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.

 

About Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey, is an Anabaptist author, speaker, and blogger. He is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Theology & Missiology), is currently a 3rd year Doctor of Missiology student (a subset of practical theology) at Fuller Seminary, and is a member of the Phi Alpha Chi Honors Society. His first book, Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, is available now at your local bookstore. He is also a contributor for Time, Sojourners, Red Letter Christians, Evangelicals for Social Action, Mennonite World Review, has been a guest on Huffington Post Live, and is one of the CANA Initiators. Ben is also a syndicated author for MennoNerds, a collective of Mennonite and Anabaptist writers. Ben is also co-host of That God Show with Matthew Paul Turner. Ben lives in Auburn, Maine with his wife Tracy and his daughter Johanna.

You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Sillama

    Good challenge, Ben! I’m completely behind your proposal 100%. I’m putting my money where my mouth is, too. Can’t talk about it publicly, but am helping a family of 5 to get enough heat for the Maine winter.

    • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

      That’s awesome! We’re having a gentle fall here in Maine, so I’m sure we’ll pay for it in February. That’s very generous of you!

  • Carrie Ann Dressler

    I think you are in my head. I am on the same journey from fundamentalism to something else I have not yet been able to define, but hopefully something closer to a Jesus lover and follower than I was before. And my journey also began with a growing awareness of social justice and liberation from oppression as central to Jesus’ teaching. Now I am pursuing a second master’s in social justice and community development. This post is just one of many that has me shouting AMEN! in agreement. Thank you for giving voice to my inner struggle and my conscience and my love for Jesus. I look forward to your posts, and am often freaked out about how closely your thoughts align with mine. Keep up the great work! It is much appreciated!

    • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

      Glad to have you, Carrie! I don’t know if I can define it either, but we’ll travel together.

  • gimpi1

    I have often heard this statement regarding churches taking responsibility for caring for the disadvantaged. Here is my story, which may explain why I disagree with that idea:

    Both my parents were disabled, my father through traumatic brain-injury in a work-related accident and my mother wheelchair-bound because of childhood polio and rheumatoid arthritis. My father had to be medically retired in his early 40′s because of the accident. I was eight, and my sister was one year old.

    My mother was able to teach sewing part-time and do some dressmaking, but her health made this chancy at best. My dad required a great deal of care. Because of Social Security disability and Worker’s Compensation, we were able to survive. We had basic medical care, though glasses and the dentist often went begging. (I still have dental problems because of this.) We had a roof over our heads, clothing and food, and both my sister and I grew up fine. We are both college educated professionals (we both got partial scholarships and financial aid,) both married, we contribute to society as a whole. As the eldest, I took care of my parents until their deaths, with my sister’s help. My mother died when I was 22, my father when I was 35.

    No church could have taken this on. No one church could have provided housing, food, medical care, education for two girls for 20-some years, no church could have provided for my parents until their deaths. Without governmental assistance, my family would most have likely wound up homeless or dead. I consider my family a success story, but it’s a success that would have been impossible with private charity only.

    • Jeff_Dovalovsky

      Churches today couldn’t do that much, but if churches used all the money their members currently pay in taxes, and all members tithed on top of that, and those who could gave what extra they had beyond even that, then yes, they would be able to provide food, medical care, and education.

      • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

        In that scenario, theoretically, they could. However, the question becomes: would they? Honestly, I don’t think we’re that generous as people, especially in American culture– Christians or not.

        • gimpi1

          In my experience, Ben, they won’t. People will grasp at straws to judge and condemn suffering people to avoid having to take any responsibility to help. I saw that happen with my parents. I once had a neighbor rail at me (at the age of 10) about how “people like my parents should be kept out of nice neighborhoods, because they would bring down property-values, and we were all lazy trash” since I guess we couldn’t keep our yard up to his standard. My father was recovering from a cycle of seizures. My mother was, as mentioned, wheelchair bound. I, the oldest, was a small, and not strong 10 years old.

          He didn’t offer to mow the lawn, pull some weeds, or hire a yard-service. He was able-bodied and well-off. He simply didn’t want to help out. He wanted things fixed without any effort on his part. And if he couldn’t have that, he would judge and condemn a 10-year old girl disparately trying to take care of her ill parents and toddler sister. And I know, from talking to him later, that he considered himself a Christian.

          He wasn’t a bad person. Just self-focused, not very empathic, and a bit of a loud-mouth. He didn’t apologize, in later years, when I talked to him about this. (He did this kind of thing several times over the years.) He did admit, however, to not understanding our situation, and that he never tried to understand. This is the norm, in my opinion. We all live mostly in our own heads.

      • kimmcc

        Really? For every family in that community with crippling needs? How do you mathematically come to that conclusion? The arguments made by conservatives are based on ideas that are convenient to their positions and but based on nothing more than a prideful conclusion that if they formulated the thought it must hold water (because it came from them and they are righteous). In reality not everyone in the church makes enough money to pay taxes and must use the income tax returns to make ends meet. Many churches are comprised of mostly low income people. Even if each gave 10%+ it’s not going far as utility rate hikes, gasoline and grocery prices increase faster than the minimum wage. It’s a nice idea, but altogether impractical still. The cost of medical care and support for every household bill and groceries for one family alone with a major medical illness would easily run through many church budgets. Also, how do you account for cycles that churches experience in fluctuating membership rolls? Government has been sanctioned by God. Submission to government is biblical. Hatred and anarchy are sin. You can’t change that. Like any sin you can choose to remain in it but your life then denies Christ as Lord.

      • gimpi1

        I frankly doubt it, Jeff. I’ve never seen it happen. Look around the world, to places with significantly lower taxes, little social services, and you see massive poverty. Look at countries with higher taxes, high levels of social services and you see much less poverty, especially among the disabled.

        I think you also profoundly underestimate the amount of your tax-burden that goes to social services. The military, social security and medicare take up the vast majority of all governmental spending.

        Also, churches tend to help their own. They also often make conversion a condition of aid. You may see that as acceptable, assuming your church will be giving out aid, but what if you are in need, and the church most able to help is not your own. Should you have to convert to save your child’s life? Would you?

  • http://faithlikeaman.blogspot.com/ Ryan Blanchard

    Do a mic drop, Ben. Earned it.

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    It is sad that these Christian conservatives fail to recognize what the message of Jesus truly is

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/the-central-message-of-jesus-die-zentrale-botschaft-von-jesus-unten/

    How many percent of the New Testament deals with homosexuality? Less than 0.01%.

    How many percent deals with social justice? More than 10%.

    And what do the cons? Focusing all their efforts on gay marriage while ignoring the crying social injustices within the American society.

    Actually, they do even worse: they PERPETUATE these injustices by denying to the children of poor parents the same right concerning healthcare as the children of rich parents.

    By the way Ben, I greatly admire you for having the courage to speak about your past mistakes. It is also great you’ve remained a Christian and not become a resentful atheist like many former fundamentalists.

    Lovely greetings from France.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    Who Shut Down the Government?

    This is the best explanation that I have heard (read) yet:

    http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/sowell100413.php3#.Uk5IDBbfQeo

    Pass it on.

    __

    Of course you are right. Christians ought always do whatever they can do.

    So should everyone, for that matter.

    Thanks.

    • kimmcc

      The article linked here is misguided nonsense. Perfect example of oversimplification on the right cloaked in faux “common sense for common folk.” The people have spoken #november42012.

      • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

        Actually, it is fact.

        But many people hate facts.

        • gimpi1

          Sorry, I checked it out. It’s not factual. It’s a mass of cherry-picking and innuendo. But thanks for playing.

    • Sven2547

      Conservatives yesterday: “Democrats are the party of huge government! SHUT IT DOWN!”
      Conservatives today: “Democrats are totally responsible for the shutdown. Totally.”

  • R Vogel

    I think you miss part of the issue, however. ‘The Church’ wants to be responsible so they can determine who is worthy of their help. How many memes do we see decrying people getting food stamps who own an iPhone – as if you can somehow judge peoples need by what kind of a phone you carry. Or how many times do we hear that ‘poor people in America aren’t poor, look at (fill in the blank with some 3rd world nation) that’s poverty!’ Of course they are also against foreign aid, but that doesn’t matter. The problem with government programs is they can’t weed out the people they think are unworthy of assistance. Hence the efforts to tie drug tests to public assistance, regardless of the fact that it make a false assumption that poor people are more likely to use drugs, and in the short time it was implemented was a total, costly failure.

    • JenellYB

      Exactly! I have heard it expressed again and again by the “churchly” conservatives among my circle, in these matters, it is not only through any donating to their churches they want to exercise power and control over who is judged worthy or not, but PERSONALLY! That they do not believe “MY TAX DOLLARS” should be taken from ME and given to someone else I don’t have any say it. I want to decide for MYSELF WHO I HELP OR GIVE ANYTHING TO! They want any in need to have to come personally before them on their knees to beg and prove to THEM PERSONALLY they meet their own personal approval for being worthy of their help! That selfishness and arrogance about this from churched Christians I know just stuns me!

    • kimmcc

      Ahhh! There’s the rub. The arguments against government are in reality arguments against certain people. Which is why so many are willing to forego medical insurance for themselves as long as it will hurt those they hate and fear. The reality is that poor people are more likely to use illegal drugs due to the constant overwhelming issues involved related to poverty day in and day out and the human response to seek escape from any type of bondage and not because of some inherent character issues that the right want to believe. People of means have the very same human response to overwhelming stress. They just have legal vehicles.

      • R Vogel

        Well put, although I still have not seen any hard evidence to support the claim that poor people use drugs in larger numbers than anyone else. From my own experience, admittedly not universal, I have found people use drugs throughout the social strata. I always like to challenge my Con friends and family when they rail against ‘the government’ with who exactly this entity ‘the government’ is that they speak of? They talk like we are an occupied nation having dictates handed down to us from foregin oppressors, rather than a government elected by the people who represent both the best and worse in us at the same time. I’m sure you can imagine the repsonse. ;)

    • gimpi1

      And, as I said in an above post, many people will put lots of effort into that judging, trying to find some reason that a person is “unworthy” of help. Lots more effort, in my experience, than they will put into trying to help anyone.

