Monday, January 22, 2018

Poverty pimping....

The Mass I attended this Sunday ended as it typically does, with applause…a resounding, “Yay for us!”  It’s a big reason I actively avoid this parish. The homily and the announcements echoed the same message, “Yay us” whilst metaphorically pounding each other with hearty congratulatory, “good job” pats on the back. 

Allow me to elaborate on the “Yay us” messages…parenthetical statements are my commentary. 

The deacon gave the homily and described how he, his brother deacons and their (dutiful) wives (bowing to the church hierarchy’s sexist clergy hegemonic praxis) spent a day last September at an economically challenged parish in Flint, Michigan…(the city of famed poisoned water due to short-term cost-cutting decisions made by public officials, many of whom were supported by the Michigan Catholic Conference of Bishops and their pay-pray-and-obey followers).  He explained how this group of “humble servants” ministered to people in that neighborhood, “helping transform their lives” (seemingly oblivious to any connection between voting and lifestyle patterns as causes of poverty which transformed lives in a negative way.)

Are you envisioning his uni-directional arrow of “goodness” flowing from his “us” of deacons and their wives to his “them” of the economically challenged yet?  In case not, please allow me to continue.

He also described that while members of his “us” group took turns piously praying before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, a few women from his “them” group who “by the way they were dressed you could guess that they were ladies of the night” knelt at the altar too.  This he celebrated as some dramatic transformational “turn away from sin” moment.  (He seemed oblivious to his arrogant sinful judgement about these women simply based upon their attire and, even if he guessed their profession accurately, isolated them in sin without mentioning the sins of their male clients…thus overlooking his own sin of sexism as well….but…”yay us.”)

The group distributed backpacks filled with school supplies to about 900 children (many if not most of whom are more economically vulnerable since September due to additional bishop-supported politicians failing to approve the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding renewal.)

Again, completely oblivious to the direct connection between the church hierarchy’s support for political candidates whose policies often worsen poverty, he seemed very proud of the “us” group for “helping” the “them” group and boasted how the “us” group’s work was helping the “them” group “turn away from sin” (which somehow he seemed to equate with poverty).

Mass concluded with extolling all the “great work” done by Catholic Charities and he even had board members who were present at Mass stand, be recognized and congratulated with applause…”Yay us…”

The cadence of “Yay us” messages made retaining my breakfast difficult because here’s what I heard.  “Look at all those sinful poor people and ‘yay us’ because we let God use us to help those poor sinful people on the margins.  Aren’t we the best Christians?  We even got some ‘bad girls’ to kneel in piety…aren’t we awesome?”  I cannot celebrate small gestures sprinkled upon poor people because I wish poverty did not exist.  I mourn the causes of poverty and examine my role in them.  I abhor people turning other’s misfortune into their feel-good-about-myself opportunities.

In my head I thought, “What profound arrogance!  The people most in need of transformation seem to be those congratulating and promoting themselves.”  But doesn’t this type of double exploitation of the poor reflect much of U.S. Catholicism right now?  First such Catholics support candidates, policies and practices that cause poverty or exploit those living in it, and then they undertake feel-good-about-myself “ministry,” the positive impact of which dwarfs in comparison to the damage their lifestyle inflicts upon the poor.

The recessional hymn was, “Be Not Afraid,” so I decided to confront the deacon who delivered the “Yay us” messages.  I expressed my concerns about sexism, arrogance, self-promotion and the exploitation of the poor in both contributing to their poverty and using ministry to the poor as a feel-good activity.  I told him doing the latter is what we call “poverty pimping” in that poor people become an instrument for other people to feel good about themselves. 

I am tired of hollow preaching pitying and denouncing others without climbing into their wounds to truly understand their situation.  I asked the deacon if he knew the major motivator for prostitutes to enter the business.  He acknowledged it was due to poverty, trying to feed themselves or their families.  I asked him if it is a sin to feed your family.  I asked him if the sin isn’t instead causing poverty that leaves prostitution as one of few options.  I asked him why he failed to mention the men who will pay women for sex but not to improve their economic situation so they don’t need to prostitute themselves.  He had no response other than that the church can’t solve politics.

I responded by paraphrasing a quote from the late Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint.  When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.” 

The deacon responded that the church cannot worry about or address the political situations causing poverty.  Really?  That’s interesting.  I seem to recall we just prayed for a small army of parishioners who went to D.C. for the “March for Life.”  I thought the Michigan and US Conference of Catholic Bishops both spent a shit-ton of money towards electing and lobbying politicians based upon policies the bishops support.  I thought the Michigan bishops were working on a project to get more Catholics to engage in the civic arena.  I thought the hierarchy has been braying about the politics of “religious liberty.”  Or does the sexist Catholic hierarchy only try to influence politics that regulate women’s bodies?  Are the hierarchy just another set of poverty pimps using the poor as a way to feel good about themselves when they toss some crumbs in their direction?

I also asked the deacon how he can be so arrogant as to judge a person’s profession simply based upon their clothes.  He had no response.  I regret I did not share with him that my observation is people like politicians and priests who regularly prostitute themselves by suspending their morals to accept money from various interests tend to dress in suits and chasubles…  Was that what these women were wearing causing him to suspect they were prostitutes?

The deacon expressed an interest to further discuss my concerns but based upon his comments I suspect it is because he would like either to justify himself or “save” me.  I got no sense that he was learning from me. If I find some spare time, perhaps I will meet him and learn his motivation.   In the meantime, I will send him a link to this article and ask him to read it and a few others.  However, I do not wish to be used for yet another of his “yay me” moments.