Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What Good Are the Churches?

Two issues, two days, two wrongheaded political interventions by churches: Mormons fund a proposal to ban gay marriage, Catholic bishops begin murmuring about opposing Obama on their micro-issues. Maybe it's time to take away the tax exemptions of churches, see if they have time to screw around with the rest of us then.

Note that they're never out in front for peace or for poverty reduction. Only exceptionally, and usually for the self-interest of their congregations, do they come out in favor of ethnic tolerance.

I won't even bother with whether their beliefs make sense. Let's look at their actions, which principally amount to wanting to carve into the stone of the civil, religiously neutral law of a pluralistic society minor quirks of their moral codes.

Let's start with the Mormons. The Church of Latter-Day Sainst opposes gay marriage; fine, no judge will force a church to perform a marriage that violates the churches teachings.

Certainly, no Catholic priest is legally obligated to marry a divorced Catholic who does not have an canon law annulment: Catholic teaching on the indissolubility of the bond created by the sacrament of matrimony trumps secular law under the U.S. Constitution.

On the issue of marriage, Mormons have their own unusual history.

In 1890, then-LDS President Wilford Woodruff claimed he received a revelation that polygamy, previously taught as consistent with "God's law," should be banned. The oracular event was instrumental in Utah's admission into the USA in 1896. Yet even then the first Mormon elected to the House in 1898 was denied a seat because he practiced polygamy.

Should the Mormons be allowed polygamy? Why not? The Catholics are allowed not to recognize divorce decrees that are perfectly legal in civil courts.

But it doesn't end there. The Mormons also banned blacks from the priesthood or their temples in 1849, a doctrine that was not altered until 1978. Note that government did not interfere in the application of this doctrine.

Much the same can be said of Catholicism, which as a matter of practice in the United States upheld separate seating, and in some places separate churches, for blacks and whites. The practice was still known to occur in 1949, I am aware, when Washington Archbishop Patrick O'Boyle banned it in his diocese and swiftly unseated several pastors who defied him.

But, you might say that the Catholic Church gives plenty to the poor through Catholic Charities, no? Actually, no. Between 45 and 65 percent (depending on the source) of Catholic Charities' funding comes from contracts with the government.

Catholic Charities heyday as a private beneficence was when its charges were white and Irish. Once the Irish moved to the suburbs and clients began to be primarily black or Hispanic, the organization needed government money to continue.

Now comes Archbishop Francis George of Chicago, arguing that bishops should express opposition to the rumored regulatory changes that the Obama administration will make in the areas of abortion counseling and stem-cell research.

Why haven't the bishops been as vocal on other issues as they have on this? Isn't it a fact that the bishops want a law on abortion because their preaching has failed so abysmally that Catholics are statistically as likely to divorce or get an abortion as non-Catholics?

Why should we taxpayers subsidize this nonsense? The LDS and Catholic churches have plenty of money -- witness the millions paid out in damages in response to lawsuits from pedophile priests' victims.

Traditional religion is, indeed, the only wholly untaxed business in the USA. Whatever social purpose they may have been deemed to perform in the past, that role is long gone. In a country that prides itself on the separation of church and state, religion should be taxed, like pornography, cigarettes and liquor.
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