Monday, May 31, 2010

In Defense of Charity: Love Among the Ruins

Paul Adams

This essay combines, extends, and replaces the two previous posts on this topic. Comments and suggestions very welcome. This latest excursion into virtue ethics for social work is more theological than philosophical--as befits the greatest of the theological virtues (Faith, Hope, Love/Charity).

In Defense of Charity: Love Among the Ruins

Paul Adams

It is our care of the helpless, our practice of lovingkindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ‘Only look,’ they say, ‘look how they love one another!’ Tertullian, Apology 39 [about 200], 1989

The criterion of true Christian spirituality, affirmed by the Gospel over and over again, is the practical and concrete love of neighbor that leads us to make the sacrifice of our own desires, convenience, and comfort in order to meet the needs of others. Thomas Keating, The Heart of the World, [1981], 2008

Love is best. Robert Browning, Love Among the Ruins, 1855

This paper explores the virtue of charity in the context of social work. From its origins in Christian charitable organization in the burgeoning industrial cities of the nineteenth century, social work’s history has been characterized by professionalization, bureaucratization, and secularization. Here I examine this context and the challenges involved for charity both as an ordered activity of the Church and as the defining virtue of the Christian social worker.

Social work is a virtue-driven profession, a social practice that requires and develops certain virtues (Adams, 2009). The character of a social worker is formed by the choices she makes--choices that form habits of the heart and mind (Tocqueville, 2000) and constitute her as the person making each subsequent choice (Finnis, 1983). For Christians, the greatest of these moral excellences is the theological or grace-dependent virtue of charity (agape, caritas, love), the Holy Spirit’s greatest gift (Pinckaers, 1995).

Charity has a particular ambiguity and is a source of ambivalence for Christian social workers. Love is the very definition of God (1Jn 4:8), it is the central virtue for Christians, and it is the heart of the Church’s mission to the poor and oppressed, an organized social activity of the Church from the beginning. Yet it is something of an embarrassment for professional social work, which arose out of an attempt (mostly by Christians) to “organize” charity and replace its sentimental by scientific practice. Unlike “justice,” charity appeals neither to the professional nor the activist tendencies within the profession. And love, as charity is usually rendered in its theological context, does no better--both its overtones of Hallmark card sentiment and its religious roots make it something of an embarrassment to clinicians and activists alike.

Charity as Queen of the Virtues

Charity or love also gets short shrift in the academic field of virtue ethics. With some notable exceptions (Geach, 1977; McCloskey, 2006), it is little discussed. Yet for any understanding of the place of the virtues in social work or especially in the formation of the Christian social worker, the virtue of charity cannot help but be central. Charity is inescapably a theological virtue. Like faith and hope, it is not part of the classical, pre-Christian understanding of the virtues and Christians from Paul on have understood it as a special gift of God’s grace rather than as a natural process that can be understood simply in Aristotelian terms as a matter of training and habituation. It is a theological virtue, too, in the sense that it cannot be understood in the philosophical terms of virtue ethics, even as developed by philosophers like Anscombe and MacIntyre who, though Christians, wrote without appeal to Revelation for a secular academic audience.

Charity has a special place among the virtues, even the theological ones. As Geach (1977) points out, following Aristotle, it would be vulgar to praise God as if he had certain human virtues. What would it mean, for example, to ascribe to the Divine Nature cardinal virtues such as temperance and courage or, for that matter, the theological virtues of faith and hope? But Love or Caritas is just what God is. God as Love is prior to and independent of any of his creations and does not need them to be Love. “God is Love because, and only because, the Three Persons eternally love each other” (Geach, 1977, p.80).

Our understanding of charity as a human virtue stems from the complete self-giving of God as man and for humanity, and from Christ’s call to us as creatures in his image to love him with all our hearts, souls, and minds…and (in consequence) our neighbors as ourselves (Mt 22:36). As Benedict XVI (2006) puts it, exhorting those whose work is to carry out the Church’s charitable activity, “The consciousness that, in Christ, God has given himself for us, even unto death, must inspire us to live no longer for ourselves but for him, and, with him, for others” (p.86).

Charity, thus, is about self-giving. “Love can be thought of as a commitment of the will to the true good of another,” suggests McCloskey (2006, p.91). It is a matter of will, not simply emotion—for I can choose to love someone despite my emotions, for the love of God. But intensity and self-sacrifice are not enough to define the virtue of charity. Consider the last blood-soaked century of totalitarian atheism: intense commitment to what the dedicated saw as the true good of humanity sometimes included great self-sacrifice in the cause of evil. Christian charity is first and foremost the friendship of human beings for God, to which God invites us. The “love for God above all and love for neighbor because of God is the most important virtue of the Christian life” (Kaczor, 2008, p.130, emphasis added; Geach 1977).

