If Churches Really Want to Make a Difference

People who have read earlier posts of mine have gleaned that one of my passions is doing what I can to help people climb a ladder out of poverty. I have often referenced Bob Lupton’s book on “Toxic Charity” whose premise is we should help people, but avoid doing for them things they can do themselves. True charity should be reserved for emergency situations and beyond that we should look for ways to aid their efforts not replace them.

Recently, I have prepared two posts from the gist of the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto” by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West. This book does a good job of highlighting the big lies about poverty and describes significant changes that we can make to help remedy our poverty problem in America. One of the big lies about poverty is many attribute characteristics that people in poverty are less virtuous and industrious. I found that not to be the case as people in poverty tend to be working hard at one or multiple jobs and their faith is the only thing they have. In fact, 84% of the homeless families an agency I volunteer with helps are employed. Poverty is purely defined as the lack of money.

Churches and synagogues are already doing an abundance of good work and they should be applauded for these efforts. I would only ask as they evaluate the success of what they are doing to ask the question – is what we are doing more for us or the people we are trying to help? Are we helping provide a path forward out of poverty or we providing a benevolent band-aid? What if we did not do this particular service, what would happen? These are all good questions to ask, so that we make sure we are making a difference. Please read these two books or at a minimum take a look at some of the earlier posts from the past few months.

Yet, I am going to shift gears and talk about an idea that to my knowledge is not being talked about enough. There is a high correlation between family size and poverty. The more fragile the family’s starting point will easily push them into poverty as their family size grows. Also, for the bad press Planned Parenthood gets in very religious circles, it does a lot of good things around helping people in poverty with mammograms, sex education and birth control access. I want to focus on these last two points, as here is where I see a role that churches could play that would endear themselves to their audiences, lessen the exposure to poverty and dramatically reduce the exposure to abortions and STDs like AIDs.

I believe churches and synagogues should conduct recurring sex education and family planning classes on their campuses for their teenagers and young adults. I think they should make available birth control information and birth control samples, as well. I also believe they can teach abstinence as much as they want as it is a viable choice. Why do I say this? Two givens. First, people tend to trust their church leaders. Second, teenagers are going to have sex. You cannot stop them just as your parents could not stop you. So, let’s pair the two together and have open conversations facilitated by the church with people who know what they are talking about.

Teenagers have many misconceptions about sex, pregnancy risk, STD risk, respect for women (for men) and how to say no (for women). One of my former colleagues told me about the amazing questions she got from teenagers at her church as she was seen as someone who would shoot straight with her answers. “I heard you cannot get pregnant if you have sex standing up” is a good example of what she was asked. Plus, the teenagers are subject to an intense level of peer pressure by a potential sex partner as well as others. I see the churches and synagogues providing avenues to have great discussions for their younger minds which are still being formulated, are very immature, and exposed to so much. What better place to have important conversations like these?

If done right, by people who have open minds, who know the subject matter and want to truly help, this could be a life changing curriculum. This would also give a greater reason for kids wanting to go to church. From the teenager’s perspective, you are talking about things I need to hear. Therefore, I can make better choices when I am in the midst of an important life event in the throes of passion. If I am going to commit to having sex, I will make sure I use protection or have taken some birth control. If I don’t want to have sex and someone is forcing themselves on me, I will be better prepared to know what to do and say. From a parent’s perspective it will make it easier to have these conversations. As a parent, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this subject due to its importance.

From a societal standpoint, this would be an avenue to reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions. It would keep children in school who had to drop out to have a child. It would teach responsibility to young men and women. It would teach these same people how to treat their bodies and each other with respect, but to also look for signals where something may be amiss. It would give young people ammunition to better combat peer pressure. It would have an impact on poverty as families size would be managed, teenagers would be avoiding families at a young age, and we could break a cycle of poverty as kids born into poverty are very likely to stay there. This last issue is key, as breaking a cycle of poverty, homelessness makes a huge difference for a community, not to mention the individuals. Finally, it addresses an overarching concern which is the global problem of population growth. Our earth’s ability to support life is being compromised as we grow. This is its own subject, but the US could lead by example in having a sustainable population.

I am raising this issue for strong consideration by church leaders, male and female. The members of the Catholic Church have tended to ignore the papal advice on birth control and should continue to do so. I see this as a way for churches and synagogues to be more inclusive and in keeping with the life challenges for our young people. I have seen too many decisions and posturing where some churches try to be exclusive and that only ends up driving people away. I truly see this as a win-win for many and will help us actually make a difference in people’s lives. I hope this message is given due consideration by our religious leaders.

