The Washington Post

Religion should inspire compassion for jobless, not blame

I just finished reading Brian Rosenthal’s excellent article in the “On Faith” section: “Why does God allow unemployment to happen to good people?”

The article came from a blog entry of mine about my changing religious beliefs that apparently raised the hackles of more than a few people. After reading Rosenthal’s story I think I should respond to Fr. Jonathan Morris and many fervently religious people’s position that when misfortune befalls someone it is their own fault.

I’m quoting from Rosenthal’s article: "Morris said most suffering is caused by the misuse of free will."

It's the religious cop-out line: You suffer, therefore it's your fault. You are being punished by a God who -- according to my Midwestern and Southern friends -- loves you, wants the best for you, wants to be in your life every day and has a great big mansion in the sky for you to live in when you die.

What I’m trying to figure out is how that commonly held position meshes with what is taught in every faith about showing compassion to people who are poor, sick and disadvantaged – including unemployed people.

(Courtesy of Stephen Rhymer)

As is taught in Deuteronomy 15:11, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, you shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.”

A major hurricane has just careened up the East Coast, leaving millions of people without power, displaced or homeless altogether and in need of water, food and hope.

Now, when these human beings need help the most, Rep. Eric Cantor, from Virginia of all places, has launched the first not-so-fast volley when it comes to disaster relief.

Cantor is all for spending money on relief – as long as he gets dollar-for-dollar budget cuts in return. For what? His compassion?

What is he thinking? People are in desperate need and he wants to hold them hostage to his budget agenda.

I didn't see Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann or any of the others who would end or eviscerate government services rolling up their sleeves to help clear the debris alongside underfunded and understaffed church and nonprofit groups that struggle to make resources stretch as far as possible.

They must be singing that old refrain: let the states or individuals do it.

I can’t figure out how that is supposed to happen.

States have decimated social services (Medicaid, food stamps, child abuse investigation, unemployment benefits) thanks to federal cutbacks and the dramatic loss in state tax revenue due to unemployment and the continued scary economy.

Here in Oklahoma, more than 1 million people are on food stamps and Medicaid, and 25 percent of the state’s children don’t get enough to eat and depend on school lunch programs (one of those awful government programs).

In a small state boasting 5.5 percent unemployment, 150,000 people still can’t find work. Two of the biggest employers are Yum Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut. Taco Bell) and Sonic Drive-Ins – not exactly jobs with big paychecks or benefits.

Oklahoma is proud to call itself the buckle of the Bible Belt. Sadly, too many individual Oklahomans and their elected leaders seem to spend a lot of time polishing that buckle and not all that much actually helping the poor, feeding the needy, caring for the sick and doing Christ’s work on earth.

The same can be said for the current crop of Republican presidential wannabes: Lots of talk but not much compassion in any of their words or deeds.

They talk a good game but it appears to me that when these Christians go home on Sundays, they leave their Bible teachings in the slot right next to the hymnal.

Stephen Rhymer, a 59-year-old former public relations official from Edmond, Okla., has been unemployed for two and a half years. Read more about him here. Read about the “Help Wanted” project here. Visit the project home page here.

Read more updates from Stephen Rhymer here.


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