The danger of the dominant partner

Father David Epps's picture

In England, the Charity Tribunal, a judicial body, has ruled that Catholic Care, the adoption agency for the Diocese of Leeds, must cooperate with homosexual couples who wish to adopt children, according to a news item in The Catholic World Reporter. The agency now faces a terrible choice.

If the agency remains faithful to Church policy, refuses to cooperate with the ruling, and continues to follow a “heterosexual couples only” policy, it could lose both its charity status and public funding.

The London Daily Telegraph reports that the agency, “... might also face discrimination claims by same-sex couples it has turned away in the past.”

If, on the other hand, the agency cooperates, while it retains benefits and monies granted by the government, it distances itself from both Christian tradition and Catholic teaching.

And that is the sticky dilemma that occurs when religious groups need or seek state assistance. In any relationship, there will never be a “co-equal partnership.” Someone will always have a final say even if it is simply to walk away and end a relationship. Normally, one or the other of the parties will be dominant.

In a relationship with the State, the government will always assume that it is the dominant player. A number of the corporations receiving financial bailouts are discovering that unhappy fact.

In the United States, nearly every church is in a relationship with the State. This occurs through accepting the federal 501(c)(3) charitable exemption status and, as in the case of most churches, by seeking incorporation in the state where the church ministers. While the church gains some benefits — exemption from property taxes and corporate/business taxes, some legal protection as a corporation, and the ability to receive charitable contributions, to name a few — there are trade-offs.

The State always has the option to come in and look over the church’s shoulder, especially in the area of finances. The State may set guidelines as to what may or may not be done in regard to ministry. There are the federal and state filing and documentation requirements. All this most churches willingly accept in exchange for the benefits derived.

This co-operative venture may have its history in the monastic communities of Europe where lords of the land saw the presence of a church or monastery as a positive influence and extended certain privileges. The monks, nuns, and priests would pray for the lords and the communities, teach, administer the Sacraments, and uphold morals and standards of the Faith while the lords would exempt the religious institution from taxes and its religious workers from military service.

The problem comes, as in England, when the State imposes its own policies and morality upon the Church and expects the Church to comply. It could, and probably will, happen here as well.

For example, with the growing number of states recognizing same-sex civil unions and/or marriages, it is a matter of time until a state requires the clergy to perform such marriages or face the loss of benefits.

While there are numerous denominations that are already practicing such ceremonies, the vast majority of Christians and churches are still theologically and socially conservative.

What will they do, faced with such a choice? What will Catholic Care do? The Apostles faced such a dilemma early on in the history of the Church. Their choice, whether to preach the Gospel after being ordered not to do so under the threat of severe punishment, was to face the threat, accept the consequences, and say simply, “We must obey God rather than man.”

The other choice is to give in to the dominant partner and to cease being the Church.

[David Epps is the pastor of Christ the King Church, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277, between Peachtree City and Newnan. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. He is also the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Church in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at]

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