Along the Tracks

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Praying for government intervention

I’m not exactly sure where I’m going with this - hear (read, I guess) me out.

I recently heard an anecdote from a local church service. Apparently, when prayer requests were invited, one person raised concerns about the economy - not surprising, considering the tough situation here in Williams County, Ohio, right now. This worshipper mentioned the layoffs, the plant closings in the past two years (two major employers in Montpelier alone), and the people he personally knew who were struggling through hard times.

What is surprising about this story was the remedy he requested. According to my source, this person asked congregants to pray to the Lord to “get the government to do something.” Not for the economy to improve. Not for business leaders to make good decisions which benefit all. Not for believers to have a more generous spirit in helping their fellow human beings. Not for the strength to persevere as we wait for God’s blessings.

He wanted pray for “the government to do something.”

Now, let me make myself clear: In no way do I mean to impugn this person’s faith or his sincerity. He is obviously someone who cares very much about the people in our community, enough so that he stood with fellow believers and asked them to join him in a specific prayer.

However, the worldview this prayer demonstrates is stunning, even a bit frightening in 2003 America. It is a cry of powerlessness. It is a cry of dependency - not on God, but on the government. It is a transfer of responsibility from ourselves - as citizens in a democracy - to a faceless entity which is apparently immune to our petitions.

Although this person may not have meant such a drastic break, I also believe that, underlying such a prayer is a transfer of responsibility as Christians. We ask not for the means to help others, nor the strength and guidance to change what we see as troublesome in our society. Rather, we step aside and ask God to “get the government to do something.” We are no longer responsible for building and improving our world. We just sit back and wait for God to push the government into unspecified actions.

I certainly hope this worldview is not becoming pervasive - although I see signs of it almost daily. This sounds a bit simplistic, but I blame welfare. Welfare was put in place to raise the standard of living for the poor. However, while it (with food programs and public housing) may have pushed people out of the dangers of starvation and homelessness, it created a culture of dependency which not only damaged those receiving the benefits, but infiltrated the rest of American culture, so that many people no longer looked to themselves, their families, their communities or their faith for hope and help in times of need. Rather, they aimed their pleas at “the government.” This change of focus is based on an assumption: The individual is not the government. This is an anti-democratic proposition which damages the very government on which it depends. People stop taking interest in the politics of their representatives. They stop voting. They stop working inside their communities to improve them. They stop helping their neighbors. After all, it’s the government’s job, right.

James, the brother of Jesus, said “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:26) The Apostle Paul pointed out, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (II Corinthians 5:20) Christians who cast off an active role inside their community - who fail to perform “works” - risk not only the downward spiral of the society in which they live, but also the chilling of their hearts and the weakening of their faith.

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