Friday, May 15, 2009

But whose morals, Excellency? 

I obtained last night a copy of a letter that reinforces the Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy in Minnesota's bishops' letter from March. It was sent out to all Lutheran pastors in at least one synod this week. "Lutheran" in this case represents the ELCA branch, so you LCMS and WELS folks can relax, or shake your heads, or both. From the first link (the second letter):
All six Minnesota bishops of the ELCA signed on to a letter encouraging Minnesota legislators and the Governor to �allow us all to be a part of determining a future for Minnesota in which dignity and value of each one of us is upheld. The challenge is not just yours � it�s ours.� ... They followed up with an April 16 visit with legislative leaders and Governor Pawlenty to convey with their presence that �the budget is a moral document that reflects the choices we make for our life together. The measure of our moral fiber as a people is how we treat those who need our help the most.�
As I pointed out in the post this morning, the budget at some point becomes Governor Pawlenty's responsibility, in particular at that moment when the Legislature discharged its duties and sent bills forward to him. There were listening tours, testimony and negotiations, and then a swift tax bill that Pawlenty vetoed. Given the tone of the rest of the LCPPM's letter, I daresay they would not agree with the veto:
Join the chorus of concerned people of faith and voice your support for a moral budget. Here�s how:
  1. Contact your state representative and state senator and say that �We are not afraid of tax increases if it means poor people who are sick can get health care, families who lose their homes find shelter, and children are cared for.� ...
  2. Pass this message along to your friends and family and urge them to take action.
  3. Write a letter to the editor and submit it to your newspaper and/or your church newsletter. If you or someone you know relies on Minnesota�s network of health and human services, tell that story.
Now let me not pretend to be a religious scholar. But I sit in church each week and attend Bible study. I've worked as well as a church treasurer. If we had members, or neighbors, or recent immigrants to our town that we thought were in need, what would we do? There would be a sermon, and then there would be the offering. If we wanted extra money to help, we may pass the offering plates around a second time and designate those funds for those in need. It would be reinforced with the many, many verses in the Bible that ask us as believers to help the poor.

If the bishops thought the best way to help the poor was to give the state more revenue, I do not see any restriction that would prevent them from passing the plate while saying "our government needs more money. We are told to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and so we think at this time you should as a believer give more to our government. We will mail it in for them." As the treasurer, I could send a check to the state. (Here's a form you'll need. You're welcome.)

But this is not what the bishops seek. They wish to ask the state to compel non-believers into contributing to causes believers seek to fund. They remind me of the quote that inspired Amity Shlaes' great book, as written many years ago by William Graham Sumner.
The type and formula of most schemes of philanthropy or humanitarianism is this: A and B put their heads together to decide what C shall be made to do for D. The radical vice of all these schemes, from a sociological point of view, is that C is not allowed a voice in the matter, and his position, character, and interests, as well as the ultimate effects on society through C's interests, are entirely overlooked. I call C the Forgotten Man. For once let us look him up and consider his case, for the characteristic of all social doctors is, that they fix their minds on some man or group of men whose case appeals to the sympathies and the imagination, and they plan remedies addressed to the particular trouble; they do not understand that all the parts of society hold together, and that forces which are set in action act and react throughout the whole organism, until an equilibrium is produced by a re-adjustment of all interests and rights. They therefore ignore entirely the source from which they must draw all the energy which they employ in their remedies, and they ignore all the effects on other members of society than the ones they have in view. They are always under the dominion of the superstition of government, and, forgetting that a government produces nothing at all, they leave out of sight the first fact to be remembered in all social discussion - that the State cannot get a cent for any man without taking it from some other man, and this latter must be a man who has produced and saved it. This latter is the Forgotten Man.
Bishop A and Bishop B (and W, X, Y, and Z, in the case of this letter) want to compel nonbeliever C to do for poor D what they won't ask believers F, G, H &c. to do by the offering plate. They do so under the guise that "a budget is a moral document".

And my budget is, in fact, a statement of the morals of my own family. My church's budget is a statement of the morals of my church. The government is not a church, or a family. The government's budget is not a statement of the entire society's morals. It is a compulsion of the majority upon the minority.

Where, dear bishops, is that compulsion a "moral statement" directed in the Bible?

I recall only that when the rich man heard he could not enter the kingdom of heaven without sacrificing all his earthly possessions, "he went away sad, because he had great wealth" ... and Christ let him go. The bishops are not so inclined.

Labels: , ,