Thursday, January 24, 2013

Justice, Rights, and Responsibility

This post was inspired by a thread started by my Bishop Mike Rinehart on Facebook.

Mike posted a pic of Martin Luther King, Jr. in iconography style with the quote, "I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law." - MLK

What followed was a very interesting conversation that somehow meandered into the realm of health care.  Snippets follow:

Roger DeFrang: Does that apply to me having to pay for the extra costs of Obamacare too

Michael Rinehart: That's called justice Roger.

Roger DeFrang: As you know, my brother is the senior partner in a tax law firm and he has now read all 2700 page of Obama Care because it is his business and he has to know it and he says that it is loaded with taxes and to think that the President told us it would stay revenue neutral.

Michael Rinehart: But the poor will have health care. That's called justice. I know some people don't want the poor to have health care. I am not one of those people.
Roger and Mike have more of an exchange with Roger bringing up the idea that some men end up having children with multiple women who end up in the welfare system

Michael Rinehart: Roger, in the Lutheran Church we believe in this thing called saint and sinner.

Roger DeFrang: I hear you Mike, if you father several children with different mothers and let welfare pay for it you are saint but if I don't like paying for it then I am a sinner, do I have that correct?

Michael Rinehart: No, you don't.

Roger DeFrang: Okay lets try it this way....people who keep bringing children into the world with no way of supporting them have no responsibilities and only those who pay the cost have responsiblities? (sic) Now don't tell me about educating about protection Mike, I am 67 years old and back in the day, we knew that if you messed around without protection the girl could have a baby...that is not a new scientific discovery. I believe that we need to help those in need, I really do. I got into some financial trouble before I was married and my mother stepped in helped me out and we set up a plan and I paid her back but if during that time I would have driven into the driveway with a new car....well, she would have killed me. I got into trouble and she made me take responsibility. That is really what I am saying..if you have two children and you have no means to support them by all means we will help and should help but don't have any more to add to our burden and if you have children and get welfare than maybe you need to give up the smoking and drinking and use that money on the children...our problem with welfare isnt' the cost of helping people but the fact that we give them help but don't force them to take responsibility.

The conversation, unfortunately, ended here, but, man, what an exchange!  I my estimation, it really lifted up some of the real issues regarding the dynamic which takes place between individualism and collectivism or the role of the individual along with the role of society.

Mike and Roger showed this dynamic with health care.  It can also be seen in the debate about gun control and a host of other issues facing our nation and churches.  Where does the balance lie between personal and societal responsibility?  How do justice, rights, and responsibility all come together even when sometimes, there is a clash between those entities?

One of those clashes becomes evident in the exchange between Mike and Roger.  Mike argues, as I think any good Christian would argue, that caring for the poor is Christian charity and a matter of justice.  This is quite inescapable if one reads Scripture and follows the teachings of Jesus.  There is a continual call for compassion, care, concern, and justice for the widow, orphan, and oppressed.  However, I don't ever get the sense from Scripture where such acts are meant to make another dependent upon us.

It is built into the very fabric of nature that a body seeks out its lowest energy state.  Quantum Physics shows this almost unequivocally, and if someone else is doing something for us, we will almost gladly allow someone to handle it because it relieves us of having to expend energy to handle the responsibility ourselves.  When we allow others to handle that responsibility, we become dependent upon them, and if by some chance, they try to hand that responsibility back to us, then there is almost a universal response of anger and frustration toward those who are withdrawing what they were first willing to give.

If we understand the world to work in this fashion, then both Mike and Roger are correct in their assessment of things.  Both are articulating very real issues within our world and nation.  Both are speaking out of their faith convictions.  But what is the solution?  What is the compassionate thing to do?  What is the tough love thing to do?

I am not sure.

I have two thoughts, though, that might help.  In my Bowen Family System's Training, I hear often that mature societies focus on talking about responsibility instead of rights.  Perhaps a change in questions are needed when talking about issues.  Let's get away from what folks have a right to do and not to do and start asking, "What is our responsibility?"  Responsibility forces us to ask the questions of what we should and should not do versus asking ourselves what we can and can't do based upon laws which may or may not be just.

Second, I believe we should actively strive to end any sort of dependency upon ourselves by others.  This might sound a bit cruel at first glance, but please allow me to delve into something I was taught over and over again while undergoing my theological studies in college and seminary.

Throughout my years of higher education, I heard over and over again the call that the Church should be the "voice for those who are voiceless" and that we should speak on behalf of the "poor and oppressed."  I bought into this for a while, but then began to consider something a bit different.  Is it better for the Church to be the voice for the voiceless or to help the voiceless discover their own voice and give them the courage to use it?   

I vote for the second.

The balance between individualism and collectivism is one that has existed throughout the history of humankind.  It is not going away anytime soon.  I think in order for things to work out, we need to get beyond dialogue and discussion and passing laws and policy and instead begin to define ourselves in such a way that we are able to realize that the solutions are both/and instead of either/or.  

I wish the discussion between my bishop and his friend would have continued.  It would have been interesting to see if it would have ever reached that point. 


Kathy said...

In this particular case, I agree with you, Pastor Kevin, 100%. In Miami today, I know many Cubans who were born and raised under the Communist system -- where the poor are supposedly given everything. These unfortunate individuals have a very, very warped sense of reality. They almost cannot function in our society.

I, too, am 67. I remember the 1950s when people had a sense of responsibility. It was a horrible thing to get a girl pregnant. Now -- with the approval of organizations like the ELCA -- we have abortion, massive contraception, no-fault sex outside of marriage, divorce and remarriage, and most recently, gay sex and gay marriage. Where is the responsibility?

The government and society cannot pay for the massive social problems caused by the complete abandonment of God's law. Bishop Rinehart is badly mistaken.

Kathy said...

I believe the ideas expressed in the article below identify the causes of the social problems in this country. For the Lutheran Church to say: "We are all sinners -- saints and sinners -- so let's just accept folks as they are," only exacerbates the situation. Faulty theology.