Spot on. See what you think.
“Over the last 30 years,” Harvard’s Robert Putnam told The Washington Post, “most organized religion has focused on issues regarding sexual morality, such as abortion, gay marriage, all of those. I’m not saying if that’s good or bad, but that’s what they’ve been using all their resources for. … It’s been entirely focused on issues of homosexuality and contraception and not at all focused on issues of poverty.”
President Barack Obama’s version, delivered when he shared a stage with Putnam at Georgetown University, was nuanced but similar in thrust: “Despite great caring and concern,” the president remarked, when churches pick “the defining issue” that’s “really going to capture the essence of who we are as Christians,” fighting poverty is often seen as merely “nice to have” compared to “an issue like abortion.”
It would be too kind to call these comments wrong; they were ridiculous. Not only because (as Putnam acknowledged) believers give abundantly to charity, but because institutionally the churches of America use “all their resources” in ways that completely belie the idea that they’re obsessed with culture war.
As Mark Hemingway of The Weekly Standard pointed out, “Even the most generous estimates of the resources devoted to pro-life causes and organizations defending traditional marriage are just a few hundred million dollars.” Whereas the budgets of American religious charities and schools and hospitals and other nonprofits are tabulated in the tens of billions.
…No, to actually save the critique, you have to transform it completely. There is a case that churches are failing poorer Americans. But the problem isn’t how they spend money or play politics. It’s a more basic failure to reach out, integrate and keep them in the pews.