October 1, 2013. All non-essential parts of the U.S. Government are currently shut down because of an inability on the part of Republicans and Democrats to put together a bill for funding.
Let's put the blame game aside for a little while. I am sure more than a few people will have a lot of fun jumping into it and deciding the political fallout from it. I am not much interested in such matters. Seems to me no matter what party holds power, nothing much really, truly changes. The rich keep getting richer. The poor keep getting poorer. The cyclical narrative which has occurred throughout history keeps repeating itself as it will probably keep repeating itself until Kingdom come.
But I ask the question today: what would happen if the government shut down permanently? More specifically: what would the Church do if the U.S. Government shut down permanently?
Now, I am going to look at my own particular denomination: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. How would such a thing affect the mission and ministry we strive to accomplish?
On one level, it wouldn't change much. I mean, I know most congregations would still have worship services. Most congregations would still seek to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, care for the poor, sick, widowed, and imprisoned. The Gospel would still need to be preached. Of this, there is no doubt.
On another level, however, I think there would be substantial changes. There are more than a few within my denomination who believe the government should take on the responsibility for feeding the hungry and caring for the poor and needy. They base such thought in the prophetic literature of the Old Testament and seek to be modern prophets who criticize our government for "buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals." Of these modern prophets, many seek to influence the political system to bring about their own particular visions of justice--economic equality and redistribution of wealth. This is not unlike the so-called "Religious Right" which seeks to use the political system to impose a particular set of sexual and familial morals on the U.S.
So, what happens if the government goes away? What becomes of such efforts? What happens if there is no political/legal system to appeal to? What role does the church (ELCA) play?
I have argued in this blog on several occasions that the church's role in society is to stay away from the political process and act much like the first century Church acted. In that time and place, the Church had no legal or favored status. It did not seek to influence governmental policy or procedures. Instead, it sought to proclaim the Good News of Jesus even in the face of governmental persecution. It steadfastly held to its teaching, preaching, and practice of care and concern for the poor, widowed and orphan, regardless of what particular stance the government held. It risked life and limb to follow Jesus Christ and His teachings.
It wasn't until the Church received a most favored status in the Roman Empire that the Church had the ability to influence policy and procedure. And, I would argue, it went down hill from there. As the Church gained power and influence, it also produced corruption. In the name of Jesus, people were persecuted, crusades were conducted, Protestants and Catholics fought for 30 years. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The power Christians are called to wield is the power of the Gospel, and that power is wielded regardless of whether or not a government is or is not functioning.
Now, I know that there are those who argue that the need of those around is tremendous. There are those who argue that the numbers of people who are in need and the cost of providing for those folks is too much for the Church to handle. I say, "Where is your faith?" Do we not believe in the One who turned five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food to feed 5000 men plus women and children? Do we not believe the One who said, "Do not worry, if God provides enough for the sparrows, won't He provide enough for you."?
I believe one of the greatest reasons the Church in the United States has declined in the past 30 years or so has less to do with the rise of secularism and more to do with the Church's desire to exert power in the political process. That's not our job. Just let the government stay shut down for a lengthy amount of time. Then, it will become much more evident.