Charity, like justice, is not simply a quality or abiding state of the individual character but also finds expression in social activities and arrangements. Charity as a virtue, and still more as definition of God, cannot be reduced to the altruistic activity we currently describe by that term. Nevertheless, charity was from the Church’s beginnings in the first century an organized activity, resting on a new social ethic that sharply differentiated the Christian revolution’s norms from those of the prevailing pagan world (Hart, 2009; Stark, 1997).

The historical sociologist Rodney Stark (1997) has shown how different the Christian response to the great plagues of the late Roman Empire in the second and third centuries was from that of the pagans and how important that difference was for the rapid growth of the Church. Like Hart (2009), Stark emphasizes the revolutionary impact of Christian doctrine in the ancient pagan world in which it took root. He shows the importance of that doctrine and especially the centrality of a God of Love in enabling Christianity to thrive and grow rapidly at the expense of traditional pagan religion.

In both theological and practical terms, these plagues overwhelmed the resources of the pagan tradition. The pagan gods required placatory sacrifices but did not love humanity or expect humans to love one another. The pagan response, as described by both pagan and Christian writers, was to flee for the hills, to avoid all contact with families where a member had been infected. The sick and dying were abandoned without nursing care—even food and water—or religious consolation and they died at an enormously high rate. Something like a third of the empire’s population was wiped out in the first plague, which broke out in 165 AD, and two-thirds of the population of the city of Alexandria (Stark, 1997). The great pagan physician Galen abandoned Rome for a country estate in Asia Minor until the epidemic was over.

The Christian response was different. As Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, and Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, explained, the plague was a time of terror for the pagans, who had no loving God and no hope of eternal life with God. For Christians it was a time of “schooling and testing” (quoted by Eusebius [about 325], 1965), even of joy. Christianity offered explanation, comfort, and a prescription for action.

The Christians did not abandon their sick and they nursed pagans too as they could. Many sacrificed their own lives to care for others. As Bishop Dionysius (quoted by Stark, 1997) wrote in tribute to these heroic, self-sacrificing 3rd century Christians:
Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains (p.82).

This contrast between pagan and Christian charity was clear even to those most hostile to Christianity, like the apostate emperor Julian who wrote, “The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us” (quoted by Stark, 1997, p.84). Julian made energetic efforts to organize the pagan priests to emulate the Christians and develop their own charitable activities (Benedict XVI, 2006; Hart, 2009; Stark, 1997).

Stark (1997) argues that Christian charity, with its faithful caring for the sick and dying even at high risk of one’s own life, was a key element in the rapid growth of Christianity at the expense of paganism. Such nursing care, providing food, water, and loving care, reduced the mortality rates of those infected. Many patients and those who cared for them died, but those who survived were immune. Pagan social networks dissipated due to their high mortality rates, leaving pagan survivors more likely to convert. Christian social networks flourished because of the higher survival rates both of Christians and of pagans who were part of those networks (e.g., pagan spouses of Christians).

My purpose here, however, is not to assess the importance for the rise of Christianity of this differential response to the great epidemics, but to point to the revolutionary character and depth of the Christian commitment to a new social ethic. Today it takes an effort of historical imagination to appreciate the power of this new morality in those first centuries of the Church’s history. Christ’s teaching of that “core social work value,” the equal worth and dignity of the human person, as imago Dei, had a force not yet moderated by centuries of familiarity:
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…. Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me (Matthew 25:35-40).

Both pagan and Christian writers recognized that love and organized charity were central duties of Christian faith, not only in its scriptures but also in the everyday practice of the Church. In the language of MacIntyre’s (1984) discussion of the virtues and social practices in After Virtue, we may say that caritas was the central virtue both required for and developed by practice of the Christian faith. But that practice was not that of a craft or profession like others, but a spiritual practice and development that one could not acquire through one’s unaided efforts. We practice virtue, as the contemplative monk Thomas Keating (2008) puts it, out of love for Christ, “seeking to please God and to give up the obstacles in us which prevent us from doing his will” (p.13)—an effort required of us in order to develop the capacity to open ourselves to God’s grace, the divine Love that becomes in us the theological virtue of charity.

