Diane Steinle, editor of editorials for the Times, wrote an editorial this week that provided a ramp up to one of my traditional soapboxes. Titled "Churches are obligated to help communities," the column touches on the city of Clearwater's attempt to cooperate with churches in the troubled North Greenwood community.
Also last year, police Chief Sid Klein proposed a program that would make churches and the Police Department partners in creating a safer North Greenwood. Each church would be assigned a geographical area. If a young person from that area was arrested or suspected of illegal activity, the police would give the church the person's name. A member of the church would then contact the family to see whether something could be done to put that young person back on the straight and narrow.
However, as St. Petersburg Times staff writer Demorris Lee reported last week, some churches are not so sure they want that job.
Steinle is absolutely correct in identifying the proper role of the church.And I suspect that 120 years ago or more one would have a difficult time locating a church that failed to understand its role.
Did something change or what? What is wrong with the church?
The church is sick, suffering from modernity, big government liberalism and a distorted self-image.
In the late 19th century, science looked like it would have all of the answers. While that appearance ended up letting people down, the appearance was enough to give rise to a Scientism movement, where science was expected to supplant other ways of looking at the world. Marxism, for example, qualifies as a species of scientific utopianism.
No vehicle existed for the implementation of the ideas gathered under the umbrella of scientism other than government, so it was natural to use government to get the job done. Governments increasingly went into the business of running society. Combined with the impulse toward secularism, churches and parachurch organizations found themselves in competition with the secular state. Unlike the churches, the state held the power to compel financial support of its programs.
Instead of perceiving the threat to their role in society, churches largely cooperated in their marginalization. Churches referred social service problems to state-run service providers, accepting a role as the referring organization for state-provided services.
As a result:
There's more to the story, including the fact that churches are weekend operations except for the paid staff members. I have sympathy for Rev. Davis in that the needs of the community threaten to fill her plate to overflowing.
"The question is, what responsibility is the church taking on and is that really the police's responsibility?" said the Rev. Anita Davis of Bethany CME Church.
Other pastors are worried about being seen as extensions of the police department. Some noted that their mission is to lead souls to Christ, not to take on the social problems of the neighborhood.
The greater danger in the long run lies in the church's failure to accept the challenge. Will the church even remember how to provides social services when the state system eventually fails? Society remains in better health with a decentralized social support system.
Good column by Steinle. Now if she would just spike every other Blumner column I could say she's doing a fantastic job.