Overview – The State Budget as a Moral Document
Focus Text: I John 4:7-21
“Those who say, ‘love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from [God] is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
Scripture Commentary by Father Joe Vetter, Catholic Campus Minister, Duke University
“When we examine our conscience to consider how we have sinned, we must look at not only what we have done, but also what we have failed to do. Do my actions show a love for all? Am I working for the common good? Am I simply concerned with my personal needs and the needs of my immediate family and my own kind—or do I demonstrate a love and concern for all God’s people? How do I participate in society?”
Pastoral Reflection by Father Joe Vetter
“The common good requires society to provide the social systems, institutions, and environments to work in a manner that benefits all people. Since all benefit from the common good, it would seem easy to enlist the support of everyone. But there are obstacles. Agreeing on the “common good” can be difficult in a pluralistic society such as ours. People have different ideas about basic rights, about social systems, institutions and environments that are required to ensure human dignity and opportunity. How can we find common ground?”
Focus Text – I John 4:7-21
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent [God’s] only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that [God] loved us and sent [God’s] Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and [God’s] love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in [God] and [God] in us, because [God] has given us of [God’s] Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent the Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because [God] first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from [God] is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
I John 4:7-21
On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
I Corinthians 12:22-26
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD.
Other Lectionary Texts
- Psalm 22:25-31
- John 15:1-8
- Acts 8:26-40
Commentary on I John 4:7-21
A unique characteristic of the Christian faith is that God has been revealed to us as Trinity. We are monotheists, believers in one God. But we also believe that one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Some Christians never give the Trinity a thought. Others have a disconnect between theological belief and any practical implication.
We profess to be made in the image of God. How do we reflect the Trinity? We can draw some insight from today’s passage in the first letter of John which tells us that “God is love…God sent his only Son…” God is not revealed to us in the New Testament as a single, self-sufficient individual, but as a community of persons who are interdependent and bound together in love. Creation of the world and of humankind is an outpouring of the love of God, “as God is, so are we in this world” (vs. 17).
Jesus is our link to God, the connection between God’s divinity and our humanity, the Word made flesh. Jesus taught us that we cannot say “I love God,” unless that love is expressed in love for our brothers and sisters: not those whom we choose to love, but all of God’s people, even our enemies.
This is a difficult teaching. To share the life of God, we must be active, loving members of the human community. We are called to build up the Kingdom of God, to share in God’s creative act. Christians cannot simply take care of themselves or of “our own”. We are our brother’s and sister’s “keepers”. Our call is to work for the common good, to recognize our interdependence and solidarity with all people. The gifts we have been given by our generous God have been given to share. Following the example of Jesus, we are called to demonstrate a special communion and concern with the “least among us.”
Today’s Scripture acknowledges that fear can be an impediment to love. When we are honest with ourselves, we can recognize how fear can paralyze us. Fear is the principal weapon of terrorists. They know that fear prevents us from acting; fear can drive us away from one another, turn us into ourselves and weaken our community. Those who bring fear can exercise power over us. But Scripture tells us that love is the opposite of fear. “Perfect love casts out fear…whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (vs. 19).
When we examine our conscience to consider how we have sinned, we must look at not only what we have done, but also what we have failed to do. Do my actions show a love for all? Am I working for the common good? Am I simply concerned with my personal needs and the needs of my immediate family and my own kind—or do I demonstrate a love and concern for all God’s people? How do I participate in society?
By Father Joseph Vetter, Catholic Campus Minister, Duke University
Pastoral Reflection on I John 4:7-21
Loving one another demands more than being nice to people around us. For Christians, the command to love extends to the least among us, and even to our enemies. Loving one another is not simply a personal decision, but has social implications.
We live in a democratic society, a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. How do I practice Christian virtue and avoid sin as a citizen of North Carolina? Is the fact that our state is the tenth poorest in the nation, with 14.2% of our citizens living below the poverty level, my concern? Does our budget have anything to do with my responsibility to love?
The state budget is a complex document that determines how the state collects and spends, this year, more than $17 billion. Among the hundreds of decisions reflected in the budget are these: How much money will be available to build affordable homes? Who will have access to health care? How much will teachers be paid and how many students will each teacher have? How adequately will migrant farm worker housing be inspected? Will we offer alternatives to incarceration or will we just build more prisons? What will the state pay its lowest paid workers? What will we do to combat global warming?
