MONDAY MORNING REFLECTIONS – DOUBLE MORAL CHALLENGE OF BUDGET CUTTING, WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH

The struggling economy and the concern for a sound fiscal future for our children has ramped up the debate over budget cuts. A disturbing trend among Christians of my theological persuasion is to try and balance the budget by making deep cuts in social service programs and humanitarian aid initiatives. In my estimation, cutting the deficit without sacrificing the needy is a moral imperative. Michael Gerson, a former speech writer for President Bush has written: “From a fiscal perspective, cuts in global health programs are insignificant; from a moral and humanitarian perspective, they would be tragic.”

Gideon Strauss, President of The Center for Public Justice, adds it is a “double moral challenge, to both reduce the debt level and maintain programs that provide aid to the needy and vulnerable.” Gerson further adds to the discussion: “We don’t have a debt crisis because America spends too much on AIDS funds and malaria nets. We have a long-term debt crisis primarily, in my view, because of entitlement commitments, health care inflation, and an aging population. … I think cuts in federal spending are possible and quite necessary, but the right priorities matter.” I would hope our representatