Response to Separation of Church and State

A co-parishioner emailed:

Thanks, Erwin. I’m not sure I agree with you about keeping things completely apolitical. I think it is incumbent upon churches and synagogues to encourage people to support government programs like Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, housing assistance, and one day (please God) universal health care. I get very tired of the notion that people who are in need should rely on charity (primarily from faith-based groups). When there is nothing else, charity, is I suppose, defensible. But when it takes the place of income redistribution in the richest country in the world, then I have a real problem.

The offensive thing about charity is that it too often feels good to those who have their wallets out and terrible for those with their hands out. And for those with their hands out because their (supposedly marvelous) capitalist country has provided them with job loss, elimination of health insurance, stagnant wages, etc. they should not feel guilty if they need to rely on government programs. The economic dysfunction of capitalism needs to be tempered with government redistribution of wealth – whether that’s accomplished through programs or tax policy changes.

If faithful people aren’t taught to appreciate and support government programs which redistribute wealth, and yet we are taught that we are responsible for the poor, then it puts us in the ridiculous position of being the ones solely responsible for the poor, while others who practice no religion get off with no obligations.

So while I don’t need my priest to tell me which party to support, it would be nice, occasionally, if we were urged to understand and support government programs which redistribute wealth. Now we’re just urged to help Christ House, the Heifer Project, the Apartment-Furnishing Project and the Christmas Tree Giving Project (all of which I contribute to, for what it’s worth).

I think the Diocese probably understands this, and articulates it better than I do. But for the last twenty years the only public policy position anyone knows about the Episcopal Church is that we believe gays should be ordained. Telling the public (and the diocese’s parishioners) that it’s in the church’s self-interest to support progressive government programs would be just as meaningful and ultimately address the legitimate concerns of a great many people.

Poor thing. I bet you’re sorry you sent me your blog….

I am not sorry I sent the post to her as this is the kind of discourse I hope to foster. Moreover, I actually agree with her that it is obscene for a wealthy and powerful nation to have so much poverty and inequity. I likewise believe that government should take an active role in redistributing wealth and providing services rather than leaving the latter to nonprofits and other charities. However, I still question how involved the church should be in government and the policymaking process.

I also pointed out to my friend that the Episcopal Church has advocated for policy beyond lifting up gays. The home page of Episcopal Public Policy Network reads:

We represent the social policies of the church established by the General Convention and Executive Council, including issues of international peace and justice, human rights, immigration, welfare, poverty, hunger, health care, violence, civil rights, the environment, racism and issues involving women and children.

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