A judge in Illinois ruled that Catholic Charities should lose its license with the State of Illinois to be a provider of foster care and adoption services. The reason for the judge’s decision is because Catholic Charities accept public funds but violates the state’s anti-discrimination laws.
According to a report published in the Chicago Tribune, “state officials have been investigating whether religious agencies that receive public funds to license foster care parents are breaking anti-discrimination laws if they turn away openly gay parents.”
The same article reports that “Catholic Charities told the state that accommodating prospective foster parents in civil unions would violate Catholic Church teaching that defines marriage between a man and a woman.”
The State of Illinois argues that “the policy of Catholic Charities violates state anti-discrimination laws that demand couples in civil unions be treated the same as married couples.”
The problem faced by Catholic Charities is the problem that every Christian institution will face when they decide to accept government money to carry out their work. Like it or not, public money comes with strings attached. Every time the government subsidizes the work of a Christian institution, the government has the right to impose conditions on the institution being funded with public money.
How should Catholics react to the judge’s decision? The answer is not as easy as it seems. Jesus had little to say about the relationship between his followers and the state. Jesus said: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17). But Jesus did not give any specific guidance on how Christians should distinguish between the things that belong to Caesar and the things that belong to God.
The state has a responsibility to protect its citizens by establishing and maintaining a system of laws to regulate the activities of the community. Christians must remember that the authority of the state is always used as an instrument of the community. The state can carry out its work by means of enacted laws but the state cannot control the moral values of individuals. While state laws demand obedience of its citizens, the state cannot control the feelings and the conscience of its citizens.
A state like Illinois is composed of Christians and non-Christians, religious people and people who have no religion and are secular in their preference. Christians and non-Christians alike pay taxes and their taxes support the work of the state.
Christian morality is based on laws that are superior to the laws of the state and the moral life of Christians become the reason for the tension that exists between the moral values Christians impose upon themselves and the secular values the state seeks to impose upon Christians.
The state could make an exemption for Catholic Charities to continue to provide adoption services with public money, since the taxes Christians pay would be more than enough to cover the work of the organization. But the state cannot divide the taxes of its citizens because then every other organization would request their own exemption to the law.
Catholic Charities is doing a work for the common good because it ministers to Catholics and non-Catholics as it provides foster care and adoption for thousands of children. However, since the Bible teaches Christians to respect the authority of the state, and within limits, submit to the state and since the state requires gay parents to be treated the same as married couples, Catholic Charities should not depend on public funds to do its work.
The generosity of the Christian community reflected in Acts 4:32-37 was the work of God’s Spirit. The believers were moved by God’s spirit to share their possessions with other needy believers. The believers were not required to give their money to help the poor. No one demanded them to share their material possessions with other believers who were in need.
Nowhere in the Old Testament or the New Testament do we find God’s people asking the state to provide them with money to help the needy in their communities. The people of God gave out of their abundance to help the needy and the poor who were among them.
Today many people depend of the generosity of the state to meet their basic needs. A whole bureaucracy has been developed to help the poor and the needy in our midst and the church has, directly or indirectly, delegated to the state the task of helping people in need.
The Bible says: “But there will be no poor among you” (Deuteronomy 15:4). When this Biblical ideal happens, thousands of the people working for the federal and state government will lose their jobs, because these bureaucrats make their living helping the poor.
This is the reason why dependency on the state for personal survival is a “road to serfdom,” because the bureaucracy will do everything in their power to keep people as serfs of the state, since a bureaucrat’s livelihood depends on the serfdom of the people.
What is the solution? How can Catholic Charities continue its ministry of providing foster care and adoption services to the public? People who are members of the Catholic Church should be generous and give their money so that their church can do its work in the community without the legal demands the state imposes on the moral values of the church.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary