I just have one more thing to say about this whole “let the churches care for the poor” viewpoint which, let’s be honest, is not unique to Rep. Stephen Fincher, but is pretty pervasive among conservatives of all stripes.
Nothing is stopping any church from helping anyone. Please, churches, knock yourselves out. Feed as many people as you want: old, young, whatever. We need you to do this, we really do. Wasn’t that the whole point of Bush’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives? Guess what, haters: the Mooslim Usurper Nobummer didn’t close that office, he expanded it. So yes, churches: feed us, house us, help us.
And indeed, the faith community is helping. Good grief, I’ve been part of more church-based programs helping the poor in this town than I can count: Room In The Inn, Rooftop, the Martha O’Bryan Center, Safe Haven Family Shelter, you name it. Here’s Nashvllle’s Downtown Presbyterian Church which feeds hundreds of homeless every week (much to the chagrin of local businesses,who don’t like having a soup kitchen on their doorstep). The Salvation Army has soup kitchens all across the country feeding the hungry (for which they are reimbursed by the government, I might add.)
But the need is great. There are not enough congregations doing enough of this work to help everyone. Every church-based effort I’ve been part of has had to ration the amount of help it provides because the need is simply greater than funds allow. At Rooftop, which provides temporary, one-time rental and mortgage assistance to keep people from being evicted, we routinely ran out of money and had to suspend services, sometimes for an entire month.
The need is great. Many churches are helping the poor. But many do not. C’mon, you know it’s true. Many church organizations prefer to spend their money on bullshit marketing efforts like the Scripturally-dubious I Am Second campaign, whose billboards have popped up all over town. Harold Camping’s Family Radio empire raked in millions of dollars in donations, money which could have been spent helping the hungry and needy. Instead, it went toward buying thousands of billboards across the country proclaiming a hilariously wrong prediction about the Second Coming.
No one can tell any faith community how to spend its money. And they don’t always spend it on the needy. Sometimes they spend it on ideological bullshit like this. How many kids could have been fed if the Mormons had channeled their $20 million somewhere other than the Prop 8 campaign?
Right-wingers are always telling us we don’t need the government to provide services, “charity” should take care of it for us. But what do right-wing billionaires spend their money on? Think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, and Cato Institute, whose sole purpose is to promote conservative ideology. Or phony conservative “foundations” like Citizens for a Sound Economy (now known as FreedomWorks) and Americans For Prosperity — political groups spreading the low-tax, low-regulation, free-market message. Maybe if Richard Mellon Scaife and the Koch brothers redirected the billions they spend on political power toward social welfare, the need wouldn’t be so great. Maybe if they walked their talk, their views might have more credibility. And yes, I know these and other billionaires spend a lot on charity, I’m not saying they don’t. But they spend at least as much, if not more, on political power.
And that’s the problem. The fact that so many billionaires would rather spend their fortunes on politics not people proves our point. The lure of power is great, is it not? Indeed, too often the lure of power is greater than the lure of helping your neighbor. I’m pretty sure Jesus and the Old Testament prophets knew this.
This is why we need government programs like SNAP: to fill in the holes left by human nature’s failure to always do the right thing. Charities and faith communities are doing a lot but they can’t do it all. Ask any social worker and they will tell you. Ask any secretary of an urban church, inundated with calls for help on a daily basis. They will tell you.
But this discussion is all big a waste time. Because people like Rep. Fincher don’t really care about the poor, do they? When I hear someone say, “let the churches deal with x, y, z problem,” what I’m really hearing is, “I don’t want to deal with x, y, z problem.” That’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?
If only the poor would just go away. But they won’t, Rep. Fincher. They won’t just “go away.” They will always be with us, as Jesus said, as an eternal reminder of human failure — an eternal reminder of our sin, to use church parlance.
The poor will always be with us as long as we expect someone else to deal with the problem.