Where Logic Meets Love

"Do not be excessively righteous..."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

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'Do not be excessively righteous...' | Faith Permeating Life
I was listening to K-LOVE on the way to the train station yesterday morning when their news segment came on. Usually I don't listen too closely to this, but when I heard the word "adoption" I turned it up.

It was a brief segment talking about a group called Hope for Orphans, which is providing aid to families wanting to adopt.

A couple of things initially bothered me about the segment -- the reporter made it sound like the only children who need adopting are orphans (obviously not true, or there would be no such thing as "closed" and "open" adoptions), and I cringed when she talked about "special needs children," having been reprimanded for this phrasing when I was younger by the mother of a "child with special needs." I'm more attuned to the misconceptions about adoption now that I've immersed myself in reading adoption blogs, and it would be easy to come away from listening with a perception of all adoptive children as poor, helpless, disabled orphans languishing in foreign orphanages until they were rescued by good Christian American families.

The segment basically talked about how Hope for Orphans is working with churches to help get children adopted and provide support to families willing to adopt. They played a few sound bites of the co-founder of Hope for Orphans, who near the end said, "The Church is the only solution."

Wait... what?

I can understand saying, "The Church should be a leader in this," or "Church communities are a great place to generate this kind of support for adoption," or even "Christians make great adoptive parents," but... really? The only group of people who can do the kind of good they're talking about?

I went and listened to the full 15-minute interview on K-LOVE's site, and the whole rest of the interview is actually really good. This guy explains that many people, especially Christians, want to adopt because they're trying to be good people and do God's will, but they don't really realize what they're getting themselves into. They aren't aware that they may end up with children who have severe physical or emotional problems. Churches can help by providing adoption education to prospective parents ahead of time, and then by providing support services to families after they've adopted.

Now, I majored in journalism, so I understand the need to cut things down and pull out sound bites, but K-LOVE managed to avoid all of the really good things this guy said about adoption and instead make it all about how important churches are. It's no wonder they chose to play the thing he says about how the Church is the only solution (which, in context, is really about how churches should have a responsibility to look out for their members).

This may not seem like a big deal, but it fits with a theme I've encountered before: the notion that only Christians do good. That we Christians have to provide social justice not just because it's the right thing to do but because no one else will.

While I see value in motivating Christians to do good things for others, I also don't like the idea of devaluing others in the process. It's always bothered me when I hear people talking like this, as if all non-Christians were just self-serving, self-absorbed individuals, and Christians are the only ones able to look beyond themselves to help others. I know plenty of people who don't fit this model -- on both sides.

And what would happen if we left all social services up to the Christians?

Joliet Catholic Charities Puts Brakes on Adoptions as Civil Unions Begin

As gay marriage and civil unions become legal in various states, Catholic Charities and similar organizations are opting to shut down some services rather than pay benefits to employees' same-sex partners or place adoptive children with gay couples. Thankfully there are other organizations (probably both religious and non) that can pick up the slack.

Religion covers a lot of aspects of life, which is why you can find conservatives and liberals quoting the same Book to make contrary arguments. Sometimes one command can conflict with another, and you may have to choose between the letter of the Old Testament and the spirit of the New Testament. So while I think that Christian churches can do a lot of good, I think it's better if we are open to everyone doing as much good as they can.

It reminds me of Luke 9:49-50:
John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us." But Jesus said to him, "Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you."
What do you think? Is there a value in talking about Christians being responsible for doing good in the world, or does this just invite us to think too highly of ourselves?

On a related note, I am loving the book The Year of Living Biblically. Look for a post on it when I'm done, but in the meantime, I highly, highly recommend it. [UPDATE: Here's the post on The Year of Living Biblically.]

(In case you're curious, the post title is from Ecclesiastes 7:16. The author of The Year of Living Biblically says Ecclesiastes is his favorite book of the Bible, and I can see why.)


  1. In college I was considering seeing a therapist for my anxiety and depression, and I was talking about a friend with it. I was telling her that I was afraid to go to a therapist because I didn't know if they would help me if they didn't support my faith. I feel pretty stupid about it now, thinking that a therapist wouldn't be as good if they weren't Catholic or something.

