I was disturbed to receive Change.org's weekly newsletter with the title "The Church vs the Homeless". The incendiary title fallaciously positions the entirety of a major religion that is a critical part of homeless service provision against the homeless.  This is not only a stupid title, it is a dangerous one.

The post on Change.org, is about a conflict in Washington D.C. between Catholic Charities and the local government over a proposal

..headed for a D.C. Council vote next month... [that would obligate religious institutions] ...to obey city laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

Fearful that they could be forced, among other things, to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples, church officials said they would have no choice but to abandon their contracts with the city. (Washington Post)

To be fair to the author of the post on Change.org, the title on the site is the more exacting "Homeless Held Hostage by Catholic Church in D.C. Fight for Gay Marriage". Indeed this is an interesting, complex, and difficult issue.  Personally I disagree with the stance the Catholic Church in D.C. is taking, but I think it is worth showing some sensitivety to the religious views of others, even when we believe those views themselves demonstrate insensitivity.

My issue though is not to debate the particulars of the D.C. conflict, but rather to condemn the riduclous, sensationalistic, overreaching title used by Change.org to promote this story.  There are so many things wrong with this:

  1. "The Church" is a meaningless concept as there are many churches and many denominations.  The gross generalization can only serve to be damaging to those who have nothing to do with what is presently a local conflict.
  2. Religious groups are a crtitical part of our social service network.  They have strong fundraising bases, provide critical spiritual services, and operate some of the most effective programs in our country.  They are an important part of the social safety-net.  Anyone actually involved in social service provision on a planning level would know better than to belittle the faith community.
  3. Change.org speaks to a lay audience.  There is tremendous value in this.  They have the ear of those who are interested in important issues, but are not a part of the social service sector.  Teaching  this group of people to view "The Church" as an enemy of the homeless is reckless.

My point here is not to defend the stance of the Catholic Church in D.C.  My personal views are that all people should be afforded the same rights and benefits, regardless of sexual orientation.  But I can respect the views of those who don't agree with me.  As a liberal, I view tolerance as an important value.  This is of benefit to me in life as well as in my work in social services.  I find it ironic that Change.org, a site that positions itself as a liberal haven, would write such a bigoted title as "The Church vs the Homeless".

(Photo by davidyuweb)