Let the Government Shut Down Indefinitely (here’s your chance, Church)

The last presidential election which resulted in Barack Obama being elected to a second term to the presidency, was the first presidential election that occurred since my public break with fundamentalist religion and conservative politics. During the long public discourse prior to the election, I got sucked into far more public, political debates than I ever care to again.

One of the reasons why I broke with fundamentalism and conservative politics was my rediscovery of social justice and liberation from oppression as being central to the Gospel of Jesus– something that fundamentalism outright dismisses. Regardless of what the specific debate was rooted upon– whether it was healthcare for the poor, opportunities of uplift for the oppressed, or food assistance for struggling families and the like– my conservative friends returned the conversation to a few central talking points. The basic argument I was fed time and time again (and that I myself, previously spewed to others prior to 2009), was that government is not the answer– the church is.

My friends repeatedly rejected any notion that government should step in and help the poor. Instead, the argument waged in a hundred different arguments was “that’s the church’s job”.

While intellectually the argument has always sounded good– compulsory giving doesn’t solve anything, the church should be fulfilling these functions instead of the government; I was never able to get past the thought of “why doesn’t the Church give so much, that the government doesn’t have to step in at all?”

Unfortunately, they don’t (maybe I should be so bold as to say, we don’t). In fact, even with so many conservative evangelicals believing in the concept of “tithing” 10% of their income, we know that average giving among American Christians is actually much closer to 3%.

I’ve always found it ironic that my conservative brothers and sisters whine and complain about tax expenditures for government social programs, yet the very solution they cite– radical giving via the Church– doesn’t happen. While I’d love to see the average American church forsake the unholy trinity of buildings, bodies, and bucks in favor of tending to the poor and oppressed in their midst, it just doesn’t happen on a consistent or wide-spread basis. Yes, a lot of churches do great things for their communities– but not enough to negate what government does.

If we aren’t going to do it, I’m not sure what right we have to complain when government steps in and makes its best attempt– however imperfect– to fill the void we have left in our own wake of inability at best, and neglect of the teachings of Jesus at worst.

Earlier in the week, Frank Schaeffer wrote a piece (which you can read, here) that argued the bill for the government shutdown should be sent to the Evangelicals. While I agree in principle, I don’t think a bill even need be sent at all– because I’ve heard plenty of my brothers and sisters already admit that much of what government does, was our job to begin with.

So, the current government shut down presents a perfect opportunity: let’s see if those who want the Church to care for the poor instead of the government really mean what they say.

Here is your opportunity folks– time to pay up, or once and for all set aside the false argument that the Church is actually willing to do what government has done.

Prove all of us, who recognize the role of government in administering national efforts for the sick, hungry, and needy, utterly wrong.

Nothing would please me more.

But, if you’re not willing to do so– if your church isn’t actually going to provide wide-spread comprehensive healthcare for the poor in your communities, if your church isn’t going to make sure single parents have healthy food in their refrigerator, access to vaccines, or affordable housing, then please– stop criticizing the government for attempting to do what we are apparently unwilling to do.

This is your opportunity– the time for nice sounding arguments is over, and the opportunity to put words into action has arrived.

Ready or not, here it is.

 I say, let the government shut down indefinitely– because I want to see if the American Church is actually willing to step up and do what she already admits, is her job.

 

POPULAR AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • ahermit

    I said life or health of the mother, and that 1% statistic only holds up if you only count cases where it’s almost an absolute certainly that the woman will die. Will you take responsibility for making the decision for a woman who faces a 50/50 chance? Or the prospect of serious life long health consequences, sterility, etc?

    Who are you to make that decision for someone else?

    And what gives you the right to be privy to the details of anyone else’s medical history or decisions?

    As an employer you have an obligation to compensate your employees for their labour; you have no right to dictate to them how they make use of that compensation, or to impose your religious beliefs on them.

    Tell me, do you also oppose coverage of contraceptives? is that what you mean by ” abortion inducing drugs?”

