Editorial — Work for systemic change

Marnie McAllister

In our efforts to live out the Gospel call to love one another, we talk a lot as a church about charitable giving and volunteering.

We even require our children to do so many hours of service work.

These are worthy and crucial works that meet real needs.

But to use a metaphor employed by the U.S. bishops, charity is only one foot.

To live the Gospel — with special concern for the poor and vulnerable — we need to stand on two feet, what the bishops’ call the “Two Feet of Love in Action.”

“This foundational tool describes two distinct, but complementary, ways we can put the Gospel in action in response to God’s love,” says the bishops’ Love In Action page at usccb.org.

These two distinct feet are:

  • Charitable works — short-term, emergency assistance for individuals.
  • Social justice — addressing systemic, root causes of problems that affect many people. 

Right now, as Kentucky’s lawmakers are hammering out new deals that shape our society, we need to put a little more weight on the social justice foot.

Things are moving quickly in Frankfort and two bills with traction — that are priorities of the House and Senate — raise serious concerns.

House Bill 1, a problematic bill that could hurt poor and vulnerable people, moved swiftly out of committee last week and was voted out of the House with a 58 to 32 vote.

The Catholic Conference of Kentucky, which represents the state’s Catholic bishops in matters of public policy, and other faith-based groups oppose the bill.

Senate Bill 1, which would ban local “sanctuary” immigration policies in Kentucky, is opposed by Kentucky’s bishops, in part because the bill is vague and could end up harming immigrants. The measure passed the senate 28 to 10.

An issue that has the support of the bishops addresses access to education. House Bill 350 aims to expand access to non-public schools by creating a tax incentive — in the form of tax credits — for those who donate to certain tuition-granting organizations.

Supporters, including the CCK, say the tax credits will boost donations to organizations like the Catholic Education Foundation, which awards need-based tuition assistance. 

The bill could have a direct impact on low-income students whose needs aren’t being met in public schools.

These are just a handful of bills that could shape our society in new ways. There are many more before Kentucky’s lawmakers. The CCK sends out information about the issues regularly. To learn more or sign-up for updates, visit ccky.org.

You might also consider attending the March 11 Catholics @ the Capitol event, where Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz and leaders of the CCK intend to educate Catholics about priority issues and help constituents meet with lawmakers.

As Catholics, we have to push aside the apathy, the frustration and all the other barriers that stall our efforts to live the Gospel fully.

The U.S. bishops have long published a document called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” to help Catholics engage in public policy. This year, a companion campaign called “Civilize It” — which promotes civil engagement in our polarized society — offers a brief summary of what it means to be a faithful citizen.

“Catholics have a long tradition of engagement in the public square,” a Civilize It flier notes. “Sometimes that engagement requires making difficult moral decisions that impact our own lives and those of others. Our conscience can help guide the decisions we make.”

But, it notes, we aren’t born with well-formed consciences. The conscience must be formed through prayer, study and dialogue.

Lent is an ideal time to sacrifice some comfort — and perhaps some social insulation — to become better informed about the lives and needs of poor and vulnerable people in Kentucky.

Study, pray and take action by advocating on their behalf during the 2020 session of the Kentucky General Assembly. Find an issue — or a handful of them — where the Holy Spirit moves you and get to work.

Marnie McAllister


Marnie McAllister
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Marnie McAllister
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