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The promise of universality - Elf M. Sternberg
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The promise of universality
The Lieutenant Governor of Texas, Daniel Patrick, is well-known among wonks for his hyper-traditionalist views of religion and its role in public life. In short: he's for it, as long as it's his flavor of Christian. He wants gays back in the closet, women to stop being sexy unless they're married and then only for their husbands, and trans people shouldn't be allowed out in public.

Texas's foster care and adoption system is in a terrible crisis. Children considered "most at risk" have gone as long as half a year between visits from a state foster care worker. The Department of Protective and Regulatory Services says its $40 million behind its state-mandated obligations.

Patrick's response has been to say that "churches should ask their parishioners to step forward" to handle the burden.

Not all of the children in crisis are Christian. Nor will all of them respond well to the kind of Christianity that Daniel Patrick is promoting through his office. But that's okay with Patrick. He doesn't mind if the kids get a little nonconsensual indoctrination along the way. Lives really don't matter all that much to Patrick; what matters is that the bureaucracy to which he has dedicated his life gains in power.

That bureaucracy is not the State of Texas. It is the church.

There's a reason I believe in republican democracy. It's the only institution that is constituted with the goal of serving everyone. Equally well or equally poorly, perhaps, but it's goal is to serve everyone who lives within its jurisdiction. To the extent that the United States is one of the ten wealthiest countries in the world, it's genuinely horrifying how we fail our poorest citizens.

Churches and their charities serve a different goal: the glory and empowerment of the church. All bureaucracies conform to a similar goal. Government is the one bureaucracy constituted to serve all of its citizens, is subject to oversight by the people it serves without reservation, and can have its administration overturned by those people if it fails to meet its goals.

I have no starry-eyed naivete about the ways bureaucracies can hide, elide, and deceive. But when someone says "The churches should do it" or "A charity can do it," what they're really advocating is for a base of power with less accountability and less interest in actually serving the poor and needful.

"I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization." - Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

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