Monday, September 24, 2007

The saints go marching out?

The Catholic Church has asked its members to stop giving money to Amnesty International, and the Catholic auxiliary bishop of Down and Connor has advised that school links with Amnesty should be severed. It's because Amnesty International now supports abortion for rape victims in war zones.

It's fair enough to stop funding organisations that campaign for things you disagree with - indeed, it's a reasonable way to express your opposition. I've done it in the past.

But should all links be cut? In general, is it a good idea to withdraw from organisations we don't agree fully with? Is it even possible?

And what about people who want to remain in such organisations, and express their opposition on the inside? Is it reasonable to ask members of a church to leave an organisation, like AI, that also does a lot of good?

I think the Bishop is confused about the kind of organisation Amnesty International is. The catholic church is (at least in theory) a take-it-or-leave-it-all organisation that exists partly to teach its members what to believe and what to do. "You don't get to pick and choose," as a catholic friend of mine once said.

Amnesty, on the other hand, is not in the business of telling its members what to think. So far as I know, they don't excommunicate their people for differing from the party line. You are allowed to disagree.

So if people want to join in the Amnesty's work against oppression while still holding the Catholic church's absolutist position on abortion, they can. They can even try to overturn Amnesty's policy from within. Amnesty won't excommunicate them, and the Catholic Church shouldn't stigmatise them either.

As Christians, we're supposed to be in the world, but not of the world. We're supposed not just to be different, but also to make a difference.

Anyway, where would such complete withdrawal end? From politics? From employment? From education? From genetic research? From the arts? And how would we pick the supremely important issues that prompt withdrawal? Abortion? Slavery? The death penalty? Social justice? Failure to care for others as we care for ourselves? Failure to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength?


Jen R said...

If I were Catholic, I don't think I'd stay either. (For that matter, I'm a secular humanist and I've left Amnesty.) It's not *just* that they've changed their position on abortion. They've done so in a high-handed and sneaky way, and they've shown nothing but contempt for the consciences of their members who oppose abortion.

That said, yes, I think it would be ethical to stay and try to change Amnesty from within. I just don't hold out a lot of hope for the success of that effort, under the circumstances.

Paul said...

I know that Amnesty are not above criticism, and I've disagreed with some of their conclusions before now. As you say, the spin they put on their policy is economical at best with the truth. Yet, on the whole I think they help keep governments honest. Ironic, isn't it?

People need to decide for themselves if the other rubbish outweighs the good they do. But bearing in mind Sturgeon's Law - that 90% of everything is crap - every organisation will have something wrong with it. And it's better to do some good than none at all.

And if enough of their members say they are talking rubbish, that might tend to undermine their position, no?

Jen R said...

Sturgeon's Law


A fellow SF fan?

I don't begrudge anyone their decision to stay with Amnesty and try to get them to change -- it's a perfectly respectable strategy, at least if there is any hope of success. According to this column, a measure will be proposed next year to allow Amnesty members to indicate whether they want their dues used for the purpose of advocating for abortion. That would be progress.

And if enough of their members say they are talking rubbish, that might tend to undermine their position, no?

You'd think, but so much depends on how things get reported.