Saturday, September 04, 2004

Bush's Speech, Part 2

"religious charities provide a safety net"

Because speeches like these are carefully crafted for popular consumption, one must read between the lines to find out what is really intended. Reflecting in this way upon the speech, Bush's obscure statement about religious charities providing a safety net was most disturbing to me.

The phrase "safety net," when used in this way is usually part of the larger phrase "social safety net," referring to various government programs like housing vouchers and food stamps which attempt to keep those who "slip" economically from hitting rock bottom.

Bush's use of the term "safety net" with relation to private charities and without the word "social," which implies that society as a whole provides the safety net through government, is a disturbing reflection of the administration's intentions: with the "safety net" ostensibly provided by private charities, Bush has found his "compassionate" rationale for rolling back countless government programs which benefit the poor.

To be sure, religious charities do have an important interstitial role to play, but only government is large enough, powerful enough, organized enough, and stable enough to give the real economic security which it is our Christian duty to provide to "the least of these." Such a fundamental social obligation cannot responsibly be made to depend upon private acts of philanthropy and dispersed charities. Asking church groups to bear sole responsibility for providing the social safety net would be like asking them to be our army or our courts.


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