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.