Christian Colleges Part of White House Interfaith Service Push
Schools say listening is a key part of the project—but theological pluralism isn’t.
Chris Norton | posted 8/08/2011 10:34AM
Christian colleges and universities were among the 195 higher education institutions represented Wednesday in Washington at the launch of President Obama's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.
The White House initiative, first announced in March, aims to mobilize college students of various religious backgrounds for community service around the nation.
Apart from the fact that it is no proper business of the government to be involved with what Christian colleges do in regard to their projects, this article suggests another problem that is widespread today. Our society, and Christians in particular, have a skewed view of what constitutes “community service.”
The other day a large van was patrolling my neighborhood. It was carrying people from a lockup somewhere who were being forced to pick up trash along the road. The name on the van included the words “community service.” Courts often sentence people to “community service.” So we sometimes use the phrase as a synonym for “punishment.”
Then we have the phrase as it is used in the article above, where it is equated with voluntary, but unpaid, participation in various projects. What bothers me a bit is the neglect of another kind of “community service” – perhaps one that best serves the most people.
Last night I went with some friends to an ice cream shop. This little place was staffed entirely with very friendly, very ready-to-serve, college students. Theirs was a busy shop – they were busy serving people from all over the community in which they were located. Their colleges were not involved in this community service, and neither was the White House – except, perhaps, for the efforts of the White House to make this kind of community service more difficult.
The problem is, most colleges and governments would not think of this as “community service” because these college students were being paid for what they were doing, and those who owned the ice cream shop were (presumably) making a profit on the whole community service project.
In the eyes of the government, academia, and (sorry to say) many Christians, this puts what these nice college students were doing outside the realm of “community service.” Perhaps we cannot expect better from governments and academia, but Christians should know better.
There is nothing wrong, of course, with working for nothing. But there is also nothing wrong, or even less commendable, with working for a profit. As a matter of fact, it would be impossible for anyone to work for nothing if someone else were not working for a profit.
Christians need to recognize and defend the value to communities of those who work, save, and invest in productive enterprises. They are not somehow morally tainted. They are, rather, people doing part of the work of God. Some of the best community service around is done for profit – and the prophets of God should say, “Amen.”