Saturday, January 17, 2009

Compassion in Action or Compassion Inaction?

A lot of rhetoric and discourse has occurred in the first week of the 2009 Idaho Legislative Session, but none more critical than how to respond to the current cuts in the Health and Welfare budget. The decision that legislators must make is whether or not their compassion will result in action or inaction.

First, let me state the obvious (from where I sit): The Department of Health and Welfare has never had enough money to really effectively meet all the demands that are asked of it. Folks that work for DHW tend to get burned out pretty fast because the workload and the emotional toll is so overwhelming. This current situation certainly cannot help matters.

In Gov. Otter's recent State of the State address he went "off-script" and commented upon a critique by an individual that those of us in state government don't really care what happens to those that are being hurt by the budget cuts. The Guv made an impassioned argument that he as well as legislators understood the difficult circumstances and cared about those being hurt. I don't question his sincerity one iota.

Still, something hasn't sat right with me when cutbacks are going forward regardless. I finally realized that this situation reminds me of something I have read many times in the Bible and remember spending a lot of time praying about due to my own struggles in the past. The verse comes from James 1:22-25 which states:

22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

When considering the fact that considerable amount of the New Testament is devoted to instructing believers to help those in need it hard to ignore a plea for help. Matthew 27:45 puts a finer tip on it when Jesus proclaims, "He will reply to them, Solemnly I declare to you, in so far as you failed to do it for the least of these, you failed to do it for Me." The message is clear: inaction is not option for a believer.

In his first invocation of the 2009 Session, House Chaplain Tom Dougherty (pastor at Cloverdale Church of God) quoted one of my favorite chapters of the Bible, Romans 13. The chapter is traditionally known as one that talks about the authority that God has given government and its role. It states (13:8-10):

8Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

All of this to say that if we truly hear the plea, how can I or any other legislator ignore it? I understand times are tough and that money is tight. However, it is these exact situations where I believe we have not only a civic responsibility, but more importantly moral commandment to help. Inaction, no matter how heartfelt, is not compassionate. Compassion requires action.

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