The Christian understanding of the relation of divine to human, of religion to the virtues was fundamentally different from that of the pagan world. Julian attempted to emulate Christian charitable work, which he saw as the religion’s one admirable feature, and to root his new pagan charity in Hellenistic rather than Judeo-Christian tradition. But that pagan culture lacked the moral resources for a social ethic of love that was, in contrast, central to the Christian faith. As Hart (2009) puts it,
Hospitality to strangers, food and alms for beggars: these were indeed, as he insisted, ancient traditions of the “Hellenes.” But giving to all and sundry, freely, heedless of their characters, out of love for their humanity; visiting those in prison, provisioning the poor from temple treasuries, ceaselessly feeding the hungry, providing shelter to all who might have need of it; loving God and neighbor as the highest good, priestly poverty, universal civic philanthropy: all of this emanates from a different quarter altogether (p.191).

In the context of what Gibbon (1787, quoted by Hart, 2009), himself no admirer of the Christians, described as a pagan “religion which was destitute of theological principles, of moral precepts, and of ecclesiastical discipline…” (p.192), Julian attempted what could only be a superficial and ineffectual imitation of Christian charity.

Christian and Secular Charity Today
Not only was Christian charity important to the growth of the Church, but also continues to be at its heart. Christians have not always behaved as well in subsequent plagues as in those first centuries. But we find in every century examples of heroic self-giving as exemplified by St. Damien of Molokai , (Daws, 1989; Bunson & Bunson, 2009) in 19th century Hawaii. A missionary from Belgium, Father Damien de Veuster asked his bishop for permission to serve the leper colony to which many of his parishioners were being sent. Men, women, and children who had contracted the disfiguring and debilitating disease of leprosy (Hansen’s disease) were segregated, as a public health measure, to a remote, isolated part of the island of Molokai. Like those third century Christians praised by Bishop Dionysius, he tended and ministered to the sick, heedless of the danger to himself, until eventually he contracted and died of the disease.

Or consider in our own day, the men and women religious who serve the people of Southern Sudan ( today. Despite his crude and tendentious ecclesiology, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof (2010) recently paid tribute to the dedicated charitable work of priests and nuns in the poorest and most dangerous areas of Africa. (See Kristof’s columns at and ).

But the difference between Christian and secular charitable activity is not only a matter of heroic exemplars. There is also a clear general or average difference between Christians and secularists in terms of charitable giving of time, treasure, and talent, even of blood. Brooks (2006), a leading researcher on charitable giving, notes that, “In years of research, I have never found a measurable way in which secularists are more charitable than religious people” (p. 34). Of all groups, it is the secular liberals who are personally the stingiest.

What is true at individual level is also true in comparisons among U.S. states and developed nations. The more secularized states and nations—the liberal “blue states” in the U.S. and the more secular and anti-clerical European countries like France—have markedly lower levels of charitable giving. There appears to be a kind of hydraulic relation between government programs and individual giving of time, treasure, and talent in charitable activities. Those who favor more generous public provision of social welfare are less likely to give directly. Their generosity and compassion extend to voting and advocating for programs to help those in need, but not to dipping into their own pockets. The more generous people are with other people’s money (through taxation and public debt), the stingier they are with their own (Brooks, 2006).

As Brooks (2006) finds, religious participation is the biggest predictor of charitable activity. Religious people, conservative and liberal, are much more likely to give to charity and when they do, they give far more in relation to their income. The religiously observant—in the U.S. overwhelmingly Christian--give more to all kinds of causes and charities, religious and secular. They donate more blood and they give more to homeless people (Brooks, 2006; Bishop & Green, 2008; Kristof, 2008).

The differences apply even if only giving to secular charities and causes is considered. "[R]eligious people were still 10 points more likely to give money to nonreligious charities such as the United Way (71 to 61 percent), and 21 points more likely to volunteer for completely secular causes such as the local PTA (60 to 39 percent)" (Brooks, 2006, pp.38-39). The non-religious do not substitute other kinds of giving for the religious charities of believers. For the secular, religious charitable giving to houses of worship is replaced by...nothing (Brooks, 2006).

The differences are dramatic and consistent across Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish faiths and as measured by other behaviors as well as regular attendance at services. People who pray daily are 30 points more likely to give money to charity than those who never pray (83 to 53%). Those who say they devote a great deal of effort to their spiritual lives are much more likely to give than those who devote none (88 to 46%). Even those who say that 'beliefs don't matter as long as you're a good person’ are dramatically less likely to give charitably (69 to 86%) and to volunteer (32 to 51 percent) than those who think that beliefs do matter (Brooks, 2006, p.36).

