Saturday, June 29, 2019
The usurption of love. . .
In the process of this shift, churches have become seen as NGOs in the minds of those inside as well as outside the faith. Churches are increasingly under pressure to abandon anything explicit in terms of witness or identity and to become values neutral in their cooperative work with governments and their programs to help those in need. It is difficult today to be a church and to be an NGO partner to the government since the witness that accompanies our works of mercy is, by law, omitted from nearly everything we might do. With government money comes strings, rules, and guidelines on how we can and cannot work together. It is a delicate balance at best and a capitulation at worst. Under it all, our people still desire to do good, to be agents of help, love, and mercy, but they struggle to know how to do this in our world of governmental rules and NGOs.
In the end, we are hard pressed to say that social action does not trump dogma and in our quest to be relevant in the present moment we run the dangerous risk of being irrelevant for the eternal one. If we are willing, even under duress, to surrender who we are and our voice in witness in order to satisfy our desire to do good and to be seen as doing good before the world, then we betray the very truth that compels us to love our neighbor. So by giving into the rules and, even more importantly, the cash flow that finances our role as NGOs, we are also giving up our confession before the world of Christ alone. When it comes to a choice between doing something good and confessing Christ faithfully, the sad reality is that too many churches will choose the first and give up Christ for the sake of caring for those in need with somebody else's money and according to somebody else's rules.
Even worse, we learn the terrible lesson that charity is best managed by others, by experts, by governments, and and by NGO partners who would define and direct what happens in that charity. We learn that the separation of Church and State means that nothing permeates the wall between them and that the State can tell the Church how to play ball and what rules to follow even though the Church is presumed to be silent in the public square. What does it do to congregations and the larger church structures if we give into the temptation to leave charity to the smart people, to the experts, to those who have the structures to manage such an enterprise, and to those who have the money to institutionalize what was, in Scripture at least, the work of amateurs who were moved by the compelling force of the love that had served them in Christ? Could it be that the price we pay is to surrender churches as Church to churches as agencies of government, NGOs who provide a place for charity to happen and some of the volunteers but who have lost their souls in the process?
Loving our neighbors is supposed to be an exercise of holiness, of the new identity created in us by baptism and of the new life we live as Christ's own. Yes, the world has changed and governments have changed and laws have changed and the rules have changed. But who we are in Christ and the holy lives of charity we are to live should not be the cost of adapting to such changes. In the end I do not have an answer as much as I have a question that ought to haunt the churches who willingly take up their roles as NGOs in order to do something for good. Are we surrendering our souls for the sake of the poor and was this what Christ expected of us when He called us to love our neighbor as He has loved us?