  • Jon Fermin

    that “or health” tag coined by Peter Singer was designed to be a loophole, partially because “or health” could be used to justify anything. want an abortion because you feel that a child is going to get in the way of your career? cite mental stress as health. want to have an abortion because you don’t want another child cite mental health reasons again. “or health” is a misleading descriptor.

    if an individual procures an abortion, it should be done by their will and their money, their individual plan, and their group plan IF the employer chooses to do so. no group plan should be forced to cover it (ironic that the pro choice lobby is against giving purchasers of insurance the choice to opt out of abortion coverage)

    an employer or individual may have no right to ask for the specific details of procedures, but they do carry a right when purchasing insurance plans for group coverage to make sure the plans they buy are not in conflict with their conscience. therefore, it should be an employer or individual’s right to have available plans up front which do not use the employer or individual’s money to contribute to abortion and if so chosen, contraceptives. whether I personally believe in that is irrelevant, there are enough out there who do so as to make it a valid application of the first amendment.

    again, if an employer chooses to offer abortion coverage that is their business, but it should not be obligated to do so.

  • ahermit

    What makes you qualified to judge the health needs of any other person; especially those of a pregnant woman who is experiencing something you will never have to?

    Nobody offers “abortion coverage.” They offer health insurance, which should be suited to the needs of the individual who will be using it.

  • Jon Fermin

    So what I am saying is wrong because I am male? that’s quite sexist. and really all you have is a name and a photo to go on. how would you know whether or not these responses are being ghostwritten by a female? Honestly, you don’t and practically speaking, it is irrelevant. I would say I’m willing to bet I’m about as qualified as you are concerning health needs. and what I do know is that under the language used in obamacare specifically, that “all insurance providers cover the full range of FDA-approved drugs and devices” also includes substances such as Ella and RU486. these drugs are chemical abortifacients, and the wording of the plan and the mandate are designed to sidestep the hyde amendment.

    if one wants to obtain an abortion they can currently do so with their own time and money, others should not be obligated through their coverage plans to pay for what many would consider a sinful act, particularly one that under the vast majority of circumstances serves no useful medical purpose. we may agree to disagree on the usefulness of abortion but I think there is room to agree that our fundamental constitutional rights should not be abridged in the process, and that individuals, including individuals who purchase group plans should be able to exercise their first amendment rights in their purchasing decisions. this in no way prevents an individual from attaining an abortion if they will to do so, but it prevents others from being an unwilling or unwitting asset to providing one. If purchasers of group plans plan to omit this coverage from their plans I think they should be up front with their employees about it and offer their justification for this. this way there are no surprises or ambiguities. if individuals want the coverage or these drugs/procedures they remain free to purchase their own coverage for it or just purchase it out right.

  • ahermit

    I am asking you what qualifies you to speak for the health needs of women.

    If part of the compensation for a job is health insurance that insurance should serve the needs of the individual receiving the compensation, not the religious prejudices of the employer. Do you really want a system where you’re employer can dictate religious practices to their employees? Because that is what you are advocating here.

  • Jon Fermin

    that is not at all what I am advocating. what I am advocating is a system where both the employee and the employer have the ability to facilitate their first amendment rights under the constitution. I am not telling the employer or employee who or what to worship, merely that if an organization identifies under a particular religious affiliation, they reserve their constitutional rights to manage their company according to the dictates of their conscience. this is a position which has been tried time and again by the supreme court (most recently in Hosanna-Tabor V EEOC) and has come to side with the first amendment rights of churches and religious organizations. the existential threat of religious organizations facing financial wipeout due to the HHS mandate is very real and current exemption laws are so narrow, Jesus himself would not qualify. I urge you to consider real life cases where this is occurring like Little Sisters of the Poor and Christian Brothers V Sebellius. Actual professing religious orders and their affiliated charitable services are coming under fire due to this poorly written law. the fact is by continuing the path this mandate goes down it will have repercussions that will negatively impact the ability for all to exercise their constitutional rights.

  • ahermit

    Your approach forces the employee to conform to the employer’s religious beliefs.