Both secular conservatives and secular liberals are poor givers of time and money, but here the liberals do slightly better. Both secular groups, however, are far outshone by religious conservatives and religious liberals. As Brooks (2006) demonstrates, "Religious people are, inarguably, more charitable in every measurable way" (p.40).

In a development curiously reminiscent of the Emperor Julian, some atheists have gone beyond dismissing the charity of religious people as motivated by fear, and see it as a creditable response to human need that secular humanists would do well to emulate. They recognize that, “The theology and the voluntarism and the philanthropy…were part of a greater whole, a commitment to charity as part of religious practice” (Freedman, 2010 [ c. brooks&st=nyt&scp=1&pagewanted=print] ).

Like Julian, these non-believers have sought to emulate aspects of Christianity, even the culture of giving, but without a loving God. They have created foundations and coalitions such as the Foundation Beyond Belief, Non-Believers Giving Aid, and Skeptics and Humanists Aid and Relief Effort (SHARE). The results are so far modest and the challenges of building a strong culture of giving, of compassion and generosity, with a supporting infrastructure akin to the congregations, weekly meetings, and ministries of the religiously active, are considerable. Not least of these challenges, as Julian found, is the absence of a core system of belief and practice that has active charity at its heart. Beliefs indeed do matter.

Professionalizing Charity
Christian charity as theological virtue and organized practice of the Church has, since the nineteenth century, faced particular challenges in the form of the professionalization of social work and the bureaucratization of charitable organizations, with the growing dependence of both on the modern bureaucratic-professional state.

There is an interesting parallel between the professionalization of science and that of social work. Both were important activities of the clergy in particular--the amateur parson-scientist was a stock figure of 19th century literature and one of the greatest nineteenth century scientists (Mendel) was a monk. Charity, though not science--remains at the heart of Christian ministry and practice. But as these fields professionalized, they distanced themselves from their clerical roots. Social work emerged as a profession out of the Charity Organization Societies (COS), an effort to adopt "scientific charity" in place of the earlier disorganized efforts of amateurs. Scientists became professionals and also distanced themselves from amateurs and their association with the Church. The narrative of a fundamental opposition between science and religion, so dear to today's public atheists, was an invention of the 19th century--of two books in particular, Draper's (1874) History of the Conflict between Religion and Science and Andrew Dickson White's (1876) History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1876). This was the very same time the COS's were getting under way in the eastern U.S. Not cause and effect of course, but two expressions of the professionalizing and secularizing tendencies of the time and place (White was the first president of Cornell).

The COS movement aimed to bring personal concern and friendship to the relation of giver and receiver in a world where charity had become either a formal, impersonal, and demoralizing system of public poor relief supported by taxation or else casual and random handouts to beggars. The various societies for giving aid to the poor were uncoordinated, readily abused, and lacked ongoing help based on a real understanding of the specific needs of the poor families involved. It was disorganized charity. Among the COS responses were individualized assistance to the poor “client” (Mary Richmond’s term), with clinical assessment or social diagnosis, case conferencing, intervention in the form of “friendly visiting” (later professionalized as social casework), research, and coordination of charitable giving in the community.

The aspect of this development I want to focus on here is the emergence of professionalism in helping those in need. Scientific charity required a more thoughtful, data-based, organized approach to helping. It recognized the Christian duty of charity, personal caring and neighborly concern for the person and family, including subjective as well as material needs. It offered, through friendly visiting, “not alms but a friend” (Leiby, 1978).

But in growing industrial cities of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, neighborliness of the affluent and the poor could not arise organically as part of a network of relationships in a shared neighborhood. The large social and, increasingly, physical distance between friendly visitor and client prevented ordinary neighborliness and rendered their relationship awkward and uncomfortable. It was not the friendship of an actual neighbor whom you could ask for a cup of sugar without fear of being refused and offered instead help on managing a family budget.

Professionalism offered a solution to this awkwardness, a way of understanding the helping relationship as more akin to that of lawyer and client than that of Good Samaritan and person in need of help. Professionalism required a body of knowledge, formal organization, and a code of ethics. It was a path to ensuring quality of service. If not yet evidence-based practice, at least it offered the informed and educated judgment of a competent professional. It was also a path to status, legal recognition, and funding of professional social workers. To note that reality is not to belittle the importance of knowledge and competence on the part of those whose aim is to “enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty” (NASW, [1999], 2008 at

The point rather, is to suggest how the striving for a more scientific, professional approach to helping carried with it the potential failure of the challenge and duty of Christian charity out of which, in part, the effort arose in the first place. The full impact of secularization in social work would not be felt for decades, when the more education a social worker had, the greater the distance between her beliefs and those of her clients, not least in matters of faith. The gap is probably most apparent in social work education, where in schools of social work in public or other secular universities and colleges, students who share the evangelical Christian beliefs of the profession’s founders report feeling isolation and scorn from their professors (Hodge, 2003).

This is the challenge posed by Benedict XVI (2006) in the second part of his encyclical, God is love – Deus caritas est, to which we shall return. Because of the growing bureaucratization of social work in the voluntary non-profit sector and its increasing dependence on public state and federal funding, even Christian charities are challenged to maintain a practice that is both professional and rooted in a Christian charity that Tertullian, Bishops Cyprian and Dionysius, St. Damien, or Mother Teresa might recognize.

Bureaucratizing Charity
A fundamental change in the founding proposition of the United States pushed by what Chaput (2009) calls the knowledge classes—in the universities, courts, media, and legislatures—poses a new challenge to Christian charity and Christian social workers. Because of the threat to much organized Christian charity, it calls for careful examination.

One aspect of that shift is the rejection by militant secularists of the founding assumptions of a republic dedicated to the common good, based on natural law and natural rights under a Creator who has endowed us with those rights and the capacity to use our reason to discern them. It is a shift, as described by liberal-communitarian political philosopher Michael Sandel (2000; 2009) from a civic to a procedural republic in which the state claims to be neutral as to the values of its citizens.

In the view of politics from Aristotle to the American Founders, a healthy polis required the formation of citizens with the virtues—the practical judgment (prudence, phronesis), justice, moderation, and courage—needed to deliberate well on the common good. A democratic republic could not flourish without formation of the necessary virtues and a sense of obligation to the community and its shared understandings of the good life. The shift from the civic republic that depends on the virtues of its citizens in order to flourish as a democracy to the stance of moral neutrality of the state and a citizenry of autonomous unencumbered selves, I will argue, has important consequences. In the interest of protecting individual rights in a pluralist society, it promotes on one hand the withering of civic associations and mediating institutions, including marriage, family, church, and neighborhood, and, on the other, hypertrophy of the state.

There is in the new procedural republic little room for a shared conception of the common good or of the need to educate citizens of a democracy with the civic virtues needed for democratic deliberation on how to pursue it. In the new conception, the citizen is an unencumbered self who forms his or her own idea of the good life and the state’s job is to maintain neutrality as between different values held by citizens.

Liberal political theory, a tradition emphasizing tolerance and individual rights, descends from Locke through Kant and Mill to Rawls. In the United States, it is a common heritage of Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. But the version of liberalism that informs current policy debates across the political spectrum is a recent arrival, one that over the past half-century gradually displaced the earlier republican political theory that had prevailed since the Founding. This recent view, shared in different ways both by Republicans and Democrats, “assumes that freedom consists in the capacity of persons to choose their values and ends” (Sandel, 2000, p.270).

Its key idea is that government should be neutral toward the moral and religious views of its citizens. It should not affirm in law any particular vision of the good life, but should provide a framework of rights that respects persons as free and independent selves, capable of choosing their own values and ends. As the famous pronouncement of the U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), put it, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” (see FindLaw at Here human dignity, and hence our inalienable rights, no longer derive from nature and nature’s God, and hence natural law. Freedom is a negative liberty, a freedom from tyranny. Detached from any shared conception of what freedom is for, liberty is valued for its own sake as “central to personal dignity and autonomy” but with the Judeo-Christian roots of such human dignity erased and so without any coherent rationale for its high valuation. It is a Nietzschean, post-Christian vision in which “values clarification” replaces formation in the virtues. (On Nietzsche’s move to replace “virtues” with the relativistic “values,” see Himmelfarb, 1995.)

So this recent secular liberalism aims to provide a framework of rights that respects persons as free and independent selves, capable of choosing their own values and ends, but at the same time asserting the state’s neutrality about the substance of such values and ends. Because it asserts the priority of fair procedures over particular ends, Sandel defines the public life informed by this kind of liberalism as the “procedural republic.” “Rather than tie liberty to self-government and the virtues that sustain it,” as Sandel (2000) explains, “the procedural republic seeks a framework of rights, neutral among ends, within which individuals can choose and pursue their own ends” (p.276).

The state, in this conception, should never act as if one way of life was better than another. It should not privilege marriage over cohabitation, the family that results from the sexual union of husband and wife and the children who result from that union over any other household or arrangement in which children may be raised. The needs and rights of children—including the right defined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child “to be raised where possible by their own two parents" (the ones who made them)--have no weight against the freedoms of individual adults to define parenthood and family as they see fit.

There are at least two major problems, however, with such neutrality of the state—Sandel’s “procedural republic,” Wolfe’s (2006) “anti-perfectionist liberalism,” or Benedict XVI’s “dictatorship of relativism.” One is that it is bogus. Sandel (2000) asks, “Don’t arguments about justice and rights unavoidably draw on particular conceptions of the good life, whether we admit it or not?” (p.276). He discusses the impossibility of this kind of neutrality in connection with the Massachusetts Supreme Court 2003 case requiring legal recognition of same-sex marriage and so forbidding discrimination against such “marriage”. On one hand it said, people should be free to decide their own values with regard to marriage, on the other it established a particular legal view by (re)defining marriage to include same-sex couples whose sexual union was by its very nature incapable of producing children who could be raised by the two parents who made them.

The new definition was not a matter of individual values, but now carried the force of law. The court imposed its understanding on civil society, including Catholic Charities, which it thereby drove out of the adoption business in that state.

The interesting thing is that Sandel (2009), while saying the moral neutrality of the procedural republic was a chimera, supported the substantive decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court in favor of same-sex marriage. His point was that the court was not morally neutral about homosexual behavior or the nature of marriage as an institution, and it did not leave it to individual citizens to decide on the matter.

The same point may be made about abortion. The state cannot be neutral about whether the procedure involves the intentional killing of an innocent human being or is simply a matter of a woman’s right to control her own body. It cannot simply leave it to the individual—the mother, of course, never the child—to decide, on the basis of the bumper sticker, “If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one.” Except that in the Casey decision, that is just what the Supreme Court purported to do. “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence….” So you decide whether it is acceptable to take an innocent human life or whether indeed that is what you are contemplating!

There is no “pro-choice” position that is not pro-abortion, any more than there can be state neutrality about whether I have the right to own slaves. “If you don’t like slavery, don’t buy one!” is not a pro-choice position, it is pro-slavery and a court that holds this position establishes slavery as a legal right.

Christian charity has for two millennia tended the sick and cared for orphans without collaborating in or performing abortions or euthanasia or assisted suicide. Christian health care providers have served pregnant women without ever considering abortion to be reproductive or health or care. For two millennia, Christian and secularist physicians and other health professionals have delivered health care within a shared understanding and acceptance of the Hippocratic Oath, which forbids medical collusion in or performance of abortions, assisted suicide, or euthanasia. This commitment to life from conception to natural death was confirmed as recently as 1948 by the World Medical Association in its Declaration of Geneva, though progressively weakened in subsequent revisions. In the period of just half a century, the millennia-old oath has been turned on its head, so that physicians, nurses, social workers, and pharmacists face extreme coercion and risk losing their jobs for adhering to its ethic of life (for one poignant example, see Baklinski, 2009).

The other problem is that this whole proceduralist-neutral approach hypostasizes the state. Now liberalism no longer means protecting a robust civil society from state control but rather the ever-increasing intrusion of the state into, and disempowering of civil society under the guise of protecting the unencumbered self from the mediating structures of civil society--family, church, neighborhood association, culture. In other words, it leads us in the direction of the all-powerful bureaucratic-professional state facing the individual citizen. The autonomous self is unencumbered, but also stripped of all the mediating structures that stand between individual and state once thought so important to protection of the individual, who now stands naked and atomized before the state (Berger & Neuhaus, 1996).

The relation between the state and religious charities was never understood until recently as government’s doing the church a favor or giving it a handout. It was a partnership in which the state got the better part of the deal--better services at less cost than government could provide on its own (Chaput, 2009). The church could meet its fundamental religious duty of charity to the most poor, vulnerable, and oppressed, and the government could meet its secular humanitarian obligations at the same time. The deal was no proselytizing, not that the Church or its charitable agencies would become a government agency, a contractor or grantee. That was a creeping development with negative results, certainly for Catholic Charities, but also, Sandel might argue, for the whole nature of the American republic.

On the question of using taxpayers' money to support services provided by faith-based organizations, this was, as Leiby (1978) explained, a big issue in the 19th century (well, at least after the mass immigration of non-Protestant populations meant that these charities included those with a Catholic or Jewish affiliation). The settlement was charities yes, schools no. The argument was that charities carried out public functions and helped the state fulfill its duties better and at lower cost. It was not a handout, but a partnership which has always favored the state and still does.

The recent developments of the procedural republic have changed things by subordinating all mediating structures to the enforcement of newly created rights of individuals against those structures and against the will of the people and the millennia-old teachings and traditions of their cultures and faiths.

Consider the state’s responsibility for the care and protection of children (Adams, 2008). Insofar as states and courts subordinate the rights and needs of children to the freedoms of adults, they destroy marriage as a pre-political, natural institution, as the way adults sacrifice for the next generation (Scruton, 2006). As Blankenhorn (2007) says,
In all or nearly all human societies, marriage is socially approved sexual intercourse between a woman and a man, conceived both as a personal relationship and as an institution, primarily such that any children resulting from the union are—and are understood by the society to be—emotionally, morally, practically, and legally affiliated with both of the parents (p.91).

This understanding of marriage is reflected in the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as spelled out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the U.N. in 1987 in this passage from Article 7:
The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality, and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents (quoted by Blankenhorn, 2007, p.188).
Or as Blankenhorn (2007) puts it: “I have a right as a child to the mother and father who made me” (p.189, italics in original).

Instead, the new liberalism of the procedural republic turns marriage into a creation of the state—a new right for any combination or, in principle, number of adult individuals to express their feelings for and commitment to each other without regard to the needs of children (Blankenhorn, 2007). (When I ask students in a social policy class to define marriage, they seldom mention either sex or children.) Insofar as law defines abortion as a woman’s right, it eliminates the state’s protection of the most vulnerable of children, those unborn or in the process of being born.

To the extent parenthood is defined independently of children’s relation to the parents who made them, parenthood is transformed from a natural right and duty in the sense understood by political theory from Aristotle to the American Founders and becomes instead a creation of the state, a legal fiction (Marquardt, 2006). The newly created legal right of same-sex couples in Massachusetts to adopt children deprives those children of the possibility of being raised by a mother and father.

This state creation of a new right for adults in an intrinsically non-procreative sexual relationship also involves a new state intrusion into traditional charitable activities. The legal requirement in Massachusetts that every adoption service must be prepared to facilitate adoption of children by same-sex couples—on the basis that it is discriminatory to differentiate between them and married opposite-sex couples--is preventing Catholic Charities from facilitating the adoption of any children at all in that state--something that a religious exemption in line with the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom could have avoided.

But the relation of state to mediating structures, of formal to informal care and control, is a—I would argue the--central question for social work even without an issue of state-church relations. Do we see our work as protecting the rights of individuals (for example, children) against their families or as partnering with families and communities to strengthen the capacity of those non-state entities (families and communities) to keep their children—who are not the state's children--safe? These are the questions posed by some of the most innovative practices in social work and social welfare of recent decades—restorative justice and family group conferencing, for example. (In these cases, the state retains its final authority in matters of child protection, but pulls back from bureaucratic-professional domination of decision-making and shares that responsibility with the families and communities involved.) Obviously, it is not a simple dichotomy but a matter of perspective and balance, of experimenting with new hybrids and partnerships that draw on the strengths of both formal and informal helping, while constraining the excesses of each (Braithwaite, 2002).

But developments discussed here in which natural rights are subordinated to newly created “artificial” legal rights transform the relationship between state and civil society from one of partnership to one in which the civil society is progressively weakened in favor of the state. The state decides what marriage is while parenthood is detached from its grounding in nature (with accompanying natural rights and obligations) and becomes…whatever the state says it is. (Marquardt, 2006).

Love Among the Ruins
These new developments not only pose challenges to Christians at the level of religious authorities like Chaput’s archdiocese of Denver, which is under strong secularist threat or blackmail, and charitable organizations like Catholic Charities. At this level, leaders are pushed to define the limits of accommodation beyond which a Christian charity loses its soul and may as well drop its religious affiliation and become an offshoot of the bureaucratic-professional state (Anderson, 2000).

