By Luke Moon (Twitter: @lukemoon1)
For more than 20 years, Glenn Richter has been collecting food from restaurants and synagogues to donate to the homeless and local soup kitchens. Not anymore. Last year, Nanny-in-Chief Michael Bloomberg banned restaurants from donating leftover food to shelters and soup kitchens. The excuse given by Bloomberg was that the health of the homeless was important and therefore they city must monitor the salt, fat, and fiber intake for the homeless.
If this was an isolated incident or limited to New York City it might not be that significant. I mean, this is the same Bloomberg who seemingly would have all the citizens of New York become bike-riding vegans (I expect the auto and shoe leather buy-back program to be launched any day now.) No, this attack on generosity is a pattern across the nation.
Last month, MyNorthwest,com wrote about how The Bread of Life Mission in Seattle was told to stop feeding the homeless in city parks. According to the report, David Takami from, you guessed it, the Seattle Human Services Dept said, “The city does not allow groups of people to feed the homeless outdoors without approval.” Instead, generous citizens need to go through the government sanctioned “Operation: Sack Lunch” so that the city can “control the nutritional value of what the homeless eat.”
Last year, the city of Philadelphia’s mayor outright banned the feeding of the homeless in public spaces. Fortunately, this ban was overturned by a Federal judge after several religious charities filed suit to block the ban. Again, couched in the “good intentions” language of public safety and safety of the homeless, the mayor banned the ability of citizens to “love their neighbor” in the “city of brotherly love.
Rarely does the IRD commend Shane Claiborne and his organization, The Simple Way, but in this instance they acted according to the teachings of scripture. In his open letter to the mayor of Philadelphia, Shane wrote, “And it was St. Augustine who said, ‘An unjust law is no law at all.’ This [ban on feeding the homeless] is an unjust law and we are obligated not to comply.”
Lest you think this is simply a liberal big-city issue, the state of Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals demanded Shreveport-Bossier Rescue Mission throw away nearly a ton of donated venison. The deer meat was donated by Hunters for the Hungry, a charity which donates wild game to shelters. Even though the Louisiana’s own Deer Management Program itself publicly states it donates deer meat to charities, the local hunter’s generosity is banned.
Since the 2009 economic crisis there have been thousands of rules and regulations passed by governments in an attempt to “stamp out corruption and greed.” Last year, parks all over the nation were occupied by angry youth and washed out hippies decrying the supposed greed and corruption of the 1%. Many were calling for wealth redistribution and prison for the guilty rich. Both of these strategies to overcome greed misunderstand that the true source of greed lies in the human heart. Greed is not limited to the rich Wall Street banker. Greed is alive and well on Main Street and my street.
The reality is that greed is not overcome by law, but by generosity and this simple truth is what makes the attacks on generosity so disturbing. These attacks on generosity are all justified as being for health and safety or some other good intention. However, C.S. Lewis nails it when he wrote on the Tyranny of Good Intentions,
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
A more insidious problem is that the church, and other religious and charitable organizations are the only real competition to the State. One of the first acts of dictators in the last century was to destroy the churches. This is because the church tells the people, “God is the ultimate authority,” whereas the dictator says, “I am the ultimate authority.” While many States in the Western world have not fallen under the tyranny of a dictator, the attacks on the competition to the State being the ultimate authority is still evident if not more subtle. On nearly every issue where the States power is challenged there is a dutiful lot of religious leaders who will trot out to affirm the authority of the State.
For example, last year at the Wild Goose Festival, David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World, told the audience, “I would like to get churches get out of the business of distributing groceries–put that in the hands of grocery stores. And get churches involved in working with people to get their lives under control.” The money to buy those groceries, of course, come from the State.
Caring for the poor and being generous is the individual responsibility of everyone and especially every Christian. However, the war on generosity must be exposed for what it is, a subjugation of the church to the State. As the allies of the State strive to perfect humanity they will not just breed more greed, but they will breed resentment too.