No one can do it alone

June 25, 2011 in Question of the Week, What is government's role in caring for the poor? Should churches and civic groups do more? by Mark Matheny

On Monday, the Shelby County Commission restored funding for the Office of Early Childhood and Youth this week after first voting to cut the program, which works to reduce infant deaths and teen pregnancies.

Commissioners Wyatt Bunker and Terry Roland spoke against funding the program, arguing that churches and civic organizations — not government — should care for the poor.

“These type social programs should not and should never have existed in government,” Bunker said.

“I’m like my friend, Commissioner Bunker: This should be taken care of through the churches,” Roland said.

What is government’s role in caring for the poor in Memphis and Shelby County? Should churches and civic groups do more?

What is really needed is a dynamic partnership. It recognizes that no one entity alone can do it all. With necessary respect for separation of church and state, faith communities and government can work together well.

Look close to home for examples: in health, neither The Med nor Church Health Center can take care of all the needs, but both are crucial, along with all the other providers. What would Memphis be without MIFA?; on the other hand, what would happen if MIFA operated without there also being food stamps and other programs only a public agency provides?

Biblically, I would encourage Mr. Bunker to interprete carefully the well known sayings of Jesus about “the least of these”, and the meaning of “render(ing) unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s…”