Government shutdown comes to church

You may have heard: we’re having a little national crisis right now.

By Amy Butler

Little did I know last year when I planned this month’s sermon series on the cost of prophecy — the story of Jeremiah — that we’d be living at such an intersection of despair and hope.

But such is the case in my town, where a national government shutdown translates to individual, personal panic for many in our city and our country. And we, the church, stand squarely at the crossroads of the two.

So I’ve been pondering anew this week: how do people of faith speak truth to power and simultaneously proclaim hope in the middle of personal pain?

While I’ve been trying to channel the prophet Jeremiah, pundits are making varying statements downplaying the government shutdown. Some say it’s really no big deal at all. I mean, the worst thing that happens is some museums close and you can’t get in to visit a national park, right?

I’m not a politico, so I’ll leave politics and economics to the people who know about those things. But I know about pastor things, and here’s what I see.

There are a lot of people in my town who have to pay their bills, just like you and me. They are gifted, committed and hardworking federal employees who support the incredible infrastructure of our government and help make our society one of most advanced in the world.

They’ve already seen salaries frozen and gone through furlough days over these past few months. On Monday at midnight, their jobs stopped, and so did their paychecks. They don’t know what’s coming next.

At Calvary, I’d guess at least 75 percent of our families are directly affected by the government shutdown. My inbox and voicemail this week are filled with messages from people who are scared about what’s ahead.

I’d send the federal government a bill for out-of-the-ordinary pastoral care services required by this situation, but I’m pretty sure whatever office I’d bill has been shut down.

Beyond federal employees, recipients of government assistance are now being denied food and other critical services.

That means, for example, that over 9 million poor women and their children in this country have stopped receiving nutritional support services and healthy food through the WIC program, among other things.

And this is but one small example of critical services stopped with the grinding halt of the federal government because of the disagreement over the Affordable Health Care Act.

Basically, Congress has decided to deny people food so that they can then deny them health care.

Jesus didn’t say much about federal budgets and debt ceilings, but he had a lot to say about denying food to the hungry. (See Luke 16, most of the rest of the Gospel of Luke, Matthew 25 and, well, basically all the Gospels.)

Some suggest that churches can pick up the slack while the government sorts itself out. I don’t know about your church budget, but our fellowship fund is a bit short of the $7 billion dollars it takes to fund the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

As each day of government shutdown passes, the needs of the most vulnerable and precious in our society get more and more urgent, and churches don’t have the infrastructure and cash reserves to meet those needs on a wide scale.

Still, as people of faith, step up we will. We will love, encourage and support each other. We will pool our resources to help as much as we can. We will ask those who have more to help those who have less.

We’ll continue to find ways to be God’s hands and feet in a world where the weak and vulnerable suffer at the hands of the rich and powerful. We’ll keep raising our voices and speaking truth to power.

In short, the church will do its job. Wouldn’t it be nice if Congress did the same?

OPINION: Views expressed in ABPnews/Herald columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.