Bingo, Buses, and Bullets
My last post brought a lot of comments via private email and a few who posted. My thanks to all. Yet, there needs to be some clarification of exactly what I meant when I talked about the creation of programs that enslave. Some thought I was referencing welfare, etc. but my brush was painting a much wider swath than that. Some believed that Jesus would certainly support governmental social programs and that it was sinful not to vote for more of them.
Let me say this first: I am not claiming that Jesus and I are all of the same mind on this question. I have found that Jesus is claimed by every slice of the political piechart and I am fairly certain he did not intend to form an earthly kingdom so -- I will try not to make this a matter of salvation, an avenue of grace, or anything more than just the way I see things at this particular point of time. I have been wrong before. In fact, I'm pretty good at it. It might be my spiritual gift.
Let me tell you a story: in Morgantown, WV where I spent a wonderful eight years, the announcement came down from city government that they would have to cancel weekly bingo games at the senior citizen's center downtown. Their reason was that the bus company that brought seniors from out of town was giving notice that they would no longer do so. They complained that there was not adequate parking for the buses, therefore the drivers had to drive a long way away and park at the city limits, returning to pick them up later. Without a space to park the buses downtown, the company said, they could no longer offer the service. The city and county government looked at the issue and found that it would cost in excess of two million dollars to make a parking area for the buses; and they did not have the money so the games -- as enjoyable as they were to many -- would be stopped.
The seniors went ballistic. They demanded that the government pay for the creation of bus parking. Some of the city fathers and county supervisors agreed and pushed through a spending bill. The 30,000 residents of the town now had to find another two million dollars so that some could play bingo. If they refused to pay? What does the government do to people who will not pay their tax bill?
I think we can all agree that that was a silly example -- even though it was a true one. Let's do another story. Yesterday, a man came into my office looking for help. This happens quite a lot as we are on a main road and we have a big building so we're easy to find. He wanted help paying for prescriptions, for gas to get home, and he wanted to move himself and his eight children from the hotel they were staying in now to a cheaper one. I am not sure how much of his story was true or how deep his need was. However, as my habit is, I pulled out my own wallet and gave him money. I think it is what Jesus would do. Maybe he would have done more, but I am certain he would have done something! Note what I did NOT do: I did not go from door to door requiring the rest of the ministry staff to give him money, too. Nor did I, when someone refused, confiscate their property and threaten them with prison until they gave.
It is my responsibility to feed the poor, to offer the cup of cool water, to clothe the naked, etc. I am never given the right to require others to give, to name the amount, and to override any of their objections with bullets. Remember -- paying taxes is not optional regardless of what you might read on the internet, and the IRS is the only court in the country where you are guilty until proven innocent and the whole burden of proof is on the accused.
I am all for food stamps for the needy, free medical care for those who can't pay, new roads and sewers for depressed areas, etc. ad nauseum. However, where is the moral authority to force others to pay -- at the point of a gun -- for any program the majority wants? Where is that justified in scripture? The majority is not only NOT always right, sometimes it is evil and stupid.
Some social programs will have to be established because we are a fallen world and there is much we need to do to help each other along the way. But I submit that every social program falls into one of a few categories:
1. It is a result of the failure of the church to be salt and light. It is a result of the failure of the church to lead in giving, sharing, caring and driving back the darkness that invades our lives.
2. It is the result of pandering to a vocal minority, to posture for the cameras, and to insure re-election regardless of the immorality of forcing others to pay for programs they do not want.
3. It is the least efficient way to handle the problem. On the Gulf coast to this day (I've been several times recently as have my son and teams from this congregation) we see that billions of dollars spent does not mean any improvement made. Every single person we helped -- every one of them -- is still waiting for that first FEMA contact. They would walk us down the line and show us that every home that was repaired, every area that was cleared, was cleared by volunteers (almost always church groups) and not by government even though the money was allocated and taxpayers have been sent the bill. While honest people disagree over figures, most would agree that running the program through the government wastes between 20-40% of the money. Yet, if a citizen decides not to pay because of wastefulness or because they do not approve of the program (such as sex ed, free needles for addicts, funding for homosexual parades, etc.) they stand in very real danger of losing their homes, income, and freedom.
My reluctance to support parties (and Republicans are as bad at this as Democrats. The issues they push may be different, but they send the bill to the same people) is not that I don't want to do good. It is that I want to direct that good as I see fit after prayer and after receiving guidance from my elders and others I respect. I will not discuss this but suffice it to say that my family and I give until it hurts and then we give more (it eventually feels better). We love giving and will not stop. We just wish we got to choose where more of our money goes. And we will not support the unethical taking of money from those who do not want it taken, especially when their refusal puts their liberty at danger.
Now... are the waters muddy enough? Wouldn't it be great to be out of here and in heaven? One day. One day soon.