    This is contrary to the principles of the first amendment which protect the rights of individuals, not corporate bodies. See US v. Lee for example which found that an Amish employer had to hold back social security contributions for their employees even thought this was claimed to violate the Amish faith. http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/455/252/

    The court ruled that because they are participating in a secular marketplace and hiring in that marketplace they cannot impose religious beliefs on their employees.

    If the Little Sisters want to help the elderly and poor they are free to do so, if they do so strictly as a religious organization that might be one thing, but If being unable to impose their religious beliefs on their non-Catholic employees stops them form being charitable that’s their choice I suppose,

  • Jon Fermin

    the little sisters are again not imposing their beliefs, they are simply asking that their’s be respected. again, this does not inhibit a person from purchasing their own contraceptives and abortifacients, but they under no circumstances, can provide any material aid towards an abortion and there is plenty of documentation to back that up. why do you want these nuns to go about violating their conscience or face the alternative of kicking out every elderly resident and volunteer that’s not Catholic. if they want the exemption that’s the scenario government is forcing them into. It’s rather ironic that you mention the Amish. they’re exempted from this law. but a group of nuns running a nursing home can’t qualify for a religious exemption? really who is imposing on who now?

  • ahermit

    They are imposing their beliefs if they try to dictate to their employees how those employees can use their earned compensation; in this case their health insurance. I tend to put the rights of individuals ahead of institutions.

    If they choose to participate in the secular market they have to play by the same rules as everyone else. I believe the Amish are exempted only insofar as they act as individual purchasers of health care; not as employers in the secular job market.

  • Jon Fermin

    we can keep going back and forth like this but it comes down to this:

    Institutions have first amendment rights as do individuals whether you like it or not. the coverage is not just earned compensation. it’s a transaction which involves 3 parties. the group policy purchaser, the employee and the insurer. all parties involved are due their constitutional rights in their respective parts of the process. All three parties are equal under the law. There is no playing favorites over who gets special treatment. If you wish to play favorites and say some are more equal than others, that is your prerogative, but seriously I am done talking about this and going over the same things again and again.

  • ahermit

    Nope, we’re probably never going to agree. In such an unequal relationship as the one you describe where there is a conflict of interests I’m always going to come down on the side of the individual over the more powerful collective institution.

    So we’ll leave it there then. Best of luck to you, and thank you for a civil disagreement.

  • Jon Fermin

    also given the changes in law due to Obamacare, religious charity organizations are being forced into demanding religious affiliation if they want to be exempt from paying for abortions through their insurance plans.

    take for example the little sisters of the poor. they are a group of nuns who run nursing homes for low income elderly who can’t afford a nursing home but also can’t live alone. because they do not ask for a religious affirmation of the people they take in or of the volunteers who assist them, they are according to the administration not a religious organization. Therefore they do not qualify for an exemption to abortion coverage in their group plans. they would then have 2 choices: kick out anyone in their homes who are not Catholic and remove all employees and volunteers who are not Catholic (which they will not do) or drop insurance benefits to employees. if in response they drop coverage in accordance with their conscience, the fines alone would be enough to wipe them out or seriously damage them.

    source: ( http://www.becketfund.org/religious-sisters-file-first-class-action-lawsuit-against-controversial-hhs-mandate/ )

  • http://www.godvertiser.com/ Kenny Jahng
  • Lee

    That is inspiring. I hope more churches will follow their lead. I still believe in government help but this is a good adjunct.

  • Lee

    So sorry about the tragedy in your family but what a great example. When people make comments about how churches should handle things then they are not thinking things through. They also say that people should rely on their families for help. But what if family can’t help? I am disabled and while my 85 year old father does help with extra expenses from time to time, he cannot afford to pay all my living expenses and medical care. He is also helping other members of the family financially as well, much more than me. He had to set his foot down and tell them that he could go bankrupt if he paid their medical bills so now they have government insurance. My Dad is a conservative both in politics and religion but he is practical enough to realize that the government has to have some programs to help people who need them. As it is his savings are taking a huge hit right now.
    He has been annoyed because my sister is disabled but waited a long time to apply for disability. She is going through a disability advocate now. But having the church to fall back on is a big joke. My sister needed a steriod shot for her back a while back that cost about $700. Her church generously paid for that. But that was a one-time deal. The church does not have the resources to pay for regular medical care. And even if everyone gave 10% I still doubt that they could pay.

