Justice might be a Biblical command, but it’s a government job

By Robert Mann

Imagine you’re walking along the Mississippi River with friends when you spy a figure bobbing in the water. It’s a child. There’s no time to summon the police, so you swim to save it. Later, another child floats by — and another and another. Each time, you and your friends jump in for a rescue.

That’s what many of us do so well: Dive in to help people in need or distress when the police, fire department or other authorities aren’t around.

Perhaps you’ve encountered some variation of this child rescue story. Only, it’s sometimes used to argue against government anti-poverty programs: “The government can’t do what individuals and churches once did, which is to save people who are drowning in poverty. The government should get out of that business and let churches and people do what they’re supposed to do.”

On its face, at least, the argument stands up. Charity is sometimes better delivered by individuals and small organizations, not big government. I see a person in desperate need, and I meet that need out of my compassion. This is what churches and caring people do every day.

The problem is that the needs of society’s poor and hurting have always outrun the ability or willingness of individuals to meet them. That doesn’t mean the romantic, nostalgic longing for a bygone era of community barn-raisings and neighborly charity isn’t appealing and well-intended. It’s just not realistic — and never was — as a comprehensive solution to poverty and suffering.

And now, some conservative Christians are even insisting charity should also apply to health care for the poor. There would be no need for government programs like the Affordable Care Act, they say, if the government encouraged individuals and churches do their benevolent work.

This appears to be the sentiment behind a recent tweet by a conservative columnist, Erick Erickson: “In Matt 25, when Jesus talks about caring for ‘the least of these,’ he isn’t talking about the poor in general, but fellow Christians.” Never mind that Christians didn’t exist when Jesus is quoted saying that. Erickson suggests that Jesus not only failed to insist the government address poverty; he also didn’t tell his followers to help non-believers.

That’s a narrow, perverted reading of the Bible. Still, I’m willing to concede Jesus might have been addressing the individual obligation we have to those in need. But concluding government has no role in reducing poverty, based on one scripture, requires a selective reading of Jesus. And it’s a distorted view of what it means to be a person of faith, whether of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim or other variety.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Faith, Politics, poverty, religion and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Justice might be a Biblical command, but it’s a government job

  1. martybankson says:

    The “surprise” conclusion ties this nifty analogy into an unforgettable lesson on distributive and social justice. Great piece!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Edith Herring says:

    I am sure that I am naive, but, I really feel that when I pay my federal and state taxes to our government and our government, in turn, takes my taxes and helps my fellowman, that I am helping my fellowman. I do not think that just by paying my taxes, I am separated from what my government does with this money. I would much rather help my fellowman in need than to throw my money away on wars and wealthy people that do not “need” anything. I have no problem with my tax money doing good for others in my society – this is an extension of my spiritual belief. We should do good to others, no matter who or what!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Stephen Winham says:

    Judge Leonard White (as played by Morgan Freeman in Bonfire of the Vanities) said:

    “Justice is the law, and the law is man’s feeble attempt to set down the principles of decency. Decency! And decency is not a deal, It isn’t an angle, or a contract, or a hustle! Decency…decency is what your grandmother taught you. It’s in your bones!”

    So true, but it escapes so many who bend simple truths to fulfill patently selfish motives. It also calls into question the very nature of man.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. earthmother says:

    “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” (Mahatma Ghandi)

    “If you don’t want your tax dollars to help the poor, then stop saying you want a country based on Christian values. Because you don’t.” (Comedian John Fugelsang, sometimes mistakenly attributed to former President Jimmy Carter)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. June B Butler says:

    “In Matt 25, when Jesus talks about caring for ‘the least of these,’ he isn’t talking about the poor in general, but fellow Christians.”

    Mr Erickson’s tweet is nonsense. Jesus wasn’t even a Christian. He was born a Jew, and he died a Jew. The story of the Good Samaritan clearly shows that Jesus meant for his followers to extend charity to those outside their group. The priest and the Levite, fellow Jews, passed by the man who had been injured by robbers. The Samaritan, the outsider, was the one who showed mercy. Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

    Like

Comments are closed.