These developments also impart a new urgency to the character formation of the individual Christian social worker confronted with these powerful secularizing forces and pressures. Ordered Christian charity--like proclaiming the Word and celebrating the liturgy and sacraments—has been a fundamental duty and practice of the Church from the time of the apostles. When it is reduced to a soulless activity of the bureaucratic-professional state, how can a Christian social worker as an individual sustain and practice the virtue of love?

“Government cannot love,” (Chaput, 2009) argues. “It has no soul and no heart. The greatest danger of the modern secularist state is this: In the name of humanity, under the banner of serving human needs and easing human suffering, it ultimately, ironically—and too often tragically—lacks humanity” (p.29). The secularist direction of law and policy described here is leading to a hypertrophy of the state (with all its bureaucratic-professional rigidities and incapacity for charity in its full sense (where Christian charity is love as a total self-giving aimed at the good of the other).

As Chaput says, "Government cannot love"--but Damien and Mother Teresa and the early Christians in the plagues of the second and third centuries could and did. They should be the model of love as a virtue of the Christian social worker. The question arises, then, of how best to preserve or cultivate in Christian social workers the virtue of charity; and how to do this in a context where the professionalizing, bureaucratizing, and secularizing of such work seem to render it all but impossible?

If I had the answer, I would not keep it secret! My aim here is more modest—to pose, contextualize, and clarify the question. In his 2006 encyclical, God is Love – Deus caritas est, however, Pope Benedict offers some guidance for workers in the Church’s charitable agencies that applies, mutatis mutandis, to Christian social workers in any setting. His remarks offer the necessary theological starting point or focus for discussion of this all-important theological virtue in the context of the Christian social worker.
It is important, as we talk of love, to recognize the importance of knowledge and competence as the sine qua non of the professional social worker. They are, Benedict says, necessary but not sufficient. Social workers also “need a ‘formation of the heart’” (p.79). The two—one a matter of knowledge and skill, the other of character— do not stand in opposition to each other. As recent empirical research has re-emphasized, the quality of the client-practitioner relationship, and so the character of the social worker, as distinct from the specific theories or methods employed, is a key aspect of professional competence and effectiveness (Adams, 2009; Drisko, 2004; Graybeal, 2007; Wampold, 2001).

If we examine theologically the issue of proselytizing on the job, we can see that the virtue of love proscribes it. It is not simply a compromise between state and church about government funding of charitable activities. “Love is free; it is not practiced as a way of achieving other ends” (Benedict XVI, 2006, pp.81-82). This does not mean that the Christian social worker can leave God out of her understanding of the social situations she addresses, since Christian love is always concerned with the whole person and the absence of God may itself be a cause of deep suffering. But Christian social workers:
…will never seek to impose the Church’s faith upon others. They realize that a pure and generous love is the best witness to the God in whom we believe and by whom we are driven to love. A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak…(p.82).

Formation of the Christian social worker’s character in the virtue of love, from this perspective, is not separate from developing professional competence but part of it.

Speaking to the personnel who carry out the Church’s charitable activity and warning them against being diverted into a radical utopian activism in the name of justice, Benedict sees that, more than anything, these workers (and we could say Christian social workers in any setting) “must be persons moved by Christ’s love, persons whose hearts Christ has conquered with his love, awakening in them a love of neighbor” (p.85).

The social worker whose character is formed in Christian love has, as a deep part of her character, a radical humility—which is necessary both to the virtue of love and to professional competence.

My deep personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others becomes a sharing in the needs and sufferings of others becomes a sharing of my very self with them: if my gift is not to prove a source of humiliation, I must give to others not only something that is my own, but my very self; I must be personally present in my gift
(Benedict XVI, 2006, p.87).

Benedict invokes here the radical humility of Christ on the Cross, which redeemed us and constantly comes to our aid. In helping we also receive help—being able to help is no merit or achievement of our own. “This duty is a grace” (p.88).

Finally, I want to highlight Benedict’s emphasis on the importance of prayer “in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable work” (p.90). This is not because we hope to change God’s mind about the situations we address in our practice or because prayer is more efficacious than, or a substitute for, advocacy at the legislature. A personal relation with God in our prayer life sustains our love of neighbor and helps keep us from being drawn into ideologies and practices that replace love with hate, whether it is class or religious or ethnic hate. It also, though Benedict does not say this, prevents burnout. Hope involves the virtue of patience and faith leads us to understand charity as participation through his grace in God’s love of the human person. In this way hope and faith, the other “theological virtues,” give rise to and sustain the queen of virtues. All are central to our formation as Christian social workers.

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