Why we need to join forces with the government
By Joseph Ellis
The following statement may sound odd, especially coming from a former pastor, but here it goes: Lately, I’ve been developing a sense of social conscience and societal responsibility.
This sounds weird coming from someone whose life was devoted to serving others, but the truth of the matter is that my theology had little room for social responsibility outside the church walls. While I grew up with a strong ethic for the poor, hurt, and broken, it was confined to the realm of spiritual and religious idealism. As a church we would volunteer for a day feeding the homeless, but on the way we could be having a conversation about how government welfare was creating laziness among the poor. My religious ideals were formed in a community that wanted to divorce itself from government, and insisted that the church was the only entity that could handle such problems.
The only problem is that the church I grew up in wasn’t equipped to address economic inequality and poverty. It sounded nice, the church in its vastness could care for the poor and fix many other social problems if the government would just get out of the way. What was missing from this argument was that the church would have to be the government to take over these responsibilities. When other pastors would fondly remember the church of old that was involved in these issues they neglected the fact that they were silmutaniously talking about a church that was also the government. The church was synonymous with the state in most European countries until the Enlightenment. The church we have in America is not linked to the government (a good thing) and in its fragmented form could never organize the effort needed to take care of the poor on a national level.
To complicate this fragmentation, not only are the majority of churches not networked properly to address the problem, the people who are in a position to give and, ideally, help the poor do not live any where near the poor. Our communities have become compartmentalized with the rich in the suburbs and the poor in the city. Most Christians who preach the superiority of ecclesiastical social aid are so distanced from poverty that it exists only in the realm of theory.
This being the case, I have realized that government is in fact the only vehicle for a correlated effort in addressing issues of poverty. I am not saying they can do it all. I am saying it is the only entity with the power and capacity to enact across the board change. While it is far from perfect, there is no other organization with the ability to handle social issues of this nature. Again, the church could do this if it were the government, but it is not.
As such, I have also come to reject the notion that by the government overseeing such issues it creates a malaise among the poor and the public. I have seen too many inner city folks get involved along side government to create profound change in various neighborhoods to believe that is the case. If anything creates apathy, it is simply living in isolation from the problems of other people, that isn’t the government’s fault.
Where does this leave me? I feel inspired to support what government, charities, and individuals are doing to produce change. I feel like good can, and is being accomplished outside the confines of the church; and it leaves me wanting to be a part of it. Why work against it when we can all work together to make this nation and world a better place?