      I think it’s driven by a combination of innate selfishness (we all suffer from that) and very real helplessness because churches really can’t address the needs out there. If you can’t solve the problem and you are politically against the government working to solve the problem, the easiest solution is to decide the problem doesn’t exist. If no “deserving” people are truly poor, there is no problem, so your inability to fix it isn’t helplessness and your dislike of governmental solutions isn’t selfishness.

  • Lori

    This is a very sensitive topic for me. Just this last summer my son got very sick. He has an auto-immune disease and had a bad flare up. We almost lost him. He was in the hospital for awhile and had to take 8 weeks off of work. He works full time and goes to school full time. He has a wife and 2 little boys. They would constantly let their bishop and RS pres. know what was going on. No one from their ward visited but what made it worse is when he finally asked for assistance from the bishop after the families gave all they could the bishop didn’t think they were worthy to get help. He didn’t think they were active and they were, he demanded to show him their temple recommends and the rs pres. searched their kitchen to see if they really needed help. He questioned them about their tithing and said that they don’t give very much. My son told him that that is all they make. It was a horrible experience and I know that not all bishops are like this but it has left a bad taste in my mouth with the church really wanting to help the poor. Also, they do get WIC so that helps a little and grateful for that.

    • The Irish Atheist

      It’s true that ‘not all bishops are like that.’ But it’s true that not all snakes are poisonous. I won’t, however, be reaching out to pick up a strange snake on the off chance that it won’t harm me, because once you’ve been bitten time and again, you learn to avoid snakes in general.

    • gimpi1

      That’s my experience as well, Lori. People work very hard to avoid actually helping anyone. Why are his church activity, tithing or temple recommendations the way his bishop wanted to decide weather or not his kids got fed. What if one of his kids got sick? Would this bishop dithered around while the child died?

      I think your scriptures have that “Judge not lest ye be judged” instruction for a reason. We human beings frankly stink at judging. So lets stop sitting in judgement of the hurting, and just help out.

  • Ruaidhrí Ó Domhnaill

    I wouldn’t hold my breath for the church to do much, if anything. They wouldn’t be willing to help everyone… only “the right sort” of Christian who has a recommendation from a pastor. Then there would be six weeks of counseling to determine what sin the poor wretch had committed, causing god’s wrath to fall upon him/her. Then a time of repentance, with minimal financial assistance, a portion of which would be diverted to defray the cost of (volunteer) counseling, until at last the sinner has given up and stopped trying to shamelessly rob “the lard’s treasury.”

    • The Irish Atheist

      It’s like you had cameras pointed at my childhood.

      • Ruaidhrí Ó Domhnaill

        I did… I’m creepy that way.

    • kimmcc

      My former mega church had an even more bizarre process and some were never called back after the process because they just fell through the gaping (possibly deliberate) cracks. I tried to stand up for one woman (because I was so ashamed and she was being evicted the following day) but I was ‘rebuked’ for failing to honor the leadership.

      • gimpi1

        I hope you told them exactly what you thought of them before you left. This kind of cruelty should be challenged. Well done for getting away from them, anyway.

  • Pat68

    One of the very conservative elders in an evangelical church I used to attend, said in reference to funding an outreach ministry to the poor: “God didn’t call us to save the world.” Now, mind you, the ministry was already up and running and was very successful. But I suspect his beef with it was that it was an organic ministry that had sprung up and people had gotten really excited about it versus one of the long-established in-house ministries of the church. So, while some may not want the government doing it, others don’t even want the church to do it either. I guess those are the real hardcore boot-strappers.

  • Levi

    Ben,

    Your call for increased charity is good. Christians are called to care for the poor and disadvantaged and they’re not doing enough. While they do more than most, neither those in need nor God grade on a curve. On this, I cheer you on.

    But in addition to this call for generosity, you are also presenting an argument. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but this argument looks roughly like this:

    1. Conservatives claim that voluntary charity is preferable to government welfare programs, but have been crowded out by various federal welfare programs.

    2. Because the federal government is shut down, private charity is (or will be, if the shutdown lasts long enough) the only game in town.

    3. If private charity is in fact able to meet needs during a shutdown, it would demonstrate that (1) is correct and federal welfare programs are redundant and can be eliminated.

    4. If private charity is not able to meet needs during the shutdown, that demonstrates that (1) is invalid.

    I see a few weaknesses in that argument. There is a huge difference between a federal shut down for a political genital-measuring contest and a system wherein private charity is large and public welfare programs are small or non-existent. It is not an apples-to-apples comparison. (It’s not even apples-to-oranges, it’s more like apples-to-desklamp.)

    1. Since an extended shutdown would not only affect social services but all governmental functions, it would have deleterious economic effects that both increase need for social services above the status quo ante and degrade private charity’s ability to fund them.

    2. Even if charitable giving increased significantly during the shutdown, one cannot simply flip a switch and scale up private charity to that extent. Structures must be in place handle the volume; that doesn’t happen overnight.

