When the Rubber Meets the Road

I would suspect hat the most frequent criticism of Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, by those in the broader culture is that it is obsessed with sex--who is doing whom, when, and how.  Defenders will loudly protest that this is unfair--there is far more to Christianity than just rules about sex.  On its face, this 100% right; there is indeed far more to Christianity than sex.  But that defense is not really responsive to the challenge.  The question is not whether there are other elements in Christianity than sex.  The question is whether Christian leaders care about anything other than the sex part.

Back in April, the Catholic Archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico, issued a letter to the members of his diocese.  The topic?  Couples cohabitating before marriage.  It will come as little surprise that the Archbishop is not a fan, but the tone of the letter is especially strident.  In particular, the Archbishop states right from the beginning that people who are cohabitating should not take Communion.  Whether we are talking about people who are living together before getting married or a divorced person remarried (referred to the Archbishop as having a "civil union," which is an interesting choice of words), it doesn't matter--those folks are excommunicated.

Again, not a tremendous surprise.  But let's do a thought experiment.
Suppose the CEO or a major executive of Wal-Mart was Catholic and decided he or she wanted to get married in Santa Fe or Taos.  What do you figure the chance is that the Archbishop would have a problem with that?  You can bet the house that the answer would be no.  And, in fact, many would see the question itself as ridiculous.

Yet, no one can seriously contest that the manner in which Wal-Mart treats its workers is deplorable.  By controlling the number of hours its employees work, Wal-Mart goes out of its way to make sure many employees do not qualify for benefits.  Moreover, many of those same workers are forced to rely on food stamps and other public assistance to make ends meet.  Wal-Mart is vehemently anti-union, to the point that they are suing unions that protest outside of their stores in Texas.

Here's what Pope Leo XIII said in Rerum Novarum:
Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice. --Rerum Novarum, paragraph 45 (full text here).

Or, how about this:
We must consequently continue to study the situation of the worker. There is a need for solidarity movements among and with the workers. The church is firmly committed to this cause, in fidelity to Christ, and to be truly the "church of the poor."--Laborem Exercens [Pope John Paul II], paragraph 8 (full text here).

The labor practices of Wal-Mart are inconsistent with Catholic teaching.  Period.  And yet, the notion that the people who are responsible for these practices would suffer some any kind of impediment to the practice of Catholicism seems ridiculous.

And that's why people think that Christianity is obsessed with sex.  There is plenty of talk about social justice issues, but when it comes down to it, ignoring church teaching on those subjects does not carry the same penalties as flaunting the sexual teachings.  It's hard not to conclude from this that there are two types of sins--"real sins," which seems to be co-extensive with "sexual sins", and "other sins," which is not so much sins are they are failures to abide by aspirational statements.  People believe that Christianity is obsessed with sex, not because people don't understand that there is more to Christianity than sex, but because Christianity demonstrates that only sex is really taken seriously.

To be clear, I am not advocating for Wal-Mart executives to be denied Communion.  I don't think any group should be denied Communion in a blanket fashion.  But, when the rubber meets the road, I would like someone to take Christian social teaching as more than lip service.


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