Many of you listen to Marketplace, a business-news program produced by American Public Media and carried in North Carolina by WUNC radio. Monday night, Marketplace carried a very good, though brief, report on Moral Mondays, taking the word of North Carolina’s protest movement to a national audience.
Council Communications Director Aleta Payne and I met last Sunday for an hour with Marketplace reporter Noel King and producer John Ketchum. Noel is from a Catholic background; John is out of an African-American Methodist tradition. Both showed a real understanding of the issues involved here in North Carolina, and especially the faith-based issues. We had a good conversation, tape running,
The report is available on the Marketplace website. As you will notice, neither Aleta nor I made the cut for their limited time frame. I’m not sure that I could have edited out anything Noel included, even to fit in my words! But there was one point that I made that I’m sorry wasn’t used.
The report included an interview with Rev. Kevin Barbour, a Pentecostal pastor in Graham. He cited a passage in Philippians that says “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” He added that people, including his parishioner who has just lost unemployment benefits, shouldn’t depend on the government. Rather you should “lean on the Lord. Lean on him.”
Let’s leave aside for now the possibility that God is powerful enough and loving enough to work through governments to help care for vulnerable people. Let’s talk about what churches can and cannot do.
I am grateful for the many acts of charity that churches offer to those in need of physical and financial support. I have no doubt that Rev. Barbour and his congregation are looking out for their members who are in need. Many if not most churches (and congregations of other faiths) do great works of charity – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those who are sick or in prison.
But there are a lot of folks not getting the help they need, either because they aren’t part of a faith community or because the needs are greater than their faith community can meet or because the kinds of needs are not ones the faith community has the expertise to deal with. (How many of our smaller congregations have doctors and nurses who could give their time to provide health care to our state’s 1.5 million uninsured residents? Or operating rooms?)
The point I tried to make was that Social Security was established because people were getting old, losing employment, having no financial resources to sustain them, and eating cat food, and this was in spite of all that faith communities were doing. Medicare was set up because seniors were unable to get health care that they needed after they had retired, lost employment-based health insurance, and couldn’t afford to buy coverage. This was in spite of all that faith communities were doing. Medicaid was created because of the large number of people of low income, especially the very young and those with disabilities, who couldn’t get any health care, and this was in spite of all that people of faith were doing. Unemployment insurance was created because people were losing jobs and had no short-term support to sustain them until they could find new employment. Churches could not meet this need.
I don’t say this as criticism of churches and faith communities, but they have not in the past been able to meet all of the human need that they found around them. Is there any reason to think that times are different now, that people of faith will make up for the loss of unemployment insurance for 70,000 people without jobs, for the 500,000 people that Medicaid expansion would have given health care, for the 900,000 working people losing their Earned Income Tax Credit?
I don’t mean to pick on Rev. Barbour or any other pastor or congregation. I just don’t see evidence the communities of faith are able do all that Americans can do together for the common good, to care for one another. (Remember that democracy is “we the people”.) The two – the support of faith communities and a government-supported safety net – are not mutually exclusive.
–George Reed, Executive Director