Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Least of These

The irony is that I’m again working for a religious institution.

This time, however, it’s Catholic.

And lest my fundamentalist friends go ballistic about fraternizing with such heathens, let’s have a discussion about true religion (a la James), shall we?

My spouse and I have noticed over the last year while reading through the Old Testament how often Israel got in trouble for leaving their God. And their God (through His prophets) often gave specifics about what constituted leaving. There’s the easy stuff – creating idols of wood and stone and then worshipping them, not observing God’s Sabbath. But consistently, there’s also a repeated accusation of failing to defend the poor and vulnerable. Why I never saw this before, I don’t know. It’s there quite frequently. There are also multiple portions of the Law that deal with treating the poor correctly and providing for them. God is very, very concerned that His people aid those less fortunate, and consistently chooses that failure to criticize rather than or alongside others that may seem “worse”.

What do Catholics have to do with this?

Go look at your local phone book under “H”.

How many of the hospitals are named “St.” Something? How many homeless shelters? Indigent care clinics? All run by/started by Catholics?

In my current town, it’s pretty much all of them. In other towns I’ve lived in, same, as best I can remember.

Sure, you’ll find an occasional Lutheran, Episcopal, or Baptist hospital in certain geographic regions. You’ll find a decent number of Jewish hospitals (I guess they finally started listening to those prophets). And there’s always the Salvation Army. But you have the Catholic Church to thank for the lion’s share of religious-based medical and indigent care.

I *never* remember being taught such care for the poor when I was a Fundamentalist. I can’t think of *anybody* in *any* of the independent fundamental Baptist churches I attended who encouraged volunteering in or donating to a program that fed the poor, tended the sick, or defended the vulnerable. Sure, you might get guilted into visiting someone from the church who was in the hospital. And now that I think of it, one of my youth pastors did try to get a group of us to go around and sing to people in the hospital and nursing homes for a while. But *never* was there a concern for the tangible needs of anyone outside the congregation (rarely inside either, for that matter). And woe to the person who had the audacity to donate time or money to a non-fundamentalist cause – they were compromising with unbelievers. And Fundamentalists. Don’t. Compromise. They separate instead.

I remember looking down on a couple in my church who donated to a Billy Graham charity (as evidenced by a calendar from said charity in their kitchen). I remember flippantly brushing off charities because they weren’t “truly Christian”. Yet, had I been asked, I couldn’t have named anyone in the circles I thought were “truly Christian” who was doing any significant work among the poor.

And my favorite face-palming story from just a few months ago: a Christian charity in my hometown held a 5K run/walk to raise money for a Kenyan orphanage. My old church (new pastor) was located in a convenient place for them to have the finish line for the race, and the pastor graciously allowed them to set up their booths in the parking lot – on one condition.

He wanted it to be perfectly clear that his church had NOTHING to do with the charity, supporting the charity, or being mentioned in the same breath as the charity.


Because of the music they would be playing.

Yes, indeed. Because of course, heaven forbid that a fundamentalist church be associated with people helping orphans. Especially people who are also Christians and share the same basic cardinal doctrines. Music is much more important than that.

When a belief system claims to be orthodox but does not value what God values - well that should have been a very big red flag to me. Not that I’m converting to Catholicism by any means. (They seem to have just as much religious baggage as Fundamentalists.) But at least they got a very big something right. And it’s one of the many big things that Fundamentalists got very, very wrong.


  1. I am once again nodding my head in agreement. And I work for a Catholic hospital and it is a great place to work. I have heard some pretty amazing things regarding those who are poor. I am pretty sure I grew up believing that if you are poor it is your fault so heaven forbid we help people who "won't work". Oh and don't get me started on the things I have heard Christians say about healthcare as they sit there with good insurance and no health problems and declare that healthcare "isn't a right". Really? Would you be saying the same thing if your child had cancer and you were unemployed with no insurance? And I really don't mean to make this a debate about healthcare and I am not saying that nationalized healthcare is the best way- it is just an example of how sadly conservative Christians view those "less fortunate" among us.
    I found Isaiah 1 VERY interesting when it comes to fundamentalists. I read it with new eyes recently and it brought me up short. Verse 17 sheds a lot of light on what their problem was.

  2. As a young mother I approached my fundamentalist pastor in the Greenville, SC, area about getting involved in Operation Rescue. I had become deeply concerned about the huge number of abortions performed on an uninformed mother and the failure of fundamentalism to actually do anything about it. I'll never forget his response. "I can't do it because I wouldn't want to ruin my testimony by being seen standing beside a Catholic. They make up a large percentage of the protesters." I accepted his explanation at the time. Today I am floored. That memory is a significant factor in my own exodus from fundamentalism.

  3. You're right, Anne, it's an amazingly blatant example of motes/beams and gnats/camels. How could we not see it? Praise God He still opens the eyes of the blind...