with them. In fact, the text of the bill spends a great deal of time affirming the First Amendment rights of those who disagree.

What is at play here, when you dig down into the actuality of what is proposed, would impinge not a whit on the religious practices of any community. It seems a bit of a stretch to assert that those rights are being infringed. It's a greater spiritual stretch to refuse to provide charitable care for a community...even a community you view as sinful...because it fails to meet a particular expectation of your faith. That, for all the protestations otherwise, seems to be the threat that's being leveled here.

The measure of Christian faith is not how well we care for our "own." It's how well we care for others, particularly in times of disagreement. Denying charity to those in need for the sake of theological purity indicate a prioritization that just doesn't mesh with our central values. Heck, it doesn't mesh with the values held by most Catholics. Or, for that matter, with the values held by the folks I've known who worked for Catholic Charities.

Some things are clearly and self evidently more important to the faith than others. I think that's being lost here.