Last week, the National Associations of Evangelicals hosted a high-profile conference at Georgetown University on poverty, bringing Evangelical and Catholic leaders together to study the issue. The celebrated Harvard political scientist, Robert Putnam, spoke as well as did President Obama. It was an important event and my boss, Jim Daly, was honored to be asked to participate.
It was a group of really, really smart people, but it was also an example of two very smart people saying something really… well, not smart. Both Professor Putnam and President Obama made comments about how, in their estimation, the church must stop putting all its energy into being busy-bodies about all issues sexual and focus more on what it should be doing: feeding and caring for the poor.
In fact, Professor Putnam remarkably explained,
The obvious fact is that over the last 30 years, most organized religion has focused on issues regarding sexual morality, such as abortion, gay marriage, all of those. I’m not saying if that’s good or bad, but that’s what they’ve been using all their resources for. This is the most obvious point in the world. It’s been entirely focused on issues of homosexuality and contraception and not at all focused on issues of poverty.
President Obama complained that too often, it’s issues like abortion, rather than caring for the poor, that is “the thing that…really [captures] the essence of who we are as Christians…”
Is it really “the most obvious point in the world” as Putnam claims, that the Church is “using all their resources” solely on opposing the pelvic issues and “not at all focused on issues of poverty”?
It is not mean nor is it a cheap shot to say that those who believe such things straight out have no idea what they’re talking about. The truth is exactly the opposite.
One of my good friends, Pat Fagan, wrote a very strong and well-documented op/ed for the Washington Post explaining just how ridiculously wrong Putnam and Obama – as well as most cultural elites – truly are on this point. The proportion of money and personal effort given everyday by the church to the poor dramatically dwarfs the most gracious estimation of what it spends on fighting these “hot-button” issues. Like a marble compared to a basketball.
Consider the ministry where I labor. Focus on the Family is “known” to be neck-deep in the culture war over homosexuality and such. Many assume its the central thing we do because it is all they ever hear about FOF when we’re mentioned in the news.
We keep very precise budget numbers and we spend far less than 5% of our overall budget on any hot-button or political issues. The other 97%-plus part goes to our general ministry to families offering help with things like healthy communications in marriage, kids wetting their beds and what to do with sassy teenagers.
Look at the inner-city in any decent size town. Find the soup kitchens, the hospitals, the substance recovery efforts, housing the homeless and so forth in any city. More than ninety percent of the time, you will find these being founded and run by some arm of the Christian Church. The Catholic church in most major cities have dedicated facilities that feed and clothe the poor EVERYDAY.
It’s sad when really smart people say really dumb things. And to say that the Church should start caring for the poor and stop obsessing over sexual issues is really dumb.
If the Church stopped doing all it does for the “least of these” tomorrow morning, the remarkable substance of that work would become tragically obvious within 24 hours and the State would crumble under the weight of needing to fill the void.