  • Lee

    Unfortunately there are many Christians like that. I have encountered that as well. If these people actually cared about other people’s souls, then they would realize that giving a helping hand is far better than tracts or sermons any day.

    I have had people harass me to get a job and they even harassed my father to try to get him to make me get a job. He doesn’t buy that. The fact is that I have a chronic illness and do not know how I would feel from day to day. I would get fired from a job within the first week because I would not be able to keep up with the work. I am hoping to find a way to make money online from a blog though.

    Yes we all live mostly in our heads but one thing that hardship can do is to make us more empathetic. So in a certain way it can be a blessing. Everyone on this planet has experienced hardship of some sort or another, but it seems to me that with a lot of people it just makes them hard and uncaring. The old “lift yourself up by the bootstraps” philosophy should be put to rest.

  • Lee

    Yes the Tea Publicans compare things to when we were governed by the English. The Boston Tea Party WAS NOT about taxes, but about taxation WITHOUT REPRESENTATION.
    These so called “Patriots” think that they are the only “true Americans” so therefore no one else has a say. So they actually think that having democrats in control IS THE SAME as having “foreign oppressors”!

  • R Vogel

    I get angry too. Especially in the last couple of weeks. But when clarity returns I try to remember that all of this is rooted in fear. I was on this site a picture of a conservative protester whose sign said ‘Mad as Hell and Scared to Death’ I think he had it in the wrong order. The anger is fueled by fear of a loss of power due to the world changing. For the better part of 237 years WASPs had a sold hold on the powers of culture and government. Now that is slipping and the fear of the unknown is one of the most basic evolutionary mechanisms of survival. Many accuse them of being racist against President Obama, but I think that is overly simple simplistic – what they really fear is that in the last election, when they pulled out all the stop, the lost an election because they lost every demographic that was not old and white. The President is one man, it is the political power that got him there for the second time that really scares them, and rightly so. That which cannot adapt goes extinct. Notice their reaction was not to adapt, but to try to pass voter suppression laws everywhere they could in order to try and stem the tide rising against them. One unusually honest ultra-con who I was having a conversation all but admitted it to me – in discussion immigration reform, I said the Cons were making themselves look foolish when prominent members of their party worked to put together a comprehensive immigration reform package together and they rejected it out of hand. The demographics of the country are changing, I noted, implying this not put them in a favorable light. And they should hasten this process with immigration reform? was his response. There was not even an inkling that they might want to think about becoming more inclusive. Nope. They just need to stop people who don’t think like them from voting. Notice how well all this parallels the last major time a group of people lost considerable political power in this country – reconstruction. And what was the result? 100 years of Jim Crow.

  • Lee

    Very good analysis. I encountered a Tea Publican online who actually said that the only people who cannot afford health insurance are those who spend their money on expensive houses, cars and vacations! And a lot of people upvoted him!

  • gimpi1

    That kind of delusion is almost unimaginable to me. With medical bills the highest source of people going bankrupt in the US, the amount of willful ignorance involved in that statement is staggering. And liking such ignorance is just sad.

  • Heather McCuen Dearmon

    hi Benjamin.i addressed this issue in my blog (which is not nearly as well-written or patiently presented as yours) back in June 2012. you may read it at the link below if you like. please note that the friend i mention who has suffered from a chronic disorder for 15 years, ended up taking her life in December 2012. she was unable to afford to see a doctor. http://4dearlife.blogspot.com/2012_06_01_archive.html

  • Skip Patterson

    “why doesn’t the Church give so much, that the government doesn’t have to step in at all?”

    And that’s the key breakdown to their argument. If the church was doing it’s part as proclaimed by Jesus, then social welfare programs would have never become an issue to begin with. Sorry Christians, you had your chance now it is a problem that the government has to deal with.