If there is a single defining feature of those on the political Left, it is their unswerving conviction that the best and most dependable antidote to any social ill is a healthy dose of government intervention. “Big Brother is watching you” doesn’t ring as an ominous threat in their ears; it’s the warm assurance of ultimate security and protection.
This inevitably puts them at odds with the biblical conviction, cherished by Christians, that individuals – not governments – are primarily responsible for themselves and each other. Individually and as churches, Christians are commissioned to minister in Christ’s name to the impoverished and imprisoned, widowed and orphaned, hungry and distressed (Matthew 25).
The conflict has been minimalized, throughout most of America’s history, by a) the generally energetic response of organized religion to these needs and challenges, and b) the government’s tendency to be preoccupied with issues on the grander geopolitical scale: winning wars, building the economy, settling frontiers, enforcing treaties, laying down highways, etc. But over the last half-century that preoccupation has largely shifted, and government – particularly the federal government – has grown enamored of its own self-image as a vast, restless, and ever-growing combination of Florence Nightingale and Madalyn Murray O'Hair.
Although, in theory, charitable service is an enterprise both noble and demanding enough to welcome anyone willing to take a hand – from either the public or private sector – evidence suggests that, in America today, our government looks on churches and other non-profit organizations not as a dependable front line in the war on poverty, racism, and social injustice, but as a competitor to be treated with all the fairness and respect the New Orleans Saints afford their opponents on the gridiron.
The forced disbanding of Catholic adoption centers … the legal assault on the Boy Scouts … the persecution of military chaplains … the concentrated opposition to private school vouchers … all give evidence of a federal government bent on eliminating anyone who might offer solace, mercy, or practical assistance comparable to what the state itself would provide for those in need.
In cities coast to coast, churches are finding themselves gerrymandered out of their own ministry to the homeless and hungry by city councils that object more to the kinds of people the churches draw to their doors than to the sufferings those people are enduring. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana church groups continually found their outreaches to those displaced by the storm cut off by federal agencies who objected to volunteer prayer services being offered in the vicinity of soup lines, cots, and clothing giveaways.
In Pensacola, Florida, a church was asked to disperse with its annual picnic in a public park, because the event sometimes attracted homeless people looking for a handout. In San Diego, a church was told its ministry to the homeless would have to be conducted in a compound sealed off behind a wire-mesh fence – giving charity all the flavor of a visit to a concentration camp.
In New York City, congregations that for decades have been making a powerful and demonstrable impact on poverty, crime, gang violence, and drug use in their inner-city neighborhoods have been ordered to vacate those neighborhoods rather than meet in empty public schools on weekends. The government asks this with a straight face, even as its own agencies continue to rent out church buildings for their own social outreaches.
For Christians, all these legal attacks from the state pose something of a spiritual quandary – and most have been frighteningly slow to recognize the onslaught for what it is. Believers are exhorted throughout the Bible to treat the government with respect (Romans 13:1, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:17), and are assured by the First Amendment that the government, in turn, will respect their rights – if not appreciate their motives. As a result, most church-goers are convinced that if they do good and mind their own business, the government will stay out of their way.
A hundred disconnected stories from different corners of the country have done little to dislodge that complacency. But the recent announcement of the so-called “Obama Mandate” – compelling ministries and non-profits to underwrite government support for abortion and other medical procedures that are abhorrent to many Christians’ deepest beliefs – signifies an increasingly blatant contempt in the halls of power for religious freedom and rights of conscience. Even the sleepiest of believers is beginning realize for whom the bell tolls.
The government cloaks its anti-church legal maneuverings as enforcement of the imaginary “separation of church and state” clause that the Left likes to pretend is in the Constitution. But it’s hard not to believe that the state’s real objection to Christian charity is that every church committed to social service eliminates that much more need for government bureaus and subsidies and commissions and tax-payer funded initiatives. Ultimately, a more active church erodes the need for bigger government … and to the Left, nothing is more important than bigger government.
People who look to God for answers (especially a God Who believes in free will) feel less need to depend on elected officials for moral guidance, much less social and economic rehabilitation. That makes them more free – which once upon a time was the Big Idea in America. Today, it just makes believers a threat to the dominance of the state, and their God stiff competition for the souls of the citizenry.
And if you haven’t noticed: our ever growing government doesn’t like competition.
Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor in the Reagan Administration, is president and CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.