13 thoughts on “If Churches Really Want to Make a Difference

  1. You raise so many great points, that I can’t cover them all. Well done, and these are conversations that need to go on every day, all day!

    Topic one is churches and poverty. In an organized religion that I was briefly part of in a past life, the church collected and spent tens of thousands of dollars for aid and supporting schools and missionaries in a middle east county. All needed, and all well received. Yet the church was an old one, and situated in a very poor part of town. Surrounded by poverty and hungry people, it closed its kitchens and facilities to the locals. The message I received? We want to help the poor, just not in a manner that is close to us or we may have to do anything more than write a check.

    Message two is sex education. Parents don’t want their children to get sex education anywhere else but home, and then totally ignore the issue by sloughing off good questions or opportunities for conversation starters because of their embarrassment. Thus the kids get the message that its not something to talk about, and misinformation becomes the rule. So a church that supplies the TRUTH would be a great service to the members and the kids. But their message has to be one of truth, not the wild charges some churches spread today, such as about homosexuality or mortal sins. As difficult as it would be to recruit churches, recruiting them to supply factual information might be an order of magnitude more difficult.

    Well done.

    • Great comments. I responded to Hugh that I want some folks to look at this. It needs to be a forward thinking church who has a lot of young people. You are very correct that the information should be correct and not judgemental. I would want people who can answer health questions. As I type this I am thinking of the Madonna song “Papa don’t preach, I am in trouble.” I think the information should be vetted, so that the church leaders know what is going to be said, so that there are no surprises beforehand. Thanks, BTG

  2. I like it! But now I am afraid YOU are the one with the rose-colored glasses. I thought I was the only one with those! 😉 I think you are absolutely right and that this would make church so much more relevant to us all. But I am not optimistic that this will come to pass. Great post. Sorry I have been missing in actions lately – work is really busy right now. Hope you are doing great!

    • This would have to be piloted with the right church and minister. In this city of steeples, we do have some very progressive thinkers along the path of outreach. Barney and Hugh have registered the need for an forthright and honest program. Yet, if we are going to make a difference we have to do something that leverages an asset and that is the church and its outreach. Yet, some will not be up to the challenge. We need to find the ones who want to be on the bus. Thanks for lending me a pair of your glasses. BTG

  3. I’m not so sure churches really want to make a difference BTG. I just don’t see any correlation between church attendance and prosperity, let alone population control. Actually, I think the opposite is probably true. I’m in Virginia. 30,000 people live in my rural county. We have 89 JUST Southern Baptist Churches in the county. Pregnancy is “a blessing” in spite of the fact that in Virginia’s major cities between 75 and 80% of children are born to unwed mothers. People traditionally go to church on sunday & wednesday night for Bible Class. We also have many Mennonite families who have, what seems to be, as many children as they can. Planned Parenthood was run out of the area a long time ago. We await the Rapture.

    Public Education should be in the business of sex education. Unfortunately, religious parents “Home School” their children to avoid it, and science in general. So, the Catholics call it a sin, the Baptists hate it (and gays), old school protestants are going extinct and the Jews don’t seem to need it.

    The only thing I know of that correlates with “planning” the few children that you should have is HIGHER education. That tends to happen to kids whose parents had it. Even for them the costs grow more prohibitive every day. Higher Education also tends to correlate with rejecting religion and religious supernaturalism.

    Just look at Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana and shining light of the GOP. A degree from Brown University, was admitted to Harvard Medical School, went to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship and signed into law legislation permitting the teaching of Creationism. WHY? Because he is smart enough to understand that you don’t tell churches what to teach if you wish to have their blessing. They are in the business of telling us.

    My suggestion. FREE abortion on demand at government expense with the choice of a mini I-pad ,or, DeLux Toaster Oven if you act within the first 12 weeks of conception. Choosing to be sterilized on the spot should guarantee 2 years tuition at a community college of your choice.

    • Thanks Mrs. N. I hear you and there are those we will never get there. Rather than repeat what I replied to Jenni of Newsofthetimes, take a peek at that response. I am going to vet this with one of the more forward thinking ministers in my city. Where it is most needed is in impoverished area churches or on the fringes of poverty. This is a provocative idea. Yet, I see churches aging out with membership down. They have to give a reason for kids to want to attend and this may be a way to try it. Yet, per Barney and Hugh and your comments it has to be honest curriculum. NC has many places just as you described in VA. Thamks for reading and commenting, BTG

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