Letters on D.C.'s dispute with the Catholic Church over same-sex marriage

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Regarding Petula Dvorak's Nov. 13 column "Catholic officials shouldn't forsake D.C.'s poor in gay marriage fight":

The dispute between the Roman Catholic Church's District-based charities and the D.C. Council regarding the church's ability to deliver social services if the D.C. gay marriage bill is passed is not primarily about civil rights or care for the poor, as most observers (including Ms. Dvorak) seem to think. Rather, this is a classic tension between the roles of church and state in society.

The church and the District share a common goal to care for the poor, though they are driven by different motivations. For many years, that goal has been carried out in partnership, with the church receiving millions of dollars in government contracts to provide social services to D.C. residents. However, the bill pending in the D.C. Council would require the church's agencies, as a recipient of government funding, to violate church teaching. This it cannot accept.

Church and state have distinct functions in society. At times, the ways in which they carry out those functions might coincide, as often happens in the delivery of social services to the poor. But we should never forget that the church-based social ministries -- be they Catholic or Protestant -- are driven by faith and, in our society, have a right to conduct their ministry in accordance with the dictates of their faith.

So the church has a choice: Accept Caesar's money or not. If it accepts Caesar's money, then it has to play by Caesar's rules. The District has a choice, too: Change the proposed law to retain a reliable social service contractor, or stick to its principles and find a new contractor to deliver social services.

Chris Duckworth, Arlington

The writer is a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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In her Nov. 13 column, Petula Dvorak sought to paint the Catholic Church into a homophobic and intolerant corner. But who in this circumstance is the aggressor -- the church that wants to lend a helping hand to the homeless and has done so for many years or the city that wishes to dictate how the church's internal operations must be run? Why must the city decree that the church is obliged to extend employee benefits to same-sex couples in order to continue serving the homeless? Who is strong-arming whom?


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