April 24, 2009 in Opinion

Difficult times require response by taxpayers

Martin Wells Special to The Spokesman-Review

I join all people of goodwill who are dismayed by the prospects of this economy and the horrendous ripple effects forced on state government. But it isn’t enough to throw up our hands in helplessness when there are things we can do about our situation.

Clearly the private sector, including churches, should respond. I think this is happening. More and more of our congregations are offering free meals, clothing banks and travel vouchers. One of our congregations is offering a job fair and advice and counsel for those who have been dumped in this job market.

But it is also the case that congregations themselves are stressed during this economic downturn. In particular, our rural congregations are anxious about unsold wheat, wet conditions this spring and the vagaries of the market this summer. Our urban congregations are full participants in addressing the challenges ahead, as shown in the outstanding new housing being developed by St. Paul, Salem and All Saints congregations as Spokane Urban Ministries. All of us want our local congregations to be identified as centers of support for those who are suffering.

Spokane has come to depend on Lutheran Community Services, Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army for many programs and services that use leveraged state funding. When this funding is cut it doesn’t matter how much idealism or goodwill is present in the agency; there just isn’t money to work with. In modest response I will be proposing that our Synod Assembly invest even more deeply in Lutheran Community Services, identifying it as “THE social ministry of our church,” serving all people of the Inland Northwest.

We also affirm that there are times when the extra assistance of the religious community isn’t enough to provide for our commonwealth. That’s when we join with other citizens to provide the social safety net funded by our taxes. It would be a reasonable, if distasteful, response to our current situation to ask our citizens for an additional taxed amount during these hard months. I will continue to support the efforts of our legislators, who, finding themselves stuck between economic realities and their concern for the poor among us, intend to come back next year with a plan to maintain core programs that assist our most vulnerable citizens: the children, senior citizens, those living with disabilities, those without health coverage or shelter.

It finally comes down to the question, “What kind of community and state do we want to be?” I hope we will answer that we care about those for whom the bottom is dropping out and that we are committed to using the basic powers of government to provide for the health, safety and welfare of our citizens. We do this by taxing ourselves, depending on those of us who are still doing well to step up a notch until we get past this devastating chapter in our economic life. This responsive, compassionate community is what we intend to be.

Bishop Martin Wells, Spokane, presides over the Eastern Washington and Idaho Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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