Wednesday, February 08, 2012

A Parable of Preventative Services

Once upon a time, in the mid-20th century, a small Southern town faced a dilemma. The signage clearly marking public facilities was, in some cases fading, in other cases rusting. Why, one could hardly tell if the waiting room in the bus station, the drinking fountain set into the courthouse wall, or the restroom at the train depot were the one for "Whites Only" or the colored one. If this was let go, children might even inadvertently dive into the wrong swimming pool!

This was a town full of good ol' boys, so they decided things the good ol' boy way. ALL the signage in the town would be freshened up, and every property owner in town, whether an individual or a business or organization, would contribute just a little bit to keep the signage clearly readable, in order to prevent any unanticipated (and presumably unwanted) integration. So they called the plan  "Preventative Services."

The good ol' boys announced this plan with much fanfare, and the Mayor himself made a public appearance. If they anticipated what came next, it may have only been to focus public pressure on the recalcitrant, so they would learn to conform to the accepted norms of the small society.

A local minister came forward. He objected to his church being levied even just a little bit in the cause of preventative services. He had always preached from the Bible, you see, and the Good Book says, "honor all men" and that's what was written in the Congregational By-Laws, which anyone could look up and read right in the Town Hall files from when they registered the church property long decades ago.

One of the Mayor's office workers made some conciliatory noises about finding a workaround, but it would certainly not, on the basis of principle, mean that the pastor would be relieved of  his civic duty of contributing. After all, this was something for the whole town's benefit, so one church's obscure (and ignored) teaching would not be allowed to stand in the way of progress.

The good ol' boys just snickered. Didn't the Reverend know that 90% of his parishioners practiced segregation in their home and business lives? (The Reverend visibly saddened at that reminder of how far his people were from the biblical teachings they claimed to believe in.)

The story is not yet finished.  For more about the Reverend and the good ol' boys, you can refer to any of the following links. Granted, they are about a different situation entirely (and from the year  2012!), but so many principles still apply:

The good ol' boys most recent talking points, answered by the Reverend, point by point.
Who's paying for the signage? Just the town's property owners? (Background information included.)
The Reverend's initial response to the Preventative Services project. (At the time, the Mayor had promised to look into ways of accommodating the church's concerns.)


Sr. Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP said...

Written like a true Southern Catholic! Flannery would be proud.

I shared it onto my Facebook Wall, my page (Daughters of St. Paul Education Fund), and a group I belong to (Agents of Peace). Drawing a parallel between civil rights and freedom of religion startles thinking human beings into removing the current issue out of the realm of pure emotion--that decides issues on the basis of popularity or social acceptibility--and places it squarely where it belongs: in constitutionality with a moral basis and an historical precedent.

Kristen said...

Historically, some churches did take stands just as your Reverend is describing. (Some majority-white churches, that is. Plenty of majority-black churches did, of course.) And God bless them.

However, tragically, what happened a whole lot is a racist society hiding behind arguments of "religious freedom" in order to keep an unjust system going. The Supreme Court says that public schools have to be desegregated? Fine. We won't HAVE public schools around here. People can And you can't tell the churches that they have to accept blacks! We have freedom of religion around these parts!

(I wish that I were making that example up. And although the controversy around tuition vouchers in the 1990s or so was so entirely different, I wonder how much of it was tinged by that not-so-ancient history of "vouchers for church-based schools.")

Bob Jones University was the most notorious example of this sort of thing, but it was far from the only one.

Now, that flatly unbiblical, un-Christian, un-everything assertion of "religious freedom" doesn't at all mean that your parabolic minister should submit meekly rather than take the stand he's taking. Not at all.

But it does give one pause. Or at least gives me pause. If there's an easy way to navigate through all this, I haven't found it yet.

Sr Anne said...

Here's a different approach to the constitutional issues involved in the current adminstration's move; not the 1st Amendment, but the 9th and 10th: