Monday, January 25, 2010

Enemy of the State

On the news tonight I heard a story about how the Lt. Governor of South Carolina Andre Bauer compared children on free and reduced lunches and other entitlement programs to "stray animals" who do nothing but reproduce. This statement in and of itself is abhorrent to the point of nausea, but what truly disturbs me is some of the comments I read on these news websites and Mr. Bauer's Facebook page that are in complete agreement.

I am the first one to agree that there is a lot of corruption and fraud in entitlement programs. I have experienced first hand people who receive numerous benefits, but find the money to drive nice cars and have big screen TVs. It makes me angry because I struggle to make ends meet and usually there is more month than there is money. But I am also blessed to have family who support me and my wife while the money is tight. I don't have any problem with people getting help who need it. These programs come from a good idea that no person should go hungry in this country, but they still do. I also understand the frustration as a pastor in trying to help those who really need it while not getting defrauded by those seeking money for nothing. Here again, it makes me angry.

All that being said, there is nothing that justifies comparing any human being to a stray animal. This only serves to dehumanize these children. What does the Lt. Governor suggest we do? Allow these people to starve. As revolting as this statement and the ensuing comments are, I think this line of thinking is a symptom of a bigger problem. There are those politicians and pundits who wish to make an enemy of the poor, especially for the middle class. All the problems facing the middle class is caused by poor persons and their entitlement programs. Most of these politicians are neither poor or middle class and never have been and yet they claim to understand the plight of the average American. They are the ones filling the heads of the middle class with images of the welfare queen drawing a check. While there are cases of entitlement fraud, let me be clear, THE POOR ARE NOT YOUR ENEMY. The poor are not the ones oppressing you, they are not the ones wasting your tax money on frivolous earmarks, i.e. the bridge to nowhere. In fact, you could be safe in assuming that the real enemy are the ones trying to convince you that the poor are the enemy. It is the wealthy who downsize and lay off to gain year end bonuses or make their stocks go up a few points. It is the banks who asked for grace in the form of a government bailout, that kind of sounds like entitlement to me, and yet offer no grace to those being foreclosed or to the small businesses struggle to keep their heads above water. However, the rich are not the enemy. The real enemy is that sense of entitlement within ourselves that cause us to see ourselves as better and higher than our neighbor. It is that monster within us that causes us to agree with such egregious statements as the one from Lt. Governor Bauer.

For those of us who call ourselves persons of faith this is of great importance. We are called by God to care for the poor, the widow, and the orphan. Does this mean we should just throw money at the problem? No, part of helping the poor is offering a means for those persons to gain financial independence. However, we do need to remember what Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps." There is a balance to be formed and care to be taken. These are human beings created in the image of God and not stray animals to be shooed off the porch.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Devil in Us All

More people than not have heard the comments made by Pat Robertson that Haiti was receiving Divine retribution for a Satanic covenant made centuries ago. This is not the first time Robertson has attributed natural or man-made disasters to God's wrath. He and Jerry Falwell agreed that 9/11 was due to "abortionists" and the "gays". He claimed that the tsunami in 2004 was due to the Muslim influence in the area. Finally, he claimed that the suffering of Hurricane Katrina was due to the sinful nature of New Orleans, although the "sinful" French Quarter was mostly untouched and it was the poverty stricken 9th Ward that received the brunt of the devastation.

This pseudo-theodicy is nothing new. It seems that every time a major disaster hits someone is there blaming it on God's wrath or a curse by Satan. (It is funny that their god and their Satan do the same work.) Is extreme poverty, starvation, and death a result of God's anger or Satanic involvement? No, of course not. It was a perfect storm of natural phenomenon, population density, and extreme poverty. It is not the Devil himself, but in a lot of ways it is the devil within us all. It is the demon of selfishness and greed. It is the demon of oppression first by nations seeking riches and colonies and no by corporations seeking cheap labor and resources. It is the demon of looking the other way until it is on every news channel, newspaper, and website. We have ignored, for a large part, the extreme poverty that is 600 miles from our front door. We have ignored the people who are forced to buy cakes made with salt and mud in order to fill their distended bellies.

My prayer is that our new-found concern for Haiti does not end when CNN finds a new lead story. I hope that we realize that this could happen multiple times over in many other places. There are powder kegs of poverty all over the world just waiting for a spark. What is the solution? I really don't know. For know the best thing we can do is pray and send some money to those who can best use it to help the people in need. The United Methodist Committee on Relief was on the ground before this hit (several of those workers are still unaccounted for) and will be there for years after. Please pray for these people, donate what you can, and when you hear someone trying to blame God for this mess, give them a loving correction and let's work together to make sure this never happens again.