I could not help but investigate our news story proclaiming that the USCCB had made a major new commitment to helping the unemployed. Will the American Church extend its charitable activities to provide as never before for those who are unable to find work?
Actually, no. Instead, what the USCCB is doing is collaborating with an organization called Interfaith Worker Justice to launch a program called Faith Advocates for Jobs. If you go to the website and download the program’s “congregational toolkit”, you will find that the main purpose of this initiative is to create congregational job clubs and support groups which will be trained and mobilized to mount a highly-orchestrated campaign to “regularly contact legislators and other decision makers” to implement policies which will create jobs, including:
- An economic stimulus package to create and retain millions of jobs, including revitalizing the manufacturing sector.
- A public jobs program to create vital and sustainable jobs.
- Support for states and municipalities to maintain and strengthen social safety net programs.
To be completely fair, the local support groups created and trained in each congregation are also supposed to meet with the unemployed to make sure they understand the benefits currently available to them, such as extended unemployment benefits, continuing insurance under COBRA, COBRA subsidies, food stamps, and other safety net programs. They are also supposed to learn about foreclosures and seek to help the unemployed to avoid them, and to help the unemployed become part of settlements for companies that have declared bankruptcy. The need for constant encouragement is stressed, and these local support groups should certainly provide other kinds of support, including direct material support.
These aspects of the program are positive and unobjectionable, but the primary focus appears to be on advocacy for government to create jobs or otherwise provide for the unemployed. There seems to be a presumption that a great deal of the current unemployment problem is caused by direct injustice on the part of employers. One of the toolkit’s prayers is for unjust, greedy employers (of which there certainly are some), and the literature describes the free market as “the golden calf that is worshipped in the United States and across much of the world.” In all, “the Faith Advocates for Jobs Campaign calls on our public leaders to help heal this economy and repair the torn fabric of our society.” In the end, it is up to government to realize this Congregational Commitment:
As people of faith, we call for an economy that provides a job for everyone who wants and needs one. We affirm that all jobs should be good jobs, paying living wages and benefits, ensuring workers’ health and safety, and allowing workers dignity and a voice in the workplace.
Certainly this is what we’d all like to see, and one can only welcome the involvement of local congregations and parishes in meeting with and assisting those who are unemployed in their own communities. But, as is so often the case, the whole USCCB-supported package is strongly attached to political advocacy. The local congregational committees are to unleash a grass roots advocacy network rooted in the belief not only that government can solve these problems, but that it is in fact the purpose of government to do so.
Quite apart from the exceedingly dubious character of both of these assumptions, we see here once again a reflexive trust in government at precisely the moment when government has proven to be the single most hostile force operating against religious faith, against the implementation of religious principles in the public order in general and in social services in particular.
Indeed, there are those who argue persuasively that the more we rely on government to solve our economic problems, the worse they will inevitably get in the long run. Moreover, it would seem incontestable at this point that the more power we invest in contemporary Western governments, the more pressure will be applied against Christian religious principles and those who seek to live by them.
I am very much afraid that this program is more of the same, more of what got us to our current state of virtual Catholic paralysis. Worse still, it is more of what prevents the Church from once again becoming an important social institution and authority in her own right, capable of helping her members far more than government ever can.