I’ve been thinking a bit lately about my support for Obama and what that means in terms of being pro-life and all. This isn’t a post about abortion, but rather a few thoughts on Obama’s social policies and how that relates to our (the church, christians) role in helping others.
My friend Pat wrote a blog post a few weeks ago that I’ve come back to several times, because I really like the way he summed up how being pro-life encompasses so much more than abortion. I highly recommend hitting the pause button on reading this post and going and reading his, along with the comments.
It was one of the comments on that post that I’ve been chewing on and I wanted to post my related thoughts here.
A fellow named Derek wrote,
I guess it comes down to how you advocate for some of those things… is it the government’s job to:
Care for families after their children are born?
Provide affordable child care for families?
Ensure a livable wage for all families?
Provide affordable health care for all families?
Provide quality education for all children?
End extreme poverty?
To which I strongly say, “NO.” It is not the government’s job to care for families after their children are born, provide affordable child care, etc.
BUT (and as my old youth pastor used to say, “It’s a big but,”) . . .
It is not the government’s job to do these things. These are things that families should be doing for each other when possible. These are things the church should be doing.
But we aren’t. We, the church, have failed. And when there are children not being cared for, families who cannot earn an affordable wage, children who are being “left behind” (sorry, couldn’t resist), and the church/society/whoever you might think should do those things is not doing them, it ends up being the government’s job to clean up after them. Whether it’s dealing with higher crime rates, declines in overall education, or even more poverty, government has to bear the brunt of that failure.
Government’s fundamental job is to take the collected resources of the community and provide services that the community has entrusted it to provide (defense, public safety, infrastructure, education, etc.) or that the community itself cannot provide on its own.
So isn’t the responsible thing for government to do, the best use of the resources (read: taxes) of the members of that community, addressing some of those issues on the front end so that the cost to the community, both in dollars and in less easily-measured costs, can be reduced over time?
Government maintains the police force. Government maintains the prisons. Government provides education, and cleans up graffiti, and keeps the sewers flowing. So if there’s something that can be done, for less money, to address issues that may reverse the spiraling costs of maintaining prisons and increase the safety of the officers government is responsible for, wouldn’t that be the right thing to do? Even if it costs a little more money in the short term, but increases the quality of life in the community, wouldn’t that be a responsible thing to do?
There are wonderful examples all over America of churches and community organizations doing great work to meet the needs of the community. But for the most part they are few and far between.
I would hope that someday the church in America will have taken back the responsibility that it has abdicated in self-centered apathy, and that government won’t have to provide these kinds of services. But until it does, government cannot ignore the fire raging in its front yard.
(I had a whole metaphor going in my mind about a fire raging through the community and the church trying to put it out by peeing on it, and how Bob and Doug McKenzie showed that it can be done, but there’s a lot of drinking in to do first . . . but I couldn’t really get it going anywhere, so I just add it here for kicks. I need to watch Strange Brew again and see if it’s still as funny as I remember it being. I suspect the answer to that question is also “no.”)
I don’t know Derek, so this next comment is not directed at him but just as a general comment: It’s easy to say it’s not the government’s job, without acknowledging our own failure to meet the challenge.
It’s not the government’s job. But no one else is doing it. So why not let the government begin to address these issues with the resources that government has, while working steadily and vocally with government to help shape the policy (because we all know that government is gifted at taking great ideas and turning them into disaster), and then working to raise up parallel structures within the community and the church at large in order to one day, soon, be able to tell the government, “Thanks. We’ve got it from here.”