Recently, Public Health made a presentation to the County Legislature on the topic of teen pregnancy. (The percentage of births from unplanned pregnancies in Franklin Country is higher than that in surrounding counties and the state average.) The subject at hand got my attention, of course—but more on that later. What really caught my eye was that one of our legislators asked if Public Health anticipated any “backlash” or “resistance from religious groups.”
A couple of thoughts immediately crossed my mind.
First, I began to wonder if the reactions of people of faith to matters of common concern in American life have grown so sharp, so shrill, in recent years that we’ve caused ourselves to be considered little more than a loud nuisance or an outright obstacle to solving social problems. If that is indeed the case, then shame on us. We’ve shot ourselves in the foot. We’ve forfeited our place in the public square.
But then I also began to wonder if faith-based voices weren’t just being hastily discounted as old-fashioned or unenlightened. That, too, would be quite a shame. I can’t speak for anyone else’s religious tradition, but the Catholic Church has just shy of 2,000 years of experience under it’s belt when it comes to promoting moral standards—a guide for living upon which entire societies and noble cultures have been built. Sure, we haven’t always gotten it right, but an honest look at history will show that we’ve had many more successes than failures. (It’s particularly ironic that such insights could be tossed aside as irrelevant or ill informed in an age when “tolerance” is our highest value.)
I suspect the truth of the matter, however, is a bit of both.
When Public Health presented its plan to the Legislature for addressing teen pregnancy, a prime motivation given was a financial one: that reducing pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases would save Franklin County money. Providing our young people with condoms and information via Facebook were essentially proposed as cost-cutting measures.
What troubles me here is the failure to see people as people, rather than as problems. You don’t “fix” people the way you fix a broken budget. You educate people—and not just in the mechanics of their reproductive systems, but in the far more wondrous workings of the human spirit. And you ennoble people, helping them to recognize their innate dignity. None of these problems will go away as long as we let stand the commonly accepted notion that sex can be a recreational activity free of any conequences, rather than a truly human act with deep meaning and purpose. Facebook pages and free condoms may appear to address a few of the unhappy symptoms we can all recognize, but they can never get to the heart of what’s really gone wrong.
You might be thinking, “But that’s not the role of a government agency!” And I’d say that you’re precisely right. Yet there are experienced experts in this field, and we’re already right here in the community.