Thursday, March 27, 2014

Looking (Out) for the Helpers

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When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.

— From The World According to Mister Rogers, p. 187.

I've been thinking about this quote a lot lately. It's not that there's been any recent "disaster" in the conventional sense. At least, I haven't heard of any significant earthquake, or crime, or other such tragedy, although I'm sure that there are things happening all over the world to people that I won't ever know about. Indeed, the irony is that the "disaster" I have in mind is not only of a more figurative kind, but it's one that has specifically targeted "helpers" who... well, if you're reading this at about the same time as I'm posting it, you probably already know what's been going on. And if you don't, it's perhaps just as well. In another month or two, this event will fade into the recesses of memory, and I can only hope that things will return to normal enough that it won't matter that I ever had a specific incident in mind. The words will hopefully stand on their own.

It's become fashionable for people of various political or theological stripes to accuse the other of holding needy people hostage in favor of their political or theological views. I definitely have felt that way myself over the past few days, but I was also "witness" to an incident (less well-publicized) a few months ago where a similar situation was taking place, but the political roles were exactly reversed! The main thing both incidents had in common was that there was a group with a public mission to tend to the needs of orphaned and poor children, and because of a particular policy decision — unrelated to the actual giving of aid — on the part of each group in question, those on the opposite end of the spectrum raised a protest specifically targeted at pulling support from the group. It almost sounds trite to say so, but it really does happen on both sides.

I've never been fond of that argument, though. To say that "both sides are guilty" seems too glib. It seems like an excuse to say "it's not bad if I'm doing it, because those other folks do it, too!" That's simply not good enough. Of course people should give to the charitable organizations — the "helpers," if you will — that they feel align with their own values. If the organization proves at some later date to no longer align with those values, one should not be criticized for looking to put their support elsewhere. I would, nonetheless, hope that such decisions are never made lightly, or too quickly. For example, if a commitment was made for a certain period of time, I think it's fair to expect that period to expire rather than be cut short. But people should always be free to give, or not give, according to their own conscience.

But there seems to be a line that's been crossed in recent times. Rather than simply making decisions according to our own consciences, we seem to have resorted to bullying to ensure that charitable organizations continue to align with our own views (and, again, I'm not simply speaking to one particular political or theological stripe here. That really can't be emphasized enough). Whatever happened to people uniting together to support worthy causes, even when we differ on other, important, issues? Of course, I'm fully aware that no one actually sees themselves as a "bully." Likewise, when people have accused those on the other side of being "hateful" in the way that they've put their own political or theological agenda ahead of supporting people in need, it's understandable that those so accused would respond negatively. Even so, it's hard for me to see such recent actions as anything else. Indeed, I need to point out, even if the money pulled from one organization is given directly to another, that still means that the needy person who would have been helped by the first organization no longer gets that help. As one person put it in a recent online comment, "people are not like socks" that can interchanged readily. People are actually being hurt by our politically-motivated actions. Some could even die as a result.

If nothing else, this is precisely why such decisions need to be taken with care, and without undue haste. People (and charitable organizations) should take longer than a mere couple of days to make such decisions! If these things really are matters of deep conviction, such rapid turns should not be taking place.

When I think of the way Jesus reacted to others with whom he disagreed, I recognize that he did indeed have harsh words for some people. This isn't a matter of just agreeing to always be nice to each other. However, it seems to me that Jesus never responded negatively to someone who was being too open to other people! Rather, he reserved his harshest criticisms for those who would, by their rules or their actions, restrict access to those who needed God. I think we can afford to be generous in terms of who we work with to ensure that the work of Christ gets done, and that those who need help are able to receive it.

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