You’ve probably seen them outside any grocery store this time of year, the Knights of Columbus, a charitable organization based within the Catholic Church. As a former Catholic, I confess to a romantic notion of these supermarket sentries: the latter-day equivalent of the knights of old, bringing food and clothing to the needy and downtrodden. Whenever I see them, I stuff five bucks into their little can.
Well, I used to.
The last time I did that, I went home and got on the internet and, quite by accident, stumbled over this headline: “Knights Of Columbus Donate More To Fight Gay Marriage Than Fight Hunger.”
The story cites an article in the Washington Independent examining the Knights’ “Food for Families” program and another called “Coats For Kids.” In 2009, these programs together received more than $1 million from the Knights, but less than the $1.4 million they gave to anti-gay-marriage initiatives.
To be fair, the Knights sponsor many programs that actually do help people. But to an obsessive-compulsive like me, the question still nags: What if my five bucks went not to put food on someone’s table, but to political hacks telling gays they can’t marry?
There’s also a more immediate question: What do I say to these people, the next time they’re at the grocery store? Nothing seems a sensible answer, but sensible isn’t what I’m best known for.
Okay, so I’m leaving the grocery store with bags in hand, and two Knights are stationed by the door. There’s a woman in front of me. One of the Knights offers her a Tootsie roll, honest to God, and she stuffs a dollar bill into his can. He says, “God bless you.” He asks if I want a Tootsie roll, too. I say, “No. Why are you spending more money fighting gay marriage than helping the poor?”
The Knight says proudly, “We do both.”
It sounds noble, but I have an answer for that. “In Scripture, Jesus mentioned helping the poor more than 1,000 times. But he never mentioned gay marriage, not even once. So why are you spending so much money on that?”
“We don’t oppose civil unions,” he says.
“I still think helping the poor is more important. Shouldn’t charity go to someone who actually wants it?”
He’s unmoved. He thinks their priorities are fine and my information is out of date. I admit the spending comparison is three years old, but the Knights are still contributing to anti-gay causes, like fighting same-sex marriage initiatives in Maine and Maryland in the 2012 election. Despite the Knights’ obstruction, they passed. Not even the sidetracked donations of grocery shoppers could thwart them.
Finally, there’s nothing left to say. As I’m leaving, they’re handing out more Tootsie rolls.
I’m still fuming on a visit to my sister, who lives in San Marino with her husband and their daughter. They’re good people, but I’m in a bad mood. I grumble that the Knights of Columbus are a bunch of hypocrites.
“Uh, Terry,” says my brother-in-law, “I’m in the Knights of Columbus.”
“Really?” I don’t have a good answer to that, not then and not now because he’s one of the least-prejudiced people I know, kind-hearted and willing to help anyone. I wonder if most of them aren’t like that, well-meaning people whose efforts are undone, sometimes, by the not-so-Christian folks at the top.
Should you give to the Knights of Columbus, the next time they’re at your grocery store? Depends on if you want the Tootsie roll, I guess.
Terry Black wrote “Dead Heat,” a cult zombie film starring Treat Williams. He’s also written for “Tales from the Crypt,” “Silk Stalkings,” “Dark Justice” and other disreputable TV shows as well as more reputable media, such as the “Oracle,” the monthly newsletter of Orange County Mensa. He lives in Mission Viejo with three black cats, who bring him well-deserved bad luck.