It was a cold and windy afternoon, and I was standing outside of a grocery store in a bright yellow vest handing out candy and collecting change from caring strangers. It was the annual tradition of going with my dad to help raise funds for those suffering from intellectual disabilities on behalf of the Knights of Columbus, and it became a recurring event that I still look back with fondness on all these years later. Outside of that memory, my main recollection of the Knights was simply that my Dad was gone one Tuesday a month after dinner for an hour or two.
Fast forward to my adulthood, and my father asked if I would be willing to join the Knights during a time when he was running his local council. I agreed, and went through what is known as the first degree. I figured I’d give the Knights a shot, since I had mostly heard positive things about them, and went to my first council meeting on one of those familiar Tuesday nights.
At the time, my wife was running a prayer group for moms at a nearby parish on the same recurring Tuesday night as the council meeting, so I brought the kids along with me, figuring it would be all good to have kids in tow.
I came to find out that my assumption was incorrect. Now, I want to be sure to point out that there wasn’t some overwhelming negativity thrown my way for bringing my kids, however, it was made abundantly clear that my kids weren’t welcome at any future council meeting. I explained that my wife was running a prayer group every night of every council meeting for the foreseeable future, and politely pointed out that I would have thought a pro-life group would be more accepting of children at their meetings (not to mention the fact that they were young enough to ensure they wouldn’t be spilling the beans on any of the secrets non-members are always so curious about).
The answer was still a firm no, and this response, no matter how polite and charitable it was, turned me off to the group as a whole. I never returned to another meeting after that, and continued to go about my assumptions that the Knights were nothing more than a group of guys wanting an excuse to get away from their families and make arbitrary rules for an organization that did little more than flip overpriced pancakes one Sunday morning per month.
As I’m sure you’ve heard, the Knights of Columbus have jumped into the news recently:
Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) raised concerns about membership in the Knights of Columbus while the Senate Judiciary Committee reviewed the candidacy of Brian C. Buescher, an Omaha-based lawyer nominated by President Trump to sit on the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska.
Senators also asked whether belonging to the Catholic charitable organization could prevent judges from hearing cases “fairly and impartially.”
In written questions sent to Buescher by committee members Dec. 5, Sen. Hirono stated that “the Knights of Columbus has taken a number of extreme positions. For example, it was reportedly one of the top contributors to California’s Proposition 8 campaign to ban same-sex marriage.”
Anti-Catholic bigotry is nothing new in our nation’s public discourse, but this claim that the Knights of Columbus are an extremist group caught many in the corners of Catholic social media off guard. The typical response was along the lines of, “You mean those guys with the feathery hats who host BBQs to raise money for scholarships? You think they’re extremists?!”
While I obviously disagree with the senators' claims about the Knights of Columbus, I do think the overall reaction of most Catholics on social media points to the real problem with the Knights, the very problem that led to me being able to dismiss the organization so easily after the interaction at my one and only council meeting: practically no one knows about the incredible work the Knights are doing around the world on a daily basis.
This news story, pushing the Knights into the public mindset for the first time in a while, provides the organization with an incredible opportunity to share exactly what it is they do to make the world a better place. And if people heard that message, their understanding about the group would be changed forever.
Sure, they host your parish’s pancake breakfast, but did you know the Knights also established a Christian Refugee Relief Fund in 2014, collecting more than $18 million to provide food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care to persecuted Christians in the Middle East?
Sure, they sell tickets to the summer BBQ in your parish parking lot, but did you know the Knights also have an ultrasound initiative where they purchase ultrasound machines for qualifying pregnancy centers?
And sure, they stand outside of your local grocery store on a cold and windy day handing out candy and collecting spare change, but did you know that in 2017 they set a record for charitable work with an unprecedented $185.6 million in donations and 75.6 million hours of service provided worldwide?
Say what you will about the Knights of Columbus, point out their shortcomings today and throughout their history, but also be willing to take a closer look at the impact they are making throughout the world and be willing to help them with their real problem: sharing the good they do with everyone in the pews who have absolutely no idea.
Tommy Tighe is a Catholic husband and father of five boys. You can find out more about him at CatholicHipster.com.
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