Does Big Government Make Neighbors Superfluous?

I’d rather have a homemade loaf of bread from my neighbor than a loaf of whole grain Wonder bread from the Government. One type of care has a federal stamp on it. The other has a heart beating within it.

We talk about whether we want “big government” or “small government” as if we’re talking about what carpet to put in our living room. But the issue could not be more personal. I realize that government controlled social programs are complex, nuanced issues, but I think we need to look at what we’re gaining and sacrificing by going “big.”

When we as a society look to the government to provide for those in need we remove a sense of personal responsibility on the local level. This also removes the sense of pride and satisfaction that follows when we help others directly. I’m very thankful for some Federal programs, but taken as a whole, they tend to demotivate neighbors. The Smiths naturally feel less urgency and personal responsibility to take a bag of veggies from their garden to their struggling neighbors, the Jones, if the Smiths know that the Jones are receiving groceries through WIC and/or food stamps.

As a society we give up something intangible, but deeply vital and human, when we say, “Who cares…as long as the Jones’ needs are being met.” We give up love, the chance to love others AND the chance to be loved. Perhaps this sounds ogre-ish, but I feel very little compassion and sense of participation when I sign and send my taxes to the government each year. On the other hand, I feel connected relationally when I give food to my local food bank or buy a tank of gas for the single mother in our church.

A federal stamp of approval simply can’t make a person feel loved. But the heart of a neighbor can. And our real need is not for bread, but for love—to be loved, and to get to love others.

I’m writing this post because I just witnessed care with heart in it. The Heartland community heroically met needs this weekend. (I was out of town and had nothing to do with this story.)

A young, poor couple with two little children moved to Central City about 4 months ago. They didn’t have family or friends in Nebraska. They moved for work, and for the past few months they’ve been struggling to find the ground beneath their feet.

Without any savings, this couple walked into our associate pastor’s office and requested a simple, git ‘r done wedding. It wasn’t what they wanted—what bride doesn’t dream of flowers, a reception, and a honeymoon?—but this couple knew those things were beyond their abilities. Why shoot for the moon when you have no means of travel.

Our associate pastor prayed for this couple a few months ago during a prayer meeting. Several families joined him in prayer, and then decided talking to God wasn’t enough – they needed to do something. One family paid off this poor couple’s electric bill. A farmer in our community donated a pickup to the groom for his work. And another family collected donations that paid for a dinner and a night’s stay in the honeymoon suite at a local Holiday Inn. Several people from our church showed up to support the bride & groom during the wedding, so that the sanctuary would have 25 people in it as opposed to about 15. Various families arrived early to clean and set up. Others stayed late to tear down and clean again. And so on and so on.

People helped the people next door because there was a need that nobody else would have met. That’s heart-felt, local care…and everyone benefited from it.

For me, part of what’s being debated in the presidential elections this year is our view of humanity. Do we believe that people do have the capacity to love and care for their neighbors in need? Do we believe that the deepest, most fundamental need that we have is to be loved in an eyeball-to-eyeball way? Do we believe that we are capable, on a local and state level, of being superheroes for those who need us to leap tall buildings in a single bound?


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