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.