Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Not a rant

I imagine that almost every American is sick to death of the machinations in Washington these days. I am too, although not for the same reasons as many of my Facebook friends, apparently. But what has me thinking has to do more with the moral questions that we (and our representatives in Congress) are all wrestling with these days.

I keep hearing many people (in person and yes, I admit, on the radio) saying, "It's not the job of government to care for the poor and the needy in our society. That's the Church's job. We need to take that responsibility away from the government and give it back to the Church where it belongs." I can sympathize with that point of view. I think it's very well-meaning and attempts to take seriously the command of the gospel to care for the poor. I also disagree with it, since I personally believe that government is a God-given means for providing for the common good. That's also in the constitution and I believe it's wise. It's been said that government is what we decide to do together and I'm glad to be part of a society that has historically used government to provide for the most vulnerable among us.

Of course, that's beginning to change, partly because of economic realities and partly because of changes in our political philosophy. And I sincerely hope that the Church I love will step up and fill in the gaps. But here is what I want to ask when someone says that caring for the vulnerable is not the job of the government but the job of the church:

What does that look like? As poor children, the disabled and the elderly are experiencing devastating cuts in their benefits, are Christians going to dramatically increase their giving to make up the difference? In my congregation, there are a number of intellectually disabled adults who live partially on public assistance. When that is cut, will we--all 400 of us--provide the hundreds of thousands of dollars that it costs to care for them? What kind of infrastructure will there be to do this? I'm sure that they would prefer to live in their group homes but if that becomes unaffordable, who among us will take them into our homes and care for them? And that's just this particular group of men. We're not even talking about the chronically poor, the physically disabled who can't work, the severely mentally ill, the elderly or the unemployed--all of whom receive some kind of public subsidy. Just in our congregation alone, that would be a significant number of people. There are even more in our community who don't attend our church or any church. Will we be willing to sacrifice deeply to ensure that they are cared for, at least at the level that the government currently does? We will have to completely change the way we do church. I doubt that we will be able to do all of this and maintain our buildings and our programs. Will we be willing to make those sacrifices?

This is not a rant, I promise. I really want to know what others see that I don't. I personally believe that government is a legitimate way to care for the vulnerable but I'm also intrigued by other models, especially as the government model may be losing viability. I don't want to suffer from a failure of imagination and if this is possible, I want to see it. I just have some questions.


Malachi M Meahl said...

Where in the Bible, does it tell Christians to help the government provide for the widows and orphans?

Where in the constitution does it talk about the common good?

Trisha said...

Thanks for the comment!

I think the Hebrew Scriptures are certainly very clear about the "government" being held accountable for the welfare of the stranger and the poor--in the Law and in the prophets. But I don't think we see it in the New Testament and we can certainly speculate (and disagree) about what that means.

The early state constitutions referenced the common good which seems to be, then and now, a parallel concept to the idea of the general welfare, used interchangeably. Some are making the distinction between those things today. I don't see the distinction personally and think it has more modern political overtones but I can see how people come to a different conclusion.

So now I'd really be interested in your (or anyone's) answers to my questions: what does it look like to replace the role of the American government to care for the poor with the Church? How do we do that on such a large scale? Are we in the church willing to make the sacrifice? Let's start a conversation!

Malachi M Meahl said...

I don't think that at this point in time we can replace the government with the church. Even though it is the church's job to feed the widows and orphans, we have allowed the government to do it for so long, that too many Christians would just rather have the government do it.

I worked out of one place, that could only feed people in certain zip codes because they received government money, and that is one of the strings that came with it. How is that biblical? Sorry, I can't give you a Bible and food, because you live one house to far?

The Bible says that if you don't work, then you don't eat. The Bible also says that a Christian who does not take care of his own house, is worse than an unbeliever. I don't see any of these Biblical concepts being supported in the current system of welfare and support from the Government.

Here is what I would like to see.
1. Aid agencies requiring you to be looking for a job, if you get aid from them.

2. Christian medical professionals, tithing and offering part of their time to see patients and clients.

3. Churches opening up thrift stores, restaurants, and other companies, to give those who cannot find a traditional job, a chance to get back on their feet. I had a dream one night, where I ran a store, that was a for profit location, that existed to give jobs to those who would not otherwise have a job. If you are a single mother, and can only work in the mornings. get we have a schedule for you. You can only work weekends? great, you won't get many hours but we can get a schedule for you. You are bipolar and too depressed to come in to work today? fine, I will call the next name on the list, and you will still have a job when you can come in. In the dream, the store was called the Barnabas Project, because I wanted to defend the employees to others who might judge them, while coming along side them and offer them encouragement like Barnabas did with Paul. I would love to see it become a reality, but I don't have the knowledge nor the money to do it.

I have other ideas, but I don't want to take up too much of your space.

Trisha said...

I like your ideas. I think your comment about not having enough knowledge or money applies to almost all of us. One advantage to doing things collectively--even if it is through our tax dollars--is that together we can buy knowledge and time from those who have it.

I can hear your frustration with the place you worked--it would be terrible to turn people away b/c of their zip code. On the other hand, people within the service area DID get Bibles and food . . . what happens to them when that program is defunded?ca

I see advantages and disadvantages in any model . . . I don't see a clear path forward. I just want to make sure that the job of caring for the vulnerable gets done. Anyone else want to weigh in?

Malachi M Meahl said...

But with money comes strings, like the whole zip code thing. Recently in California, they decided to pass a law that requires schools that take government money to teach gay and lesbian history. Why are we willing to sell the gospel out for a couple of bucks? If I am going to take money, to feed the widows and orphans, to educate and train up a child in the way he or she should go, then I want the money and strings to be from a good christian church. Not an immoral and often wrong government.