On Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, my brief on support for the needy appeared in the local paper. My article along with articles from two other faith leaders are given below.
Dr. Ishaq Zahid
More than 46 million Americans – at least 15 percent of the U.S. population – live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census. Yet the issue of poverty was largely ignored in the recent presidential debate. Also, according to the Pew Research Center, the support for government programs to aid the poor is steadily on decline.
Basic needs, if unavailable to our poor fellow human beings, must be taken care of by a multitier support model.
While each person is responsible for his sustenance, family members should be the first and foremost to help in cases of need, regardless of likes and dislikes of the needy relative. Islam’s Holy Book, the Quran says:
Give to the near of kin his due, and also to the needy and the wayfarers. Do not squander your wealth wastefully; for those who squander wastefully are Satan’s brothers, and Satan is ever ungrateful to his Lord. (17:26-27)
Prophet Muhammad said: “To give something to a poor man brings one reward, while giving the same to a needy relation brings two: one for charity and the other for respecting the family ties.”
Unfortunately, the family unit is extremely weakened in current times. For example, we find that a great percentage of children are now born out of wedlock. More than 40 percent of children were born to unmarried women, and the rate is increasing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
I believe the next level of support should come from the religious institutions. When emergency needs arise, people often turn to their worship places first. To meet growing needs, religious entities are, in fact, trying to be resourceful despite slumping donations in uncertain economic times. They have and are serving the needs of millions, and yet that is not enough.
Islam and other religions teach their adherents to not let the love of this world enter into the heart.
You shall not attain righteousness until you spend out of what you love (in the way of Allah). Allah knows whatever you spend.” (The Holy Quran, 3:92)
Religious leaders need to spend more time in their sermons inspiring their congregations to waste none, consume less and share more. In today’s world, where so many wake up in poverty and go to sleep hungry, each of us must ask: “How can I help?” It is a sin to waste food while others do not have enough to eat. The food we waste in America every year can feed 49 million people per year.
The next tier of support has to come from regional and federal governments because some people do not get taken care of by the family and religious entities. Perhaps we should study the feasibility of establishing county-level programs for the needy to provide food and shelter, learning from the county jails funding models. The federal government should have stimulus and incentives by providing partial funding to faith-based and other community-based programs as well as programs set up by regional governments.
In this multitier support model, the federal government’s presence is mandatory and fundamental but not totalitarian. The government from local to federal, the politicians and the spiritual leaders, should ensure that no one is left hungry and without shelter unless they themselves are facing the same.
The Rev.Joseph Darby Senior Pastor, Morris Brown AME Church
Faith-based groups, nonprofits and philanthropic foundations cannot assume the role played by the governmental “safety net” embraced in our nation’s core documents. The preamble to our Constitution says that we aspire to “promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity,” and we profess in our Pledge of Allegiance to be “one nation under God.”
Those statements indicate what America should be — a nation that encourages personal initiative, achievement and accountability while seeing that those who face chronic or episodic economic need are made whole and empowered to compete and achieve.
If we are “one nation under God,” then we should remember the scriptural mandates embraced by many people of faith: to love others as we love ourselves, to see to the needs of those who are struggling and, as stated by the biblical Micah, to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.”
Those who are hungry and homeless, those without access to affordable health care that focuses on wellness and those who have been kept on the margins of society because of their color or economic class have a harder time “securing the blessings of liberty.”
It’s more than reasonable for the government to address those concerns, so that those we encourage to “lift themselves up by their bootstraps” will at least have boots.
During my tenure as its president, the South Carolina Christian Action Council issued a call for our state’s Legislature to craft a “moral budget” that is fiscally prudent but also takes into account the needs of our citizens. We did so in part as a response to those who said that churches and private benefactors could come together and provide for the needy.
Many churches and groups of churches have done so for years and are still doing so, but there’s a limit to what churches that have other ministry expenses and that have also felt the effects of the last six years of economic struggle can do.
Some churches also — for sometimes dubious reasons of their own — pick, choose and restrict the pool of those they assist.
Private benefactors have limits as well. One built a private school for children of modest means in downtown Charleston, but no others have stepped forward to do the same. The governor’s philanthropic foundation has adopted a rural school district, but their first initiative was to improve an athletic field and not to provide educational resources.
The argument that government should take a “hands off” position also can fade when economic need hits home. The past six years have seen some who once condemned government for helping the needy change their tunes when they had to apply for governmental assistance to make ends meet.
Our government provides economic incentives to lure businesses and has bailed out troubled banks. If we have an economic interest in promoting the general welfare of the powerful, then we also have a moral responsibility to promote the general welfare of those in need.
The Rev. Bert Keller - Retired senior pastor at Circular Congregational Church and bioethics professor at MUSC
One thing free people do for themselves and each other through the instrument of government is to make and keep human life human. I believe that should be the main thing government does.
Assuring rule of law is part of that, and we do it by legislation, law enforcement and a good court and penal system. To make and keep human life human also demands high-quality public education, a decent standard of health care — and a social safety net to keep people and families from real harm when they become disabled, destitute, old beyond income-producing years or chronically poor.
From the biblical point of view, God’s concern is always for the poor and powerless.
Policies or laws that protect people from falling into poverty and powerlessness the Bible calls justice, and the motivation to enact such policies, or help those at risk of being crushed by poverty, is called mercy or compassion. Or just plain love. Read Matthew 25.
In a democratic and humane society, like ours, government is morally empowered to undergird what we call the inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Where people feel ownership in their government, this is not seen as “us” helping “them,” but like the whole community acting to safeguard itself.
There will always be room for nongovernment organizations, such as churches and civic clubs, to fill in gaps. And both sectors, public and private, ought to always be inventive in combining “safety net” measures with building human capital so that cycles of poverty can be broken and families empowered to flourish. Education and health care do this, for example.
What kind of situations call out for a safety net?
We think of old age and medical care, to name two, and the corresponding responses of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
We think of having an income below the level agreed on as poverty, and the attendant food programs such as food stamps, free lunches (sometimes breakfast) in schools and maternal and infant feeding programs.
We think of crisis situations, such as Hurricane Hugo, and the aid that came to the Lowcountry via FEMA and other agencies.
And we think of the chronically poor who can find no way out of a culture of poverty, and the responsibility of the rest of the community to them.
Safety net specifics such as eligibility criteria and effective means of help must be settled by policy, but the principle is firm and robust: We should treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves — with a human touch of graceful generosity. Even if we temporarily go in debt to do it.
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