Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Brother's Keeper: Personal and Social Responsibility in the Age of the Tea Party

I am a Christian, an Episcopalian, and my faith drives my politics. There is nothing that Jesus expresses more frequently or more profoundly in the gospels than his concern for the poor and the outcast. "Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'" (Matthew 25:37-40, New International Version).

I believe that it's God's intention that we seek justice in the world we live in, that we care for others—by any and every means available—especially for the poor and disadvantaged, not just to give them handouts, but to respect them, to value and listen to and learn from them, to empower them. I believe that the heart of God longs for justice, and that it is God who places that same longing in our hearts. I believe that if we really want to know Jesus, we will find him among the poor and the disenfranchised rather than among the wealthy and powerful.

The view that Jesus would have us merely protect our own and distance ourselves from whoever we consider "other" is deeply disturbing. Certainly we should take responsibility for ourselves and for our families. But is that really enough? "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors [the universally despised scumbags of their day] doing that?" (Matthew 5:46-47). Of course, we should love and care for and protect our own families insofar as we're able. But doing so does not in any way preclude or excuse us from loving and caring for and protecting others.

There seems to be an exaltation of the idea of "personal responsibility" that justifies dismantling the systems we have put in place to care for ourselves, our families, and each other. If natural disaster strips you of your home and all your possessions, have you failed in your "personal responsibility"? If medical bills impoverish you and your family, should the rest of us turn our backs on you and just expect you to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps"?

The callous disregard for others demonstrated at the last two Republican debates is profoundly alarming. The question Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul at this week's debate was in reference to a theoretical person who simply chose not buy health insurance. But are those without health insurance in this country uninsured just because of a simple miscalculation of the risk involved? Unfortunately the real question involves real people in tragic and heartbreaking circumstances.

In the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4), Cain asks, "Am I my brother's keeper?" after he'd already killed Abel. When we callously allow our brothers and sisters to die—for lack of insurance or a flawed trigger-happy judicial system—their blood cries out to God from the ground, just as Abel's did.

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Many thanks to the Christian Left for the artwork!


  1. We posted this article on The Christian Left on Facebook. Join us:

  2. I, too, am an Episcopalian whose faith drives his politics. Thank you for this. We are in total agreement on this issue.

    Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly.


  3. If only all Christians were like you, the world would be a lovely place. Thank you for doing the right thing.

  4. Thank you, Mark. It's so good to know we're not alone, in any respect. Bless you!

  5. tbennett, you are very kind. I'm blushing... Seriously, thanks so much for your support. This was hard to write because it was so personal. Thank you!

  6. Very cogent and insightful. I despair given what I've read the last few days. I despair that people like us will prevail against this abject cruelty. What the Right has become is pure evil. It's Machine, engineered by the billionaire plutocrats, has duped thousands into ignoring their own self-interest. I really don't know what to do anymore.

  7. Thank you, Janis. This may be the rabid right's moment, but ultimately good will prevail. And evil is not new, nor is the call to resist it. What to do is to align ourselves as much as we can with others who also are doing all they can to resist it. I like to think of myself in a long line of freedom fighters that stretches throughout history and all around the world. Together we are mighty, and we serve One whose goodness has already prevailed.

    "The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater." --Haldir the elf, in the Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien

    is a series of charts showing the extent to which the rich are taking it all. --TomRW

  9. Greg Palast tells that billionaires want their "fair share. And that's all of it."