  2. @Macha
    I do think there's value in finding a counselor/therapist who at least supports your faith, which is one reason I was glad to go to a Catholic college, and I went to a great counselor there. But yeah, they definitely don't have to be religious themselves to be supportive, and unless you're specifically looking for spiritual guidance, there's no reason a non-spiritual counselor can't do a good job. I don't fault you for having that thought process, though, if you were brought up in a church with that kind of message of Christians being the "best" or "only" ones for helping others.

    One thing that surprised me when I started to get involved in the LGBT community was how much more supportive and welcoming I found the average gay person compared to the average Christian.

  3. I have heard both this kind of selective editing and this kind of "Christian=good" thinking many times! Where I grew up, in small-town Oklahoma in the '80s, many businesses used a fish logo in their advertising that meant, "We are Christian," but I noticed they weren't necessarily ethical!

    I think it's important for Christians to feel personally responsible for making the world a better place. (I'm very much opposed to the "fallen world" rhetoric some Christians use as an excuse to isolate their families, doing many things for themselves but viewing most other people as dangerous.) Churches should provide space and support for both Christians and non-Christians to give and receive help, welcoming but not requiring the non-Christians to join the church. While Jesus sets a good example of loving service, it's important for Christians to realize that there also are other things that can motivate people to do good.

    Macha, I don't think it was stupid to wonder how a therapist would handle your faith. There are many people who believe, either because of personal experience or because of what they've heard, that certain religions function only to induce shame and excuse oppression, and Catholicism may be the religion most prone to this prejudice. It's not a reason to avoid therapy, but it's worthwhile mentioning in the first session that you are Catholic and gauging the therapist's reaction. I am an Episcopalian who sought a therapist through my Employee Assistance Program, and one of the first things I said was, "I want a therapist who won't act like my church activities are a waste of time."

    Jessica, it's interesting that you mention LGBT people here because I have heard the "our kind=good" prejudice from them, too. My church is very welcoming to LGBT members, who mostly are just people in the church, but sometimes when they're talking to one another I hear, "You should try my chiropractor; she's a lesbian," or, "I wouldn't buy it there because [a gay-owned business] sells those," or similar comments implying that LGBT professionals are better or one should support LGBT businesses. My church also is a meeting place for a Gay AA group, and I have mixed feelings about that--it's possible that the members would feel uncomfortable or even face discrimination for discussing some of their personal issues in a mainstream AA group, but isn't that a problem AA should fix, rather than a reason to segregate?

  4. @'Becca
    You bring up a good point sbout the LGBT community. I think, as you said, it has to do with bonding together as an oppressed group. I don't think that's why most Christians seek out other Christians; that, I think, has more to do with the "fallen world" idea you described.

    I also have mixed feelings about oppressed or minority groups isolating themselves from others. For example, I just heard about a new "minority-only" charter school that is going to open up around here, and I can't see how excluding white people is a positive step. Then again, I have read accounts of transracial adoptees who felt an instant connection when they finally met someone else of the same race, a kind of identity acknowledgement they couldn't get anywhere else. It's an interesting topic.

    1. It's not self-segregation, so much as creating a safe space that didn't already exist. Non-LGBTs have plenty of places to go where they can be themselves and not worry about whether they'll be accepted; LGBT persons very often don't, unless we make them ourselves.

      Likewise, creating such programs is an effective way to reach out to people who are left out by mainstream ones, and to actually include them more and let yourself be changed by your association with them.

    2. I agree somewhat. I wrote previously about my college's gay-straight alliance. I totally get why creating that safe space was so necessary, especially on a Catholic campus. But I'm not sure how much would have been gained if they'd excluded me, a straight ally, from joining the group. I know that I speak from a position of privilege in certain ways, so I can't presume to understand exactly the experience of another, but my general preference is to have as much inclusiveness as possible, even if the group is very focused on the needs of a particular minority group, as my school's gay-straight alliance was.


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