In Which I Think About the Role of Government and the Failure of the Church.

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.”


1 Comment

Filed under faith, politics

One response to “In Which I Think About the Role of Government and the Failure of the Church.

  1. cairo10

    Hey P! I agree with your premise, but not so much with the conclusion. It seems awfully easy to turn “problems” over to the government and expect them to fix it.

    I agree that the church universal has had its share – and even created its share – of problems. Yet I also believe there are many places – both within and without the church – that are doing a good work to care for societal issues. I think its important to look for where God is working and join in there!

    Often, I think of NGOs as entities serving in other countries to help those in need – it is wonderful and I support that kind of work. Why do we like that idea in other countries, but not our own? Why do we look to the stateside government as if they can answer the problems where the church has failed? Why not look for stateside NGOs (like non-profit organizations or for profit social/business ventures)?

    I could be wrong, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the government “give up” on a program once its paws are on it – or at least the $ of the program. My experience with The Salvation Army demonstrated to me how government (local & national) likes to keep the money coming in, but will gladly “outsource” the services to a NGO like TSA – but the funds are rarely enough and goes through too many fingers to be effective. Why not support NGOs directly and let the government govern?

    Please understand too that I’m not endorsing TSA over another agency – that is simply where my recent development experience lies. I think that is the beauty of individually supporting NGOs. By utilizing sources like GuideStar one can find effective NGOs and donate and/or find places to plug in, volunteer and support.

    Can churches do better? Certainly.
    Would the government do better than that? In my mind, doubtful. It seems to be trading one institution for another. Either way, relying on the church or the government leads me to think we’re giving into the notion that one person (or organization) has not or cannot make a difference.

    Maybe this conversation ties into your sermon thoughts: Faith is a verb. If people of God won’t actively worship and proclaim by serving God’s creation, the stones will. May it not be so…

    Again, I agree with your premise & argument. I struggle to see how your conclusion really provides a better solution. And yes, its time to drinkin’ in and start putting out fires!

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