By Bill Mefford
In the latest move by this administration’s efforts to “protect” Christians from having to be inclusive in who they serve, the Health and Human Services Department of the federal government has issued an exemption that allows all foster care agencies in South Carolina to disregard an Obama-era regulation barring religious discrimination in federally-funded foster care programs. Essentially, this gives permission to a “Christian” agency called Miracle Hill, which is South Carolina’s largest faith-based distributor of social services, to discriminate in choosing families to provide loving homes to children in need of adoption or foster care.
This move is hardly news of course. The current administration has sold out to conservative “Christian” organizations that see their Christian identity not in Jesus’ radical love for all people, but rather, in their ability to prohibit groups they condemn from attaining certain services and exercising their rights. Likewise, conservative “Christian” organizations have sold out to the man in the Oval Office in order to gain the power to carry out their mission to discriminate.
Miracle Hill, the organization that is the focus of this exemption from HHS, actually broke the Obama-based regulation that said any group receiving federal funds could not discriminate. They did so when a Jewish woman wanted to mentor one of the children associated with Miracle Hill. So, because she could not sign a theologically rigid doctrinal statement, she was denied the opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life.
Can you imagine? It honestly is difficult to fathom how an organization that wants the children it serves to experience love and uplift would prevent anyone from expressing that love or providing opportunities for uplift. It is literally almost impossible for me to fathom how a supposedly Christian organization would prevent anyone who genuinely loves children from coming alongside that organization to share that love in meaningful ways.
Well, almost impossible.
I remember years ago, when I was a doctoral student at Asbury Seminary, I was a Teaching Assistant for a course called Urban Anthropology. One of the areas I presented for the students in the class was on community organizing. One of the smaller points I brought up, and that I thought would only require a few minutes of discussion, was the need to form alliances or coalitions with other groups - both religious and nonreligious - in meeting the needs of the community you are serving.
You have to understand the context; we were sitting in a classroom, in the rural setting of Wilmore, Kentucky, filled with students, many of whom had done little to no work in urban or poor contexts. Still, even in that setting, I was stunned to watch the conversation among the students devolve into establishing a list of requirements that they would force other organizations to adhere to before they entered into any kind of partnership with. And yes, the list of requirements the students came up with were entirely based on a rigid understanding of theological doctrines.
I was disheartened to say the least until I realized, after the class had ended, that none of the students had any real previous experience caring for poor people. Thus, it was easy to think more about who you would choose to work with rather than the crushing reality of living incarnationally among those trapped in poverty. Once you are caring for someone whose life is daily being crushed by the injustices that are rampant in our economic and political systems then you really will not care at all what someone believes if they are genuinely ready to share the load. Considering how damn difficult it is to walk alongside someone coming out of poverty, oppression, and marginalization, theological views simply fail to be as important as that person’s liberation.
The problem is that increasingly, conservative “Christians” care more for their theological doctrines than they do for people who are poor and oppressed. And this is why Christians are unfortunately becoming more and more known for discriminating against certain groups than for loving all people. It hurts me to say this but we as a people known as “Christians” are becoming known as a hate group.
I am sure Miracle Hill does some important work, but they will now be more known for discriminating against Jewish and LGBTQ people than for loving people. To many people I know, excluding people from loving children cancels out any good works they might also do.
Perhaps the saddest thing is that there is an easy fix for these conservative groups. Go ahead and believe whatever you want - no one wants to change you. And when you raise your own money, have all of the theological litmus tests you want for those who work for you. But especially when you receive taxpayer money, allow the rest of us to believe what we want and to still come alongside you and work to share the love that resides in us and that also comes from God. This is the only way to a win-win. Everyone gets to believe what they want to and most importantly, the children are loved. There really is nothing more important is there?