Monday, August 04, 2008

Sermon 7/27/08 Why Not Mix God and Polititcs Part 2 "Social Issues: Melting Pot or Boiling Point"

Social Concerns: “Melting Pot or Boiling Pot.”

Today begins our second sermon in the sermon series “Why Not Mix God and Politics.” Today we will be dealing with what we typically call social issues. I do want to point out though, that just because we call these issues “social” it does not mean that they are not moral. The issues that we will talk about are very moral because God does care how we respond to these issues. Let me define some of the social issues that seem to be important for this presidential election.

1. Education
2. Immigration
3. Health Care
4. Social Security/Medicare

I would also include the categories we will talk about next week in as “social issues” but most Christians seem to put them in another category so I will do the same. In all of these cases there are really two philosophies these issues are approached from. I will spell out what I see as the two philosophies and then explain how they impact each of these issues, but let me be clear about one thing up front.

In some of the reading I have been doing I have read this comparison over and over: The republicans only care about the rich and want cut tax taxes for the wealthy and leave the poor to fend for themselves while democrats care about the poor and want to help them. I have found that this really is not true. I believe republicans care about the poor as much as democrats, but the two philosophies about how to best care for the poor tend to differ.

Republican Philosophy of Free Competition

Republicans on the whole, tend to support policies that promote free competition. This means that they try to do everything they can to decrease the amount the government plays in order to allow businesses to compete and consumers to buy. This means the republicans will tend to support lower taxes and tax breaks for businesses because this means businesses can hire more people, consumers will have more money to spend, and the competition between businesses will lower prices meaning the poorer folks can buy more with their money.

Ronald Reagan was famous for a philosophy known as “Trickle Down Economics” which meant that if the top was having to pay less in taxes then the money would trickle down by boosting the economy, providing more jobs, and then helping the poor to have a better life. Republicans favor this approach more than establishing programs that “hand out money.” They believe this promotes a waste of money because the money funds bureaucracies and only helps those who will not help themselves. Not only do these social programs waste money, Republicans believe they ultimately do not help the poor attain a better life. They are oppressive to those that they are trying to help.

Democratic Philosophy of Bringing the Bottom Up

On the flip side, the Democratic Philosophy begins by assuming that free competition, while good in some respects, will always leave out those on the bottom. In order to promote free completion, those who are left out need to have programs available to them to help them move from the bottom so that they can have jobs and buy those things that are necessary for life. The problem with the “Trickle down Theory” is that the money never really trickles all the way down. While the wealthy are getting tax breaks, they are not cutting costs and creating new jobs. Instead they are building bigger houses.

While it is true that some people who refuse to work are getting “handouts” and hurting the system, there are many people who would work and pay taxes that cannot do so without help. If the government could step in and help them get off their feet, the economy would actually be in better shape and capitalism would be at its best. While this can mean that we have to pay more initially in taxes, it will promote a better society in the long term.

The Philosophies and the issues

To understand how these philosophies affect some of the key social issues, let’s examine the four critical issues.

1. Education- Typically the republican response to education has been to support a program called “Vouchers.” All of us pay taxes which go to support the public school system, but many people over the years have grown leery of the public school system. As a result, many parents choose to send their children to “private schools” where they have to pay tuition. This means two things: (1) Parents are paying taxes and if they send their kids to private schools they are also paying tuition and being “double billed.” (2) Some parents cannot afford private schools so they are stuck sending their kinds to the public schools which are not meeting their standards.

Democrats as a whole are normally opposed to school vouchers and programs they believe will cause money and funding to be taken out of the schools that are already failing. They would rather us invest in the troubled schools and bring in better teachers to turn the school around.

2. Immigration- This is one issue where party lines have not been as strong. McCain, a republican recently sponsored a bill with Kennedy, a democrat, which would allow illegal immigrants to identify themselves and then go through the process of citizenship. It seems that our interest in this issue lies both with helping immigrants become assimilated into America and protecting our boarders from those who want to harm us.

