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Why churches prefer loving mercy to doing justice?

Why churches prefer loving mercy to doing justice?

Marilyn Sewell writing for the Huffington Post touches on a familiar, but nagging question. Why do churches feel more comfortable asking their members to give to charity than to advocate for change.

When I became a parish minister, I began to understand why almost universally churches will avoid political action in favor of charitable deeds. For one thing, churches are populated mostly by middle-class people, who are relatively comfortable. And ministers of these institutions value stability more than mission. We professional leaders are reluctant to do anything that would cause conflict or controversy in our churches, fearing an institutional split — or at the very least, a reduction of gifts to the church.

Some church people wrongly believe that churches will lose their tax-exempt status if they take a stand on political matters. But the tax code is clear: churches and ministers may speak out at will on any issue, so long as they do not engage in partisan politics — that is, advocate for one candidate over another.

Other people believe that politics is worldly and not therefore suitable for an institution given to spiritual endeavors. Realistically, however, we must understand that politics determines everything from assuring that we have clean drinking water to deciding when we go to war. And politics determines how the abundant resources of this country are shared — or not shared. These issues, which are decided in the political arena, have moral dimensions which churches can hardly ignore, if we are to be taken seriously as a religious people.

So, are churches too timid in pursuing justice?


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Paige Baker

Dave Paisley–my mother lives in England. I respectfully suggest that you have no idea what you are talking about.

Dave Paisley

Many of the responses here are much more black and white than real life. It isn’t either or, but some blend, and what the right blend looks like is different for different people. Look at England – double the taxes, pretty much everything is run by the government, and what you have is a large percentage of the population that is totally dependent on the government for everything. And what do you get? Looting. Really, look at Europe and tell me that they’ve “solved” poverty and I’ll call you a liar.

More government programs only create more and more dependent people, supported by fewer and fewer people actually working and the whole system collapses on itself.

What does a real safety net look like that does its job but doesn’t create a large permanent unemployed and unemployable culture?

Chris Arnold

One reason is that we really are conflicted about exactly what sort of actions would be the justice of God. We really are. I know that many of us (especially in TEC) believe we have it all figured out, but we get into just as much trouble when we presume that we’re acting for God as when we sit on our hands.

The second reason I can think of is that our churches are meant to be engines of justice, sure, but they are also meant to be places of holy rest and reflection and prayer for those who come into their walls. Now that I’m a parish priest, I remember how bullied I felt by posters and pins and pleas to join in some protest or other. Commendable though those effort were, I came to church first and foremost to rest in God’s presence.

C. Wingate

Justice is great for the churches because it isn’t something they do: it’s something that someone else does, and whether or not it gets done, we get to feel good about ourselves for advocating it.

And calling social services “justice” is inaccurate. Governmentally-provided mercy is still mercy. It is easy to refute us when we advocate such programs as “rights” because however necessary they are, however the law of God demands them, however prudence calls for them, they are nonetheless mercy.

Clint Davis

Episcopalians are all the time trying to get comfortable, and stay that way, this was built into our outlook from the very beginning – Elizabethan Compromise? Why yes. And all decisions look like good decisions at the time, or at least very well intentioned. Faith happens in the endurance of the fallout from these decisions – Jesus knows a whole lot about that! Jesus also found a way – 30 pieces of silver and a willing scapegoat – so that he alone would suffer the fallout and not all his friends in a mass roundup, at least until his friends got to a place where they could make the same decision he did and thus go to their fallout completely freely and voluntarily.

So when we make radical, well intentioned, gospel-grounded decisions that lead to churches closing and dioceses struggling and what have you, where are all those middle class church workers going to go? To the poor house, so now you have even more poor and needy to care for, more anxiety to go around? I’m an organist, living paycheck to paycheck because that’s how Mother Church likes it. If my parish closes, where am I supposed to go, or the kindly RE director, or the sassy secretary? Three more folks to feed at a community dinner and live off family? I’m glad I have an Indian card!

Is a town supposed to lose even more architectural treasures and musical masterpieces because they’re culturally insensitive and look like “rich people”? Wal-Mart looking “worship centers” can spring up on the prairie but our lovingly built parish churches can just rot down because we feel bad about the poor?

People think they’re all experts and know what has to be done. I don’t know, I have no idea, I’m not writing this because I know. I’m writing to plead for and pray for real wisdom and light, to move forward in ways that fulfill mission while not squandering our inheritance; the parables of Jesus absolutely demand nothing less.

Oh I can see it now, all this talk about giving up all you have, etc. Well, it cuts both ways, some people are called to give up everything to feed the poor, others sell everything they have for the Pearl. Folks, IT’S BOTH. Find a way to advocate for GLBT equality that doesn’t sound like outdated soundbytes from the 70’s and thus turn off everyone but the choir you’re preaching to. Find a way to feed, even host the poor, get the whole community involved, that doesn’t squander your inheritance. DO IT. It’s hard, but do it. Give your all. Make it happen.

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