    3. Even though federal spending on social programs during a shutdown is curtailed, the IRS is most certainly still open for business and taxation is at a level that takes spending on social welfare programs into account. The same dollars can’t both go to the government and private charity.

    Should we step up our giving to relief for the poor, the homeless, orphans, widows, the disabled, the hungry, etc? Absolutely. But it is disingenuous to say that conservative ideas are invalidated if it doesn’t happen in sufficient quantity to offset temporarily closed government programs.

    • kimmcc

      Waiting not-so-patiently on the edge of my seat for Ben’s reply on this. But I think he is saying that conservative ideas are invalidated, not “if it doesn’t happen in sufficient quantity to offset…,” but because they were misguided to begin with. I think he is using the shutdown and satire just to make the point. (bated breath).

      • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

        Exactly correct, Kim. Private charity– though nice, can’t replace government and I used satire to prove the point.

        • Levi

          Thanks for clearing that up, Ben. Here I thought you were willing to actually look at the question in a fair and objective way but had some sloppy reasoning along the way. Silly me — you only wanted to mock conservatives! Of course, it’s your right to mock anyone you please, it’s just terribly small-minded.

          • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

            Oh, I’ve looked at the question– I used to believe it, even. I just see zero plausibility that the Church could, or even would be willing, to care for the poor and vulnerable on the scale of government. But, like I said in the piece, I’d love to be proven wrong.

          • gimpi1

            I don’t see it as small-minded if your facts are in error. When I look around the world, I don’t see anyplace where private charity provides for the poor in much of a substantial way. I see many places where tax-supported government-administered programs do. We can argue if governments should care about or alleviate suffering. We can’t argue that the can do it. Where, around the world, do you see private charity managing to carry this burden?

  • RaymondSwenson

    If my Federal income tax were cut in half, I would have thousands of dollars more that I could donate to charitable causes, enough to sustain a small family, or to aid several of the “working poor”. As it is, I am donating about 10% of my income to my church and other charitable causes, and about 35% is going to income tax.
    One of the reasons aid through a church can be more cost effective is that it is administered largely through unpaid volunteers. It also typically includes encouragement to make lifestyle changes that improve health, decrease pathologies, and increase the ability to support onesself.
    Though churches are not taxed on income, what they buy is taxed as a sales transaction, and it pays people and businesses who pay taxes on their income, so it is not a net loss of tax revenue. As recipients of aid are helped to become self-sustaining, they contribute to tax revenue instead of draining it.
    If there are unmet needs of the poor, how can Obama justify giving hundreds of millions of dollars to baloney “green energy” companies?

    • The Irish Atheist

      And yet, in first century Judaea, the Roman tax rate was 65% of gross income or agricultural output. The Jews, most of whom scratched out a living from dirt and lived in incomprehensible poverty compared to 21st Century America, gave 65% of everything they made to the Romans. This rate was not arbitrary, it was meticulously planned by the Romans so that a foreign people would have enough to live to the next day, but no way to prosper and thereby have no resources to cause trouble with.

      And yet Jesus, whom I’m sure was very aware of what the Roman tax rate was, told his Apostles “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” At least, he did if you believe your own holy book. So the pitifully poor apostles were commanded by Jesus to give what they owed the government that conquered them.

      So the lesson we have learned is this. Despite having an exponentially larger amount of wealth than the apostles did, despite being taxed at a much lower rate than the apostles were, despite participating in a government instead of being conquered by one, Raymond Swenson needs more than the apostles, and therefore the one thing Jesus ever said about taxes doesn’t apply to him.

      Christianity is fun!

      • kimmcc

        And yet he will view your insight, not as something to carefully consider, but as persecution for his faith in Jesus Christ. BTW, Christianity is not what Raymond is promoting. Notice his statement “It also typically includes encouragement to make lifestyle changes that improve health, decrease pathologies, and increase the ability to support onesself.” He has character and behavioral assessments based on wealth vs. poverty and making it a religious practice. This is exactly what Jesus ridiculed the Pharisees for doing. Again, that is not Christianity. It is an Americanized, self-aggrandizing ideology cloaked in religious behaviors and hiding behind stained glass windows.

    • kimmcc

      The problem is that you just because you ‘could’ doesn’t mean you would. And if you would, then how would you and your church members decide who you were comfortable supporting and who was “baloney”? Based on Jesus’ standard (need) or your own? If you’re federal income tax is that high, great for you. But one’s income is not an indication of Christ-likeness. A higher income bracket is not the measurement God uses to determine character and neither is a low income. Ask God to show you why you question “IF” there are unmet needs of the poor and why your opposition is centered on a President when all but one program for the poor were established before he was old enough to vote.

    • gimpi1

      So how would you have handled my family situation, that I described above?

      Also, my husband is a geologist. I assure you, we are past Peak Oil. Without alternative-energy development, we will soon be in a world of hurt. Most start-up technologies experience problems, and work them out as they develop. There’s nothing baloney about alternative energy development. It will be glitchy, it will take governmental support, but we need to do it. We should have started 30 years ago.

