A thought experiment…
Al is faced with financial difficulties. This month is particularly hard trying to keep up with regular monthly expenses in addition to trying to pay for the bills that are still piled up from Christmas. One of his neighbors, Frank, is a deacon at Relevant Christian Church. RCC is well-known in the community for two things–their community outreach and their very conservative doctrine. RCC sponsors soup kitchens, clothes closets, children’s programs, basic medical screenings, adult education programs and a host of other ministries. RCC is also known for stating their explicit opposition for all kinds of “vices” from gambling to smoking to alcohol to dancing and many activities in between that they deem to be “sinful.”
Al would like to talk to Frank about getting help for this month’s groceries from RCC. Beyond the embarrassment of having to ask for help in the first place, Al is somewhat turned off by RCC’s judgmental attitude toward activities he enjoys from time to time, including a cold beer after a long day at work and an occasional wager when he has a little extra money. It’s one thing to be looked down on for his financial hardship (which Al is sure is temporary…2 months, tops), but Al really has trouble being judged for personal decisions. In spite of his reservations, Al decides to talk to Frank.
Frank lets Al know that RCC would be glad to help him and that, while the church does screen applicants for assistance, his lifestyle choices will not be a factor in reviewing his application. Al contacts the administrator of the food assistance program and she takes Al’s information and does not inquire about any of the things that Al had been concerned about (just like Frank said). She promises to call Al back the next day.
The next day, Al receives a call from RCC. He’s been approved and the church has a gift certificate to a local grocery store for him to pick up at the church’s office. The $150 is about $25 more than Al’s family really needs but the church insists they use it because it may help them prepare for next month.
Al’s wife goes shopping the next day and fills her buggy with the food she thought they would be going without this month. When she has calculated how much it will be she realizes she has $20 left over. For the kids she gets the new cereal they saw on TV and had been asking for (but she knew was too expensive before). She buys herself a cheap bottle of White Zinfandel and, as a special gesture, she gets a six-pack of a new beer her husband had wanted to try (but, again, was not in their budget).
Once the cashier has scanned all of her groceries her total comes to $126.04. No problem, she has change for the difference. She hands over the gift certificate from the church and $1.05 in change. The cashier’s face becomes flush and with a sheepish tone in her voice she says, “I’m sorry but we’re not allowed to sell alcohol on these gift certificates. RCC made a deal with out managers that we would make the certificates available but with the stipulation that no alcohol, tobacco or playing cards would be allowed to be purchased using them. I’m sorry.”
Embarrassed and shocked, Al’s wife accepts the situation. The cashier writes the remaining amount on the certificate and returns it to Al’s wife. Later that night Al is furious. “They gave that certificate to us! If they wanted to dictate what we bought they should have just given us the groceries themselves! They gave us a gift certificate.” Al vows to remedy the situation, wondering how many other had been equally embarrassed and turned away from perfectly legal purchases because of the “conscience” of this church.
Al finds the situation is fairly widespread and he’s not the first to run into this. In fact, he finds out there is a new law just passed that makes it so that a church like RCC cannot tell people how to spend any assistance they give out. In fact, the new law specifies what the church must give out, regardless of their “conscience,” or face stiff penalties. Al is glad to see this new law in place. After all, churches shouldn’t be forcing their religious principles on people.
Is Al correct? Why or why not? Whose freedoms are abridged in the story above and in the new laws Al supports?
This story is obviously fictitious, but the idea behind it is far too real.