I sometimes hear folks argue that organized religion does no good. Religion has started wars, they say, and witch-hunts, The Inquisition, all in the name of God.
Some of that’s true, but religion has also started hospitals, schools and homeless shelters. Believing that organized religion still does much good, I recently embarked on a three-state speaking itinerary in search of that good.
My first stop was in Springfield, Missouri to visit LifeHouse Crisis Maternity Home, a program of Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri. The home accommodates up to 20 pregnant women and their children (age 5 and younger). It was there I met a woman I’ll call “J.D.” who’d come to LifeHouse to birth her fourth child and escape an abusive, drug-filled relationship.
While her other three children are in foster care, she is working toward self-sufficiency and permanent housing. Like all its residents, J.D. will be allowed to stay at LifeHouse up to 12 months after she delivers her baby.
“I’m trying to get my babies back,” a tearful J.D. told me. “Without LifeHouse, I know I’d be on the street using drugs with my ex-husband.”
Later that night, I spoke at a fundraising dinner for LifeHouse where my spiffy speech, along with dancing, dining and an auction, raised more than $100,000 for LifeHouse.
The following day, I drove two hours southeast to preach at First Christian Church in Mountain Home, Arkansas. Truly, I don’t think Pastor Lewis Godby needed my help. His preaching regularly inspires this 200-person Disciples of Christ congregation to practice ministry outside their borders.
The church sponsors Celebrate Recovery, helping people recover from hurts, habits and hang-ups. They started the Christian Clothing Exchange to help folks get quality clothes at no cost, and they work with Sole Mission to buy new shoes for 400 schoolchildren every year.
For a so-called retired community, these Disciples are busy little beavers. They cooperate with other churches to fund the Mountain Home Food Basket and the Center of Hope, which provides help with utilities, rent and personal needs. Their volunteers work in the hospital, the local alternative school and literacy programs.
The next day, Chaplain Tom Baker of Baxter Regional Medical Center had me speak to a packed hospital auditorium. After delivering a speech about battlefield trauma ministry, I toured the hospital floors where Baker provides pastoral care to nearly 220 patients (a population served by five chaplains at my hospital).
This middle-aged Episcopal priest also DJ’s at a pizza party every Friday night for 200 teens come to dance and hang out – even with retired adults. Baker says it’s “a safe place where ‘church’ isn’t all about recruitment. It’s about love.”
Two days later, I flew to Muncie, Indiana to deliver a 9/11 message about resilience to over 400 community members at Center Chapel. This church serves over 150 families a month with their Mission House, food pantry and clothing bank.
Their pastor, Rusty Clements is a widower, recently re-wed, who understands a lot about resilience. After losing his adult daughter last year, he keeps the church focus on “serving real-life folks with life-changing help.”
“We are a mission-minded church,” Clements says. “We help both people overseas as well as our next-door neighbor.”
A few days later, Frank Baldwin, director of the Muncie Mission invited me to help prepare breakfast for their 50 residents. This faith-based, state-of-the-art homeless shelter provides a yearlong rehabilitation program for people willing to commit to spiritually based counseling, education and job skill training.
By week’s end, I saw much evidence that, while organized religion may not always do good, religious people can, and do, organize to do good. Sadly, that’s a fact often missing from today’s headlines.