  • James_Jarvis

    If tax cuts led to more charity to the poor as some conservative Christians claim then the poor and marginalized should be better of when taxes are cut. This is not the case so obviously cutting taxes does not improve the lives of the poor but merely increases the amount of wealth that the those at the top retain for themselves.

  • thrasymachus02

    Actually, no, “social justice and liberation from oppression” is *not* central to the message of Jesus. Central to the message of Jesus is worship of God in truth and not in man-made rules designed to increase the social status of those making them. A Sermon on the Mount Pharisee is different from a Deuteronomy Pharisee, but he’s still a Pharisee.

    • Ymoore

      Please explain what a “Sermon on the Mountain” Pharisee is. I don’t get it.

      • thrasymachus02

        It would include such ideas as that those identified as poor and oppressed have priority over all others- expressed in Roman Catholicism as liberation theology and the preferential option for the poor, demand for the unconditional forgiveness of unrepentant criminals, and the refusal to judge any bad behavior by those identified as poor and oppressed.

        • Ymoore

          Say you set aside Jesus’ Sermon on the Mountain, what do you do with Jesus’ other teachings on the poor? Like Lazarus and the Rich man?

        • Jon Fermin

          As a Catholic, I don’t appreciate the mischaracterization here. the preferential option for the poor is not the same as liberation theology (which is an error the popes have universally spoken against, ever since it’s inception in 1971) and there is nothing in the church’s teaching that demands “unconditional forgiveness of unrepentant criminals, and the refusal to judge any bad behavior by those identified as poor and oppressed.”

          Preferential option for the poor more clearly indicates that the poor are to be preferred in ways that eliminate obstacles prohibiting normal societal growth. this idea is much more nuanced than you allude to and it would take a long time to write it all down, I suggest giving a read to the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church” for a good overview

          that all being said, I should reiterate, emphasizing the needs of society over and above our salviifc needs with a mostly universal emphasis towards political ends and means is consistent with the ideals of Liberation Theology and should be avoided in lieu of other alternatives.

  • ahermit

    This suggestion that private, religious alternatives to tax funded social programs would work better might sound good to some, but in the real world it just doesn’t work that way.

    Case in point here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/10/06/the-jesus-backed-pension-plans-are-failing/

    “Presently, the retirement plan’s trust is severely underfunded,” the CEO [of St. Mary's Hospital] wrote to employees in early 2011, blaming investment losses and the hospital’s decision not to put any money into one of its pension plans for more than a decade. “As a federally recognized church plan,” he continued, St. Mary’s had the right to do that — and there was no government pension insurance to fall back on.

    Simply as a matter of scale there’s no way an uncoordinated collection of competing religious organizations can reliably provide an effective alternative to a national, federally funded public service.

    • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

      Exactly. I think private charity does a TON of good will in the world today, but it simply can’t operate on the scale of government. A good partner, yes– but the only game in town? Wouldn’t work.

      • Jon Fermin

        is it possible that legislation over time has been crafted to create obstacles to prevent charities and churches from effectively performing this function? one example would be the HHS mandate of Obamacare which would force an organization for example that wished to provide help to the poor via a low cost insurance program to also have to cover abortafacient drugs? Most churches would find that unethical. if they try to serve the poor generally, this legislation will cut them out of the loop, if they serve only those within their church they may be able do so through a loophole but at the cost of being accused of being self serving and insular. Churches can, if given the legislative freedom to do so, do more.

        • ahermit

          1) Insurance isn’t exactly a charitable work.

          2) This wouldn’t even be an issue if you had universal single payer health insurance…

          • Jon Fermin

            Actually historically speaking, insurance has it’s origins in charity work. it was a means of mitigating damage by voluntary subsidization.

            if we had a single payer system, our tax monies would still go towards it’s applications. unfortunately the degree to which we abdicate our moral responsibilities is directly proportional to the degree we abdicate our moral rights, in this regard the issue would most assuredly still exist.

          • ahermit

            Your contributions pay for your coverage, that doesn’t give you the right to dictate what other people’s coverage should be. That wouldn’t be very charitable, would it?

          • Jon Fermin

            as being someone who has worked as an outsourced agent in HR for multiple companies, the percentage that an employer pays into a group plan far outweighs the amount the employee pays. aside from that, the government under the constitution is not permitted to force an individual or entity to purchase or cover a product or procedure which violates their 1st amendment rights. and seeing as material cooperation with sin (in the case of abortion inducing drugs as one example) is a violation of that constitutional right then the person or entity should not be forced to violate his conscience. this in no way inhibits the employee from obtaining these products. taken theologically, if one refuses to be an enabler of another’s sin, they are acting in charity, with an aim towards preserving one from sin.

          • ahermit

            Nobody is forcing you to pay for anything other than your own insurance premium. What right do you have to dictate to others what kid of care they can or cannot receive?

            In that ridiculous system you have in the US a company pays for insurance as part of the compensation paid to an employee. What the employee does with their compensation is their business, not the employer’s. A Muslim or Jewish employer can’t tell their employees that the money they earn can’t be spent on pork chops, can they?

