As I write this, the shutdown of the federal government is about to enter its 14th day and there is no indication that operations will resume in the near future. Much can and has been written about what has brought us to this point—political polarization, the collapse of the economy and a slow recovery, even covert and overt racism.
However, I’d like to focus on another shutdown that is taking place throughout the land, a compassion shutdown. America’s compassion shutdown must end, regardless of what Congress does or doesn’t do in the coming days.
We now live in a country where it has become acceptable to not only skirt our responsibility to aid the poor and vulnerable, but where we now vilify them for being in a state of poverty and vulnerability.
We find ourselves in a time and place where we have elected leaders that not only fail to lead in the daily operation of our government, but who outwardly and vehemently express their undying distrust of government itself.
And those Americans that have elected leaders from the radical extremes are now shocked…shocked, I say!…that these officials are governing from extremes.
The compassion shutdown began long before the present government shutdown and contributed greatly to it.
Other than planning to elect new representatives to Congress—a remedy I heartily support—there are steps we can take to reverse the compassion deficit that America is currently experiencing. Here are just a few:
- Don’t allow harmful discourse on poverty and vulnerable Americans to go unchallenged. Every time someone is able to charge incorrectly that the working poor among us are lazy or seeking a handout without a response, they win.
- Arm yourself with actual facts. There are so many lies and myths floating around about programs such as the Affordable Care Act, food stamps and unemployment insurance. These safety nets are in place to help those that are in a time of need and are law. The more we offer a factual basis for the argument to take care of the least among us, the more effective that argument will be.
- If you come from a place of faith, speak from that place. All of our faith traditions ask us to advocate for the poor and vulnerable among us. It isn’t simply a Christian call, but the call is certainly there for Christians to heed. All people of faith must stand up and call for an end to our compassion deficit and shutdown, speaking directly from their faith tradition.
- Engage in the process. This is the time to send emails to your representatives in Congress, letters to the editor of your local paper and to share your thoughts with friends and families via social media. It’s also the time to get involved in political campaigns that are forming throughout the country, working with candidates who seek to end the gridlock and get Washington working again.
It’s easy to feel like we are helpless in this mess. And it truly is a mess. But we’ve seen time and again how an engaged public can change the course of history. Engage, and be a reasonable voice in the midst of unreasonableness. I believe it’s the only way forward.