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Athens in the Cheese State

Is there a door of opportunity here for churches?

Many Americans looked on in near-unbelief last summer when Greeks poured into the streets protesting a cut in their entitlement benefits. Some pundits wondered whether the same could happen here.

Now we know the answer. In both Wisconsin and Ohio yesterday, public employees poured into the state capitols to protest planned reductions in their retirement benefits, reductions necessary, politicians explained, to avoid bankrupting the states.

The crowd seemed particularly animated in Madison, perhaps because the proposed bill also limits future bargaining power on the part of certain unions, notably, that of teachers. The governor of Wisconsin wants the employees to pay more into their own retirements and to have less combined power in negotiating future wages and benefits.

Obviously, the public employees could not just say, "Well, hey, OK, if that's the way it has to be." Some kind of public demonstration was necessary, if only to focus the eyes of the rest of the state - and nation - on their plight.

But teachers lied to their employers in order to attend. And the Democratic National Committee bused in public employees from all around the state to create confusion and turmoil sufficient to block a vote in the state legislature on the controversial bill. Meanwhile, the state's Democratic senators fled the state and went into hiding in order to avoid having to vote one way or another. For had they been required to vote, even if they'd voted against the bill, thus satisfying the protestors, the majority of the people who elected a Republican governor would have seen, and they would not be likely to forget any time soon that the Democrats stood against their wishes.

This is a really sticky situation, because what is happening in Wisconsin is a harbinger of what could be happening all over this country as lawmakers in state and federal legislatures begin to face up to the reality of the limits of government. When crowds are gathering and chanting and raising fists and calling their opponents names and crying out, not just for their defeat, but their death, we are rapidly moving in the direction of a country that has slipped beyond reasonableness into hysteria.

Is there a door of opportunity here for churches? Is it possible that churches might come together and offer, through their own free-will contributions, to help mitigate the losses in income or benefits that someone is going to have to bear? If only for a short-term? If only as a gesture of compassion and neighbor love? If only for the members of their own congregations?

It's easy to vilify and dismiss people waving placards and shouting at the top of their lungs for the heads of those who want to take their benefits. But put yourself in their shoes. Wouldn't you be a little upset, too?

Right now, before this situation spirals out of control, there is an opportunity for some segment of the population to stand up and say, "You know, we hear you. And while we can't do everything, we're willing to do something, if only for a few years, to try to make this an easier pill to swallow." President Obama may have sounded a little facile when he reminded us that these people are our neighbors, but he was right. And if the churches don't do this, you can be sure, no one else will.

So how does that make Christians different from everybody else?

Additional related texts: Acts 4.32-37; Matthew 22.34-40; Philippians 2.1-11; Luke 10.29-37

A conversation starter: "It's pretty clear some people are going to suffer more than others as the nation begins to downsize. Is this the kind of situation where Christians should look for new ways of practicing neighbor-love?"

T. M. Moore

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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