            In a public single payer system, like the rest of the developed world has in one form or another, you pay your taxes and as part of the public benefit extended to all citizens you get health coverage, regardless of your religious beliefs.

          • Jon Fermin

            abortion is not healthcare, at best it is an elective procedure designed to stop a natural and healthy process. the law doesn’t say liposuction is covered, or a face lift. why should I cover or contribute in costs for an elective procedure especially one that is considered a sin.

          • gimpi1

            In my family’s situation that I described above, we were frequently judged. We were “lazy.” Polio and traumatic brain damage apparently count as lazy. We were “unsettling” to be around. People are often afraid of those with brain-damage. My parents never should have had kids. Of course, my dad was able to work when I was born. On and on it went.

            The simple fact is private charity couldn’t have kept my family together. We kids could have been carted off to an orphanage. My parents would have almost certainly would up on the street. Governmental programs in the form of Social Security disability and Worker’s Compensation kept us together, gave us at least a measure of dignity, and enabled my sister and I to grow up to be productive people. How’s that for moral rights?

          • Jon Fermin

            I am happy that the program has worked for you. in no way am I disparaging a government program when it does something right. my point is however, in times when government does something with our money that is morally wrong, we are forced into cooperation with this with our funds. would it be moral for example if one lived in the antebellum south, for tax monies go towards subsidizing plantations that worked slaves? this is the danger that I warn against. if we contribute towards the enabling of others to act in sin as our agents, and we knowingly do nothing to oppose it, we share to an extent in their culpability. therefore it is best that when possible we minimize the opportunity for error in agency. it means either vigilance in scrutinizing those who act on our behalf or if in situations where this cannot provide a moral solution, withdrawal from said agency. this does not make government programs evil persay, but for the sake of our own moral rights under the first amendment, safeguards and conscientious exemption guarantees must be made. exemptions which sadly our modern legislation lacks and has no intention of supporting unless forced to by legal means.

          • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

            Jon– I hear what you’re saying, but did they have these exemptions in
            the time of Christ? It seems he directed them to pay their taxes to the
            Roman government, even though they were being oppressed and murdered by
            that same government. Your argument makes sense as an American, but I
            think if we simply look at the message of Jesus, he tells us to pay our
            taxes to secular government, period– even if they are oppressing and
            killing us. If I understand your argument correctly, the disciples would have been justified in pushing back against Jesus, citing an objection as to how Rome was going to spend the money. No?

          • Jon Fermin

            Archbishop Charles J Chaput tackled this question once in a homily he gave in Philadelphia.
            I’ll provide an excerpt for reference.


            “Most of us know today’s passage from the Gospel of Matthew. What we should, or should not, render unto Caesar shapes much of our daily discourse as citizens. But I want to focus on the other and more important point Jesus makes in today’s Gospel: the things we should render unto God.

            When the Pharisees and Herodians try to trap Jesus, he responds by asking for a coin. Examining it he says, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” When his enemies say “Caesar’s,” he tells them to render it to Caesar. In other words, that which bears the image of Caesar belongs to Caesar.

            The key word in Christ’s answer is “image,” or in the Greek, eikon. Our modern meaning of “image” is weaker than the original Greek meaning. We tend to think of an image as something symbolic, like a painting or sketch. The Greek understanding includes that sense but goes much further. In the New Testament, the “image” of something shares in the nature of the thing itself.

            This has consequences for our own lives because we’re made in the image and likeness of God. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the same word, eikon, is used in Genesis when describing creation. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” says God (Gen 1:26). The implication is clear. To be made in the image of God is more than a pious slogan. It’s a statement of fact. Every one of us shares — in a limited but real way — in the nature of God himself. When we follow Jesus Christ, we grow in conformity to that image.

            Once we understand this, the impact of Christ’s response to his enemies becomes clear. Jesus isn’t being clever. He’s not offering a political commentary. He’s making a claim on every human being. He’s saying, “render unto Caesar those things that bear Caesar’s image, but more importantly, render unto God that which bears God’s image” — in other words, you and me. All of us.”
            —–

            In this regard Jesus in His wisdom both confounded the pharisees, and yet still left the door open for civil disobedience, which in times of unjust law and persecution one may disobey an unjust law so that it may be supplanted with justice, not for our own sake but for the sake of each other as made in God’s image and for the sake of God who stands above caesar. Civil disobedience is found all over early Christianity. when the Romans outlawed Christians from gathering to worship, they disobeyed the law. when the public was pressuring Christians to participate in pagan sacrifice and offered them portions of the meat obtained in sacrifice in Corinth, Paul rightfully rebuked those who participated . it is civil disobedience, and obedience to Christ that allowed pope John Paul II, then a young Karol Wojtyła, to smuggle Jews out of Nazi Occupied Poland to safety. and this is the same sense of civil disobedience that caused Martin Luther King Jr to stage sit ins at segregated establishments. we are bound to the law insofar as laws are just. when they cease to be just, they require our action. and one can justify civil disobedience easily on the basis of an abridgment of religious liberties. Prudence tells us we should seek legal means first. lawsuits, protests, etc. and this is being done, but should legal recourse to unjust laws fail, there is plenty of precedent for civil disobedience to injustice. and disobedience to an unjust tax which ignores our right to a free conscience is an injustice worth fighting.

