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In Tragedy, Why Government?

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Years ago I was involved in a quite substantial and complex bit of civil litigation.  There were about 100 litigants on one side and roughly 40 on the other.  When it was all said and done the final settlement was in the $10M range.  At its core was a gross injustice, not to mention a likely bit of government corruption.  I was far more interested in finding justice through punishing the denfendants and exposing the corruption than I was in the money.  Frankly, I’d have settled for a pubic admission of their actions from the defendants, noting the humiliation to them and their enterprise that would have resulted, and figured out how to pay for the restitution needed some other way.  But, I was alone in that.  I became a fly in the ointment of the whole process.  Eventually my lawyers explained to me that civil litigation can never truly achieve justice, it can only at best compensate victims of injustice.  I learned a valuable lesson about the limitations of government through that exercise.

I was reminded of the deep limitations of government, when I read this NPR story from sometime around last Christmas.  It is about how the opiod crisis has overwhelmed the foster care system.  Honestly I cannot believe I missed the story those 5 months ago, and I really cannot believe that such an impact from the opiod epidemic had not occurred to me earlier.  It is such an obvious consequence.  But then the story struck me quite vividly given that the church I attended this past Sunday is building an orphanage in Mexico and I had been involved in a long discussion about the comparative merits of foster care and orphanages.  The move away from orphanages in the United States was supposed to be a move away from institutionalization of parent-less children and towards a more personal approach to their care.

But the story has two incredibly salient points.  First of all, as are all NPR stories, it is based on an interview and the interview is primarily an ask for money, “Earlier this year, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. But that designation ‘didn’t come with money,’ Moores says. ‘And that is sadly what the necessity is.'” In other words the institutional beast still needs to be fed.  All our shift from orphanages to foster care has really done is change the nature of the institution involved.  Need more evidence, consider this quote from the piece, echoing something I said in my piece of Alfie Evans last Thursday, “There’s a lot of debate about that, but the law requires that reasonable effort be made to reunify first. Sadly, in some cases, the law has determined that parents have a due process right to their children. In other words, we treat children like chattel of their parents, like possessions, and these are Supreme Court precedent.”  Chattel, property, is an institutional system.

Whether it be a situation like the Alfie Evans one or like the effective orphans produced by the opiod epidemic, some tragedies are simply beyond the government.  The government cannot make right something that is so incredibly broken.  Everything government touches is automatically institutionalized and therefore dehumanized.  Why, in these most human of situations do we turn to the dehumanizing?  Why, when what is most needed is justice do we turn to that which can only, at best, compensate the victims of injustice?  At the times we most need empathy, love and compassion we turn to that which devoid of those attributes.  We talk about the impartiality and objectivity of government as merits but then we see situations like these and those same attributes appear devoid of simple humanity.

There was a time in this nation when churches ran orphanages and charity hospitals.  Institutions, yes – even institutions prone to the same dehumanizing and unjust tendencies as the monstrous government institution – but with a difference.  Church organized and operated institutions are not founded out of necessity or equity, but out of humanity and compassion.  Church organized and operated institutions are built on principles and philosophies that specifically fight against the injustice and dehumanizing so present in our governmental institutions.  The church exists to fight our corruptions.  It does not always win the fight, but it always fights on.  The institutions the church creates may corrupt, but they will eventually correct for such is the reason the church exists.  Can we say that about government?

The Trump administration is rolling back regulation after regulation. Here is another area where they can restore some fundamental goodness to our country.  Roll back the regs that have effectively pushed our religious organizations out of the healthcare and childcare businesses.

But that will not be enough.  We in the church have grown complacent with our charity.  And what mission we do contribute to seems to be for other places, sometimes I think so we can enjoy a short term mission trip to someplace exotic or tropical.  We need to open our wallets, our pocketbooks and our energy to missions right here at home.  We have to pay for the construction and operation of the hospitals and orphanages we need.  And we need to do so while continuing to help those in other lands.  We need to discover our spirit of charity once again.


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