A few months ago, David Barringer, longtime parishioner and bulletin-reader, wrote me to share his experience of writing a newsletter column, sympathizing with me over the challenges of finding and addressing topics regularly. I found this example of his writing for the national Saint Vincent de Paul Society to be worth sharing, not least because it gives me a week off. Enjoy!
How many of us are guilty by association?
One person’s “special interest group” seeking attention from Congress is another person’s “my voice in Washington.” Last week I attended the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) annual American Associations Day on Capitol Hill. ASAE represents more than 10,000 tax-exempt organizations representing individuals, business and trade groups and even membership societies such as our Society. Associations are some of the leading adult-education providers in the country. They set standards for industry groups so that government doesn’t need to step in. And they represent their members. Or do they?
That’s the challenge facing each of us. We may think we are simply saving a few bucks on insurance when we join a group such as AARP, but does this mean we subscribe to the “values” AARP then takes to the Hill? When we register for a National Rifle Association course, buy a map from AAA, or even just join a neighborhood homeowner association, how much of our beliefs and opinions get transferred with the membership? Not to pick on the groups above, because all associations do this to some level, but when they say they represent us, do they really? Or have we inadvertently sold our values in order to save a few dollars or to take part in a desired activity?
In these days of suspected Internet hacking, personal data insecurity and identity theft, isn’t it ironic that we might just give this stuff away when we sign on a dotted line? We scream when our name is on a mailing list, but when we ordered that online purchase or applied for a new driver license, you can be assured that our name and address ended up somewhere else. Someone is counting you in their numbers. And how do you think you got called for jury duty?
As a member of the Society of St. Vincent DePaul, I hope you know exactly what we stand for and against. We have position papers that reflect the views of the Catholic Church and the USCCB on matters of life, wages other sensitive topics. We are transparent, and consistent, in our beliefs. Your Society membership not so much defines your beliefs as it reinforces them for a faithful Catholic.
Would it shock you that Progressive life insurance was created in part to help the owner fund very progressive causes? Or that the national Girl Scouts organization supports abortion choices? According to some allegations on the Internet, your purchases of car insurance or Thin Mints may help fund things in direct conflict with your values.
As Americans we have a Constitutional right to assemble, meaning that we can join voluntary groups to represent our views before Congress and local government. I fear though that out of convenience and perhaps some laziness, we might at times allow groups to speak for us inappropriately. Our voice counts, and so do our dollars. Our choices, actively or passively, grant others license to speak for us. This gives us even greater buying power in a sense, but only if we are vigilant activists in our choices.
Take a few minutes to check out your membership cards and receipts and find out who your memberships and purchases say you really are. So, what’s in your wallet? Or more so, who is in your wallet?
Yours in Christ, Dave Barringer