The budget also reflects society’s decisions about where the state’s money comes from: How much should come from individuals and how much from corporations? Should wealthier people be taxed a higher percentage of their income? Should people, rich and poor, pay sales tax on food? How high should taxes be on tobacco, alcohol, and gambling? Should people who inherit millions of dollars pay any tax on it? All of these choices, and many more, reflect how committed we are to promoting the common good.
Loving all of God’s people, as today’s Scripture commands us, “is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many… On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all…. (Pope John Paul II, (cf Mt 10: 40-42, 20:25; Mk 10:42-45; Lk 22:25-27). Newsweek columnist Robert J. Samuelson recently wrote: “We face a choice between a society where people accept modest sacrifices for a common good or a more contentious society where groups selfishly protect their own benefits.” Social commentators and ethicists such as Daniel Callahan challenge us to replace the current “ethic of individual rights” with an “ethic of the common good”.
The common good requires society to provide the social systems, institutions, and environments to work in a manner that benefits all people. Since all benefit from the common good, it would seem easy to enlist the support of everyone. But there are obstacles. Agreeing on the “common good” can be difficult in a pluralistic society such as ours. People have different ideas about basic rights, about social systems, institutions and environments that are required to ensure human dignity and opportunity. How can we find common ground? Proponents of the common good are often challenged by those who resent some members of society being granted a “free ride”. No question, there are some citizens who, for many reasons, choose not to do their part to maintain the common good. Does the Gospel support our excluding such people?
Individualism is another obstacle to promoting the common good. Our culture views society as comprised of separate independent individuals who are free to pursue their own individual goals and interests without interference from others. In this individualistic culture it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to convince people that they should sacrifice some of their freedom, some of their personal goals, and some of their self-interest, for the sake of the “common good”.
Appeals to the common good are also confronted by the problem of an unequal sharing of burdens. Maintaining the common good often requires particular individuals or groups to bear costs that are much greater than those borne by others. Maintaining an unpolluted environment, for example, may require that particular firms that pollute install costly pollution control devices, undercutting profits. Making employment opportunities more equal may require that some groups, such as white males, sacrifice their own employment chances.
Christians are challenged by the Gospel to overcome these obstacles, to make no excuses in promoting the common good. Supporting a just, fair and reasonable state budget is an important way of loving (or failing to love) our neighbor.
By Father Joseph Vetter, Catholic Campus Minister, Duke University
Worship Aids for I John 4:7-21
In the spirit of the ancient Hebrew prophet, Amos, whose thunderous voice still comes to us afresh: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” We lift our voices in a new vision for our state and all its people.
We lift up a vision, that EVERYONE will have their basic needs met regardless of income, geography, citizenship, or other condition.
We offer a vision where EVERYONE will have access to nutritious food and affordable housing.
EVERYONE will have comprehensive and affordable health care. High quality education will be offered at every stage of life.
In the spirit of the non-violent revolutionary, Mahatma Gandhi who said, “Poverty is the worst form of violence,”
EVERYONE will be given a way out of poverty, as all will have the opportunity to work, be compensated fairly, earn enough to meet their basic needs, and be treated with dignity.
In the spirit of the illustrious civil rights leader of our nation, Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “There’s nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it,”
We advocate for all FAMILIES, so that they are given respect and support for their care-giving responsibilities. We seek changes in policy regarding childcare, sick leave, and support for those balancing the needs of young and elder dependants.
In the spirit of Jesus, who came to bring “good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of God’s jubilee,”
We proclaim that we will work for the day when EVERYONE is valued by our society and poverty is known no more.
(adapted from the National Council of Churches ‘Let Justice Roll’ Campaign, www.nccusa.org/letjusticeroll/)
Prayer of Confession
Almighty God, who through your Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit has created all that is, we confess as your Church that we have not done enough to speak against an unjust national and state budget. We recognize that the early Church had a strong sense of the ‘common good,’ where all were entitled to share in what societies could offer. This concept has been trampled on in our present day. We confess that we have allowed our society to move away from the notion of a ‘common good’ and have instead benefited from the perks of wealth. Our own brothers and sisters have suffered due to our inattention and unwillingness to raise our collective voices for just state and national budgets. Convict us, Holy Spirit, for our complacency. Empower us, Benevolent God, to work tirelessly for a renewed understanding of ‘the common good,’ and to speak the truth and beauty of the gospel to our policymakers. Heal our reluctant hearts and minds. In the name and power of Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.
(by Jason R. Jenkins)
Prayer for a Generous Spirit
God of all, eternally kind and gracious, we thank You for all we are and all we possess.
This is all fruit of Your unlimited generosity and benevolence. We thank You because we do not possess anything, not even our lives, that has not been a gift from You.
Enlighten our minds so that we can use wisely all the gifts that we receive from You daily.
Help us understand that it is better to give than to receive,
because giving helps our soul give up the material and temporal in order to ally it with a spirit of altruism and charity.
Help us comprehend more each day that by means of giving, we can adjust the inequalities of the human race. This is the only way the strong and powerful can help the weak, so that social peace can reign among us.
We place this in the name of Your beloved Son, Jesus, who lives and reigns in unity with the Holy Spirit, forever and ever.
(adapted from the official prayer of the 1999 National Catholic Stewardship Conference, Archdiocese of St. Louis, www.archstl.org/stewardship)
We thank you, Risen Christ, for the empty tomb. Your victory over death has given us life everlasting, as well as life abundantly here on earth. We humbly ask of you, Risen Christ, to impart wisdom to those who purport to lead our communities and our nation, so that they may make shrewd decisions in order to provide literally this abundant life. Give them a sense of responsibility and purpose, that they may follow your rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Open their eyes to the plight of the “least of these.” Show them that their decisions are not merely written words on paper, but policies and monies that significantly affect peoples’ lives. We ask this in the name of the One who lives and reigns forever and ever, Amen.
(by Jason R. Jenkins)
Suggested Hymns for the State Budget as a Moral Document
Let My People Seek Their Freedom
United Methodist Hymnal 586
O Source of All That Is
New Century Hymnal 513
O Young and Fearless Prophet
United Methodist Hymnal 444
Chalice Hymnal (Disciples of Christ) 669
When A Poor One (Cuando El Pobre)
Presbyterian Hymnal 407
Moravian Book of Worship 689
Quotes about the State Budget as a Moral Document
The budget should be balanced. Public debt should be reduced. The arrogance of officialdom should be tempered, and assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest Rome become bankrupt.
Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
The power to tax involves the power to destroy.
Vignette about the State Budget as a Moral Document
The Mistreatment of State Workers
Looking for a new career? How about a position with a company that hires people full time but lays them off for two weeks a year so it doesn’t have to provide benefits? A place where raises have averaged less than two percent a year for the last five years, while premiums for family health insurance have skyrocketed, meaning many workers actually get less take home pay every year?….
The employer is the State of North Carolina and this General Assembly session, lawmakers gave state workers a 2 percent raise or $850, whichever is greater. Last year it was a 2.5 percent raise or $1,000. Workers got $550 in 2003, no increase at all in 2002 and $625 a year in 2001. Insurance premiums have risen as much as 30 percent a year for family coverage.
More than three thousand state workers are considered full-time temporaries who work 40 hours a week but are laid off at the end of the year, then rehired two weeks later as a way to save the state money on insurance, retirement and vacation benefits. A class-action lawsuit has been filed to stop the practice…
State employees are treated as if they are part of an outside interest group, trying to gain preferential treatment. They are state government, the men and women who provide every state service, the undercover drug agents at the SBI, the nurses who take care of the mentally ill at state hospitals, the men and women who clean the bathrooms at the legislative buildings.
They are a special group all right, to continue working hard for an employer that takes them for granted all year and virtually ignores them at budget time. That can’t continue much longer. We can’t have an efficient, high-quality state government to provide the services we all count on unless the political leaders start treating the employees who provide those services with respect in their rhetoric and with appreciation in their budget decisions.
Chris Fitzsimon, NC Policy Watch
Contacts and Resources for the State Budget as a Moral Document
North Carolina Council of Churches’ policy statement on Tax Justice.
North Carolina Council of Churches’ policy statement on Remembering the Common Good in Times of Crisis.
The North Carolina Justice Center is North Carolina’s leading private, nonprofit anti-poverty organization. Its mission is to reduce and eliminate poverty in North Carolina by helping to ensure that every North Carolina household gains access to the resources, services and fair treatment that it needs in order to enjoy economic security.
Citizens for Tax Justice is a nonpartisan, nonprofit research and advocacy organization
dedicated to fair taxation at the federal, state, and local levels.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is one of the nation’s premier policy organizations working at the federal and state levels on fiscal policy and public programs that affect low- and moderate-income families and individuals.
Key Facts about the State Budget as a Moral Document