          • gimpi1

            I can only refer you to your own scriptures, where you are encouraged to judge not. I believe there is a reason for that directive. We, as people, stink at judgement. We look for excuses to condemn people, to avoid having to act. We enjoy feelings of superiority, and moral superiority is one of the most addictive emotions we have.

            i would suggest that perhaps your moral judgement isn’t as perfect as you assume it to be, any more than the people who condemned my handicapped parents to me.

          • Jon Fermin

            “Judge not lest ye be judged” has often been cited in times when people wish to avoid confrontation. but this passage does not mean we are unable to judge whether or not the acts of one another are evil, it is a warning against presuming final judgement, the judgement of whether one is going to go to Heaven or Hell. there are lots of times when the scriptures ask people to enter into moral discernment.

            1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
            1 John 4:1

            even the very same sermon where judge not lest ye be judged comes from contains a warning against false prophets, that we will know them by their fruits. one of the fruits of this legislation has been a class action lawsuit over it’s lack of first amendment protections and a religious exemption so narrow Jesus couldn’t qualify for it. The fact is right now the charity work of a group of nuns is being threatened with shutdown because of the costs of the HHS mandate because they desire to serve christians and non christians. religious schools and hospitals are facing serious existential threat. I am troubled that when asked for a widening to the exemption (a reasonable request), instead what we get is a shell game compromise which only provided semantical change. I do not judge the eternal fate of those who have written this law, but I discern based on it’s fruits that parts of this law like the HHS mandate are evil and must be fought tooth and nail.

          • gimpi1

            Ah, I thought birth-control might just be your bug-a-boo. In that, we will simply have to agree to disagree.

          • Jon Fermin

            whether it is or is not does not change the essence of my argument, that all citizens should be able to act according to the dictates of their conscience as a natural consequence of the free exercise clause of the first amendment.

  • JJ Smith

    As ahermit suggests, the scope of charitable need almost
    requires federal implementation. Couldn’t the economics of any given region hinder
    the ability to address needs? Would churches qualify benevolence on basis of faith
    in spite of need? Indigent benefits are too important to leave to independent
    charity factions that would allow gaping cracks for many people to fall
    through.

  • Seth Harrington

    I, too, face the “shutdown” with a sense of optimism. I, too, am hopeful that the loss of some modern comforts that Americans are so accustomed to might shock some people out of their complacency (and out of their liberalism in some cases). And I also am hopeful that the Church in America might be given more opportunity to shine like the beacon it is after being buried by better-funded government social programs for so long.

    Yet I must take issue with some of your other comments. I emphatically reject the narrative that the Church has somehow failed in its mandate and so govt. has to “step in” and help people. I do so first because it is based on a misunderstanding of the church’s mandate. There is absolutely no mandate in scripture to end poverty, or disease or other problems. Jesus Himself said “you will always have the poor with you.” No, this verse is not an excuse to be complacent, but it IS an acknowledgement that we live in a broken world that is hurtling toward its destruction. We can’t change this, nor should we try.

    Not even Jesus tried to end everyone’s problems. He healed people for example, but there are people he deliberately left unhealed, such as the lame man Peter and John eventually healed. Jesus could have gone up on a roof and said “anyone who is sick, be healed!” and it would have happened. He didn’t. Neither should the Church.

    What the Church should be doing (and is doing, however imperfectly) is ministering to the SPIRITUAL needs first, and other needs secondarily of the people God places in its path. This is all God requires of her, and you have no right to demand more. In fact, if the Church is doing anything wrong, it’s that she places too much emphasis on ministering to people’s physical needs and not enough on their spiritual needs.

    I reject your narrative secondly because it is based on complacent acceptance of the lies of our corrupt government. Do you really believe that if the Church would just expend enough of its resources and exhaust its energy enough giving things to people, the govt. would throw up its hands and say “Great! We don’t need these social welfare programs anymore. We’re shutting them down.” Of course not. Because those programs have nothing to do with helping the poor, “opportunities of uplift for the oppressed,” or even with redistributing wealth. I work in govt. and I know from experience they don’t do any of those things. Social welfare programs exist for two reasons: 1) to draw the crime and other problems into the poor neighborhoods, away from where those in power live, and 2) to cement a power base for the Democratic Party by keeping people dependent on government. The government isn’t filling any void left by the Church. It’s keeping people in line. That’s all.

    Thirdly, as Ben Franklin pointed out, the more the poor have done for them, the poorer they get. I’d encourage you to check out this video as a good example of what I’m talking about. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KUW2vCPX7w&feature=youtu.be

    This woman, Angel Adams, has already had an ABUNDANCE of things done for her by both private and public parties, from the landlord trying to help her to the taxpayers paying $800 a month for her rent. And I’m sure she had abundant access to birth control (a condom costs 50 cents!). Yet all she can do is whine “Somebody needs to pay for my children!” Women like Adams don’t churn out litters of illegitimate children because the Church has failed or because “the system” doesn’t do enough for them; neither of those things are true. They do it because they are sinful and selfish.

    Adams doesn’t need a church to swoop in and give her one more pile of money or van load of groceries that will be gone in an hour. She needs a church to rebuke her for her life of sin and call her to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. So you can see that your question “why doesn’t the Church give so much, that the government doesn’t have to step in at all?” is a pretty ridiculous question. It is IMPOSSIBLE for me to give my neighbor so much that he will never have a need, even if, somehow, I never run out of money. And even if I could do it, the government would not stop taxing people to give out welfare in exchange for votes.

    I rejoice that, even in your liberalism, you are able to see one of the advantages to the current national difficulties, and I join you in praying that the Church will shine in the darkness like I know she can. But you need to reevaluate your arrogant posturing and lecturing to those of us who are not conformed to the world, and who know that government is not our savior.

    • gimpi1

      Thanks for proving that Ben is correct, that churches won’t carry this burden.

      • Seth Harrington

        Is that all you care about? Having someone else carry your burden?

        • gimpi1

          Did you read my short autobiography earlier? The burden I refer to is having two profoundly handicapped parents and a toddler sister, at the age of 10. Do you think I should have been able to carry that alone?

          My story is by no means the hardest out there. People often suffer through no fault of their own. What I took away from your comments it that you like that. Am I correct?

          • Seth Harrington

            Yes, I read your earlier comments, and no, you are not correct. I do not “like” that people “suffer.” But I also know that Christ never promised that our lives would be without suffering. He said a servant was not greater than his master, and His life was certainly not suffering-free. Most of the comments on this post have amounted to people arguing about how to end the suffering of everyone in America, which is impossible, and distracts from what the Church should be doing.

            It also results in too many Christians exchanging the true Gospel for a Christian-flavored version of humanism, and exchanging *true* justice for the fraud of “social” justice, which leads to Christians being conformed to the world, which scripture clearly forbids.

          • gimpi1

            So, as I read it, you believe that attempts to reduce or end suffering are bad? OK, then, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  • http://dktornstrom.com/ David K Tornstrom

    I had to really be honest with myself after reading this blog to admit that I have been guilty of making comments like “that is the church’s responsibility.” While I still advocate that the church has a responsibility, even a mandate, to provide for the poor, I don’t believe that the church is the sole entity responsible for dealing with poverty. Governments are rightly concerned with poverty as well. Both entities deal with poverty differently, sometimes well, and sometimes not so well. Let’s work to champion the best of both, while seeking to protect the dignity of those we help.

    Another thing I noticed while reading through the various comments, was the issue of taxes and tithing. Taxes are lawfully levied by our government, and it is our responsibility to pay them (the argument that income tax is unconstitutional is kind of moot at this point). If we don’t like the taxes, we can write our congressmen and attempt to change the law.

    Tithing is the practice of giving one-tenth of our income to God, in most cases through our church. Imagine you actually tithe from your gross income (before taxes), then taxes have nothing to do with your ability to tithe.

    The argument that “if I paid less taxes I could give more” is one that Christ dealt with directly during his ministry: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Pay the taxes you are legally required to pay and give to God your tithe. (In fact, if you actually tithe – one-tenth – your gross, you likely will reduce the amount of taxes you have to pay provided you itemize your expenses).

    One final comment is this – God does not desire our sacrifice. He desires mercy. If we argue about how much we can’t do because of taxes or other things, then we need to reexamine our attitude toward what we have – is it ours or is it the Lord’s? How about our actions? Have we shared our bread with the hungry, or shared our house with the homeless, or do we put $10 in the offering plate and feel good about ourselves for having sacrificed our money? (Isaiah 58:5-7).

    Before we judge either government or church we ought to examine ourselves, and if we are doing these good things, do them with joy, not grumbling!

  • Dencal26

    I did hit bad times once. I tried to apply for help and was refused because I owned a home. Catholic Church St Vincent DePaul society paid one month in bills including mortgage payments to keep me out of foreclosure. We received food from an evangelical food pantry at a church we did not belong to. No questions asked.

  • Dencal26

    But I agree charity is voluntary and often undependable. Look at Obama and Bidens tax returns from the early 2000s. Biden consistently donated $200 on charity with income in the $300,000 range. Obama donated something like $1200 and most to Rev Wrights Church. So I agree its better to want to help people as long as SOMEONE else is paying.

  • Rodosbc

    I give to the Salvation Army. Exclusively. I feel they do the best job all around for providing to the needy. Warm shelters in the winter, family emergency assistance, clothing, food kitchens or vouchers and the list goes on. I have never known the SA to demand any religious affirmation or affiliation to obtain help. As far as the churches being unwilling to provide for the needy, the restrictions placed on any church precludes their providing any assistance. Kitchens not up to county or state standards, clean clothing not sanitized, not enough showers in a warming shelter and on and on ad nauseum. I think the Govt. doesn’t want the competition as it loses control of the people and the funding (Graft?). Just a little food for thought Folks .


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