3. Healthcare- Democrats have been quite outspoken about the need for universal health care. There are a number of different plans available, but the basics are that they believe every person ought to be able to carry health insurance and the government is responsible to make sure that every person has this opportunity. It is important to note that offering universal health care does not necessarily mean the government will control the health care system. There can still be private insurance companies while government make place a cap on the cost and the minimum coverage for families.

Republican on the other hand, believes that while it is important that everyone have health care, we have to balance this out with the quality of health care people receive. The best way to do this would be to give some type of tax credit so people could afford health insurance and then let people choose how and what plans they want for their family. Republicans believe this would inspire competition, which would keep prices in check.

4. Social Security and Medicare- As many people know, Social Security is in dire straights. It is believed that by 2041 the reserve funds of Social Security will be bankrupt. Republicans have suggested that it would be better if we allowed people to take the money that normally goes into Social Security and let people invest the money.

Some Democrats have suggested that this will severally hurt the poor who will not be able to invest as much as the rich and there will be no system in place to help take care of those who are poor and retired.

Of coarse there are many more issues and there are many more dynamics to each of the positions I have just raised. The question that we have before us is what the Bible would teach us to when it comes to these social issues.

The Bible and the Poor

Most people are familiar with the 10 commandments in Exodus 20, but have you ever read through the laws Moses gives to the people in Exodus 21 -23. Here is a brief sampling of some of them found in Exodus 22,

21 "Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.
22 "Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. 23 If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. 24 My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.
25 "If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. 26 If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, 27 because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can your neighbor sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.

I would challenge you to read through some of these chapters and see how concerned God is that the poor are taken care of. Lots and lots of the laws in Exodus are there for the primary reason of taking care of the less fortunate.

One of reasons the prophets tell Israel that they have been exiled is due to their exploiting the poor. Amos says,

6 This is what the LORD says:
"For three sins of Israel,
even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath].
They sell the innocent for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
7 They trample on the heads of the poor
as on the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl
and so profane my holy name.[ii]

Jesus also teaches these truths over and over. He told a parable in Matthew 25 in which he says those who go on to have life are the ones who fed the hungry, invite the stranger in, clothed the naked, and visit those in prison.[iii] In James 1:27 we read that “Religion that our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”[iv]

In these two passages, there seem to be two themes running throughout. The first is that we are held responsible by God to make sure we do everything we can to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. In Hebrew times the poor were people who had no influence because they had no power. The Bible tells us that we are to step in and support those who cannot support themselves.

The other theme that runs through the Bible is the Bible does not promote laziness or taking advantage of the system. In Exodus the people were commanded that if the people picking crops in the field did missed some that they were not to go back but to leave that for the poor to come out and pick. The Old Testament does support work. Neither the rich nor the poor are supposed to take advantage of the system. The poor should work and the rich should do all in their power to make those things available.

What to look for in a Candidate

The first thing I want to say about what to look for in a candidate is more of a personal thing based on being a Christian and the research I have done. I will admit it is a matter of opinion, but I think faith based programs are so important. It makes since that the government could support programs that actually can make a real impact in the lives of people. Instead of just mailing a check to a home, it supports programs where people can work with other people to give the best chance of success. I think about out Inner City Program for example. It makes me smile to see our church members tutoring kids who may not be able to get that kind of attention when they get home.

I also believe changing lives begins with the educational system. The best way we can help people who are on the bottom of economic system have a chance in the world is to provide an education that will equip them to either go to college or find a good job. This may mean that we have to invest in our troubled schools and give incentives for good teachers to work there. Actually we need to pay out teachers more money across the board if they are to be charged with this great responsibility.

Thirdly, we should look for candidates that have a plan for making the health care system better both in terms of quantity and quality. It is true that everyone needs healthcare, but we also must maintain the quality of health care that is provided.

Finally the candidates must have compassion for those who cannot help themselves. They must be able to provide programs that move people out of poverty. This is what God asks of us and we should demand this from those in office.

[i]TNIV Exodus 22:21-27
[ii] TNIV Amos 2:6-7
[iii] Matthew 25:31-46
[iv] TNIV James 1:27

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