Case in point, why I won’t be a militant atheist

On Monday there was a commentary piece by Peter Rogness, the bishop of St Paul area synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), in the Strib about the role of government in fighting poverty.

Before I get into what Rogness wrote, I am going to talk about some of the people in my life and what I think they believe.

I was talking the other night to my father about religion, very superficially, but one of the things he said really dovetails with Rogness underlying theme. My father was raised Catholic and spent years in Catholic school, and basically what he said the other night is that he doesn’t believe in organized religion, but when he looks at the New Testament, Jesus was a socialist. The point is Jesus believed in helping people, especially the least fortunate among us.

I have a friend who probably is more involved with his church and spiritual life than any other friend I have, well other than friends who are part of clergy. While this friend is very kind and generous, I struggle with his conservative beliefs, especially the concepts of self-reliance and charity is preferred to government to help solve social ills. Regardless of that, I still value his friendship a lot, all though I do try to challenge his conservative worldview regularly.

Now on to Rogness, we start with background,

In 2004, more than 30 heads of religious bodies in this state signed “A Common Foundation: Shared Principles for Work on Overcoming Poverty.” Two years later, much of the language of those principles was written into a state statute calling for the creation of the Legislative Commission to End Poverty in Minnesota by 2020.

Leaders of both parties recognized the value to the people of this state in creating a common vision for how we might be a place where people do not have to live in poverty. The governor signed the statute, members of both parties were appointed, and the commission is now doing its work.

As Minnesotans we are lucky to have clergy that are supportive of anti poverty measures and tax fairness, so much that they got it into law.   After all we could be Alabama, where the Christian Coalition was part of the effort to fight Governor Bob Riley’s attempt to change the tax structure to shift more of the burden on the wealthy and expand social programs.

But this effort, to support anti poverty measures doesn’t end with a law, it requires eternal vigilance, and fortunately, these members of the faith community are on the ball.

A few weeks ago, many of these same religious leaders signed another letter, short and to the point: “We are grateful for your establishing this Commission for the high-ground vision of overcoming poverty, and we look forward to supporting that effort. In the meantime [read: in the face of tough budget decisions], please don’t take immediate steps that make poverty worse!”

As Governor Riley’s efforts in Alabama showed, with bold action social spending could be increased even while facing budget shortfalls.  In fact, budget shortfalls and economic uncertainty are times when we need to increase the social safety net so that hardships for families (not just Bears Stearns) are mitigated, so families don’t drown in a sea of debt (which is harder to get out of thanks to corporate written changes to bankruptcy laws).

Of course, the biggest barrier to this is that even federally funded social programs require a state match, and those state funds come from budgets that require a balanced budget in all but a handful of states.  That is why an economic stimulus package that provides money to state governments would have an economic benefit of $1.36 for every $1 in federal spending.

Now back to Rogness, and his list of programs that should not be cut,

Those are precisely the choices now before us in these budget decisions. To make major cuts from the Health Care Access Fund leaves thousands without health insurance (a foolish decision, since when the uninsured get sick, they then go to the emergency room, which is the most expensive provider society has). Outreach dollars that were forecast to enroll 10,000 children and 1,200 adults in health insurance would help lift people toward health and self-sufficient lives. Lacking such care, they will be propelled in the other direction.

Reducing welfare-to-work funding makes the journey out of poverty harder if the poor can’t find child care or gain work experience.

Backing off of community services for the disabled sends this population further away from self-sufficiency, into greater dependency and despair — and in the process ignores the federal matching dollars that assist us in this commitment.

Even transit funding directly affects low-income people’s ability to rise out of poverty, since it is this population that is most dependent on transit.

Reducing the renter’s credit directly makes the poor more poor.

On and on the list of choices goes. We live up to a commitment to being a place that overcomes poverty, or we make it worse.

Amen!  This atheist wholeheartedly agrees with Rogness and his fellow leaders of faith on these anti poverty issues, and the need to maintain, if not increase the funding for them even in these hard budgetary times.

– Josh

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1 Comment

  1. Sam from P.R. said,

    August 6, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    The times, they are a-changing, and Christians need not be equated with the Moral Majority that championed rightist issues through the 80’s and 90’s. The Bush fatigue has worn down many believers that cannot in good conscience equate the GOP formula with their faith, and some of them are even sounding like Jim Wallis in calling for a reconciliation of evangelical piety and social compassion. I don’t know if the Democrats will welcome them, but it would be foolish to leave them out of the tentpole. I am one of them, and it would be nice to see my church and my party on speaking terms this November.


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