There are gaping holes opening up in our social safety net as government budgets are being cut. Right now, there are people working everyday and doing what they are supposed to do, but tomorrow an unexpected event like a layoff, a car accident, or even a major car repair, can force uncertainty in their ability to care for and keep their family safe.
And while politicians discuss where to cut and who deserves or doesn’t deserve what, there are some politicians calling for churches and charities to fill in the gaps they intend to create. There are even illogical politicians who feel government safety nets should be cut altogether and that churches should replace the government providing these services.
But churches are not in a position to do that. True, there are churches stepping up to do it, and there are volunteers eager to help. Our aunt’s church, Gloria Dei in St. Paul, was one of the churches featured in a recent Dan Olson story on MPR. Gloria Dei is one of 34 churches and synagogues helping to house homeless people that cannot get into the county shelters that fill up every night.
Many churches, like Gloria Dei are already filling in the gap. They already do what they can. The tiny congregation of River of Joy Lutheran Church in the Spring Lake/Prior Lake area feeds 100+ people a homemade community meal once a month in Shakopee, and this month is upping the giving by handing out small gifts to as many of the attendees as they can.
A warm and safe place to sleep, a healthy hot meal and a gift of groceries can have a tremendous impact for a family fighting poverty, but churches cannot bear the brunt of the government budget gap. The percentage of personal income given to churches has declined to a lower point than the first years of the Great Depression. There are fewer attending church, and fewer seeing churches as the primary place for giving. In the not too distant past, most, if not all charitable donations were given to the church, now there are thousands of charities competing for donations.
While churches like Gloria Dei, River of Joy and hundreds of others are working everyday to fill in the gaps, churches have not solved the problem. The problem isn’t that churches aren’t doing everything they can, because they are. The problem is that we still have a huge number of people in poverty. We have a huge number of people who live paycheck to paycheck. We have a huge number of people who are unemployed. And it isn’t a matter of choice. It is the nature of our society.
In the name of capitalism we say a business can only pay a minimal salary, and at the same time we say an individual working in a job that keeps them below the poverty line doesn’t need to work that job if they don’t want to. It is misrepresented as individual responsibility, but somebody needs to work that job. At the same time we say people don’t need to work a job that pays too little, we also say that business needs somebody to be paid too little. How do we resolve that issue?
We can’t resolve that without changing our way of thinking and living. Until we begin investing in education, healthcare and infrastructure, and begin discounting the importance of being wealthy by taking advantage of others fortune, there will always be a place for church aid, government aid and individual aid. When we all join these churches and start living by Jesus’ Golden Rule, we won’t need government aid, but until then we will destroy the fabric of our society if we eliminate it.