Mirrors are funny things. They show exactly what is standing in front of
them, without either embellishment or camouflage. So if we are looking for
the fairest of them all, we all hope the mirror shows us our own faces, just
like Snow White’s stepmother did.
But if we are looking for the party responsible for a problem, none of us
wants to see our own face in the reflection. In fact, most of us will stand
to the side to make sure that we can’t see ourselves at all.
Such is the case in America today. Everyone agrees that the social and
moral fabric of our nation is unraveling. The disagreements arise when we
try to decide who is at fault.
Many blame the churches, claiming that the clergy are not doing their
job. They assert that the churches have backed away from preaching about anything that might be construed as "political" because they are afraid of losing their tax-exempt status. They are frustrated and angry about this perceived lack of courage on the part of the churches, and openly say that this lack of speaking out is the reason for the problems we face.
It is true that many churches do not speak out. It is also true that fear
of losing a tax-exempt status or a government funding stream is always
present in the minds of those governing our churches. It is a fear that the
churches speak about quite openly. So it is easy to assign all the blame to
It is also unfair.
Our churches today are overwhelmed with individuals and families who are
suffering from the breakdown of America. There are mothers with young
children who have just had a husband and father leave them. There are
victims of physical and sexual abuse. There are seniors who can’t pay for
both food and rent that month. There are addicts trying to kick a drug or
alcohol habit. The list is nearly endless, and growing.
If the church loses its program funding, or its tax status, it will no
longer be able to serve the real people with real needs who are knocking at
their doors. In some cases, a church program has refused to comply with a
government regulation, accepting the loss of funding that accompanied their
refusal. It meant that the program died. It also meant that in the
community where that program operated, a faith-inspired alternative for
health care or adoption or foster care no longer existed.
So every church is balancing its obligation to speak out with its obligation
to serve the people who need it. It’s the proverbial rock and hard place.
It doesn’t have to be.
It’s time for each of us to step back in front of that mirror. The church
is made up of the lay faithful as well as the clergy. And it is the
obligation of the lay faithful to support the church they belong to. If we,
the lay faithful, actually met our obligation to support our churches, they
would not need any government funding to serve those who come to them in
need. They would not have any reason to fear the loss of government’s
We DO need to free the voice of the Church in America. It is a voice that
we desperately need. But restoring that freedom begins with each of us. The
key to unlocking the chains around America’s pulpits lies in our hands, and
in our wallets. It’s time we use that key.