The Church’s Calling and Challenge

By: Carlos Malavé, President of the National Association of Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Staff and Associate for Ecumenical Relations of the PC(USA)

The financial difficulties in our country have deepened and the markets seem to keep us in a whirlwind of suspense. My first thoughts when I hear the news of the fall of the markets have been ones of indifference. In the past I have worried about my 401k, but there is really nothing I can do about it. If historical trends come into play, the stock market will get back on track once again.

 I have to confess that to think in these terms is really a “luxury”. Hundreds of thousands of our neighbors could not care less about 401k’s since they don’t have anything. Their concern is what and where they will eat and sleep tonight. The situation for them is really getting bad. Many of the organizations that provide services for homeless and poor people are getting the worst out of these troubling times.  Increasingly states are cutting their budgets for these services. At least 31 states have projected shortages for fiscal year 2012, a sum of more than $86 billion. Assistance for the poor is not exempt from cutbacks.

 I guess this is not news for most of us; many of our agencies have been confronting this reality for some years now. I believe, in most situations, the Church will have to seriously consider its commitment to fulfill its responsibility towards the poor. A church leader has said: “Asking churches and other charitable organizations to pick up the slack won’t do the job of caring for the chronic poor completely.” The same leader added that the Church’s financial philanthropy represents a small response to poverty. “It doesn’t in any way counteract the government budget cuts that – we believe – are not in keeping with the extensive biblical mandate to care for the poor.”

There is a limit to what the church can do; there is also a limit to what the government can do. One of the important questions is: Are both doing their best effort? Can our churches honestly say that they are doing all they can? Or the best they can do? Do our church budgets reflect our verbal commitment to the poor?

 Our ecumenical and interfaith agencies must engage our churches in these critical conversations. It is time to set our priorities right. Our voices must not be silent.

                                                                 –Carlos Malavé

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