What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2:14-17).
I don’t envy the President and members of Congress, who face – among others – the considerable task of trying to figure out how to bring some kind of balance and sanity to our nation’s fiscal life as we continue to struggle with a difficult economy. And, I certainly don’t claim to possess the answers or the expertise to figure out what might be the best course of action. So much of what I hear these days, however, disturbs me.
What I hear are a lot of proposals to reduce our national spending. And almost all of these proposals have at their core the cutting of programs that are designed to serve some of the most vulnerable among us: the sick, the poor, the elderly. The basic argument seems to be that we can’t afford to continue programs that are called “entitlements” without changing them drastically. Drastic change seems to mean providing less support to those who are most in need among us.
What I never seem to hear is any suggestion that we should spend less money on weapons or security – a budget category that is astoundingly large. United States defense spending alone is more than the value of some smaller countries’ entire economies. And, among the so-called advanced, industrialized nations, it is the biggest of all.
Many would argue, it seems, that we can’t possibly reduce our security expenses given all of the dangers that we face from terrorism and other threats. Yet, I wonder if anyone has thought about the security implications of allowing the growing gap between the rich and the poor in this country to get even larger? Have we really considered what desperate people, made more desperate because of a lack of social support, might do out of their pain and anger to lash out at the larger society or to try to make their voice heard? Is the greatness of a nation really determined by the greatness of its security apparatus? Or is it, perhaps, determined by how it takes care of its most vulnerable citizens?
Again, I don’t claim to have all the answers, or any answer in particular. These are big problems and big issues and if they were easily solved we wouldn’t be worrying about them. One thing I do know, however, is that I cannot claim to follow Jesus and be unconcerned with the plight of the poor and vulnerable. I cannot look at someone who is struggling to keep a roof over her head and food on her table or who is sick and trying to get medical treatment and say, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill.” It is not enough for me to believe in Jesus and say kind things and do nothing. For as the Letter of James which I quoted above says so well, “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
We who claim Jesus, and who are claimed by Jesus, cannot allow our national budget to be balanced on the backs of the poor, the sick and the elderly. It doesn’t matter whether we claim to be a Democrat, a Republican or an Independent. We simply cannot abandon those who are in need. It is not an option for Christian people. Ever. Under any circumstances.
I end with an historical observation made by Diana Butler Bass in a talk I heard her give this past January: history has shown us that when a civilization becomes preoccupied with security and diverts its resources ever more toward maintaining its security, that civilization is approaching collapse.