Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Social justice is not just a personal matter

In the public debate over social programs that provide dignity to the poor, I often hear people say that care for the poor is for the individual, not for the state. They say Jesus told us to care for the poor individually, and leave the state out of it.

This is clearly a message Jesus nor the prophets before him heard. Amos chapter 5 says,

You levy a straw tax on the poor
and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
you will not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.

There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.

Unless individuals are implementing taxes, this is directed at the rulers of the land. Unless the justice system is an individual endeavor, this is directed at the government.

I know pointing out hypocrisy doesn't make for a strong argument, but I just wanted to point out that these same people who claim the government should not care for the poor also claim that the government should reflect our moral values, as society. In fact, they have whole lobby groups and other organizations with this purpose as a goal. To promote "family values" in government. To oppose same-sex marriage on moral grounds. To promote religious celebrations and national days of prayer. To oppose sex education. To promote religious mottoes. The list goes on.

I've never argued that we should not include our morals in politics. Every law is a moral decision. Foreign policy reflects moral positions. But there is a moral dissonance in a nation that has a motto of "In God we trust" while one side of the political spectrum argues against caring for the dispossessed, the oppressed, the poor, the orphan, and the widow.

We the people should not turn our backs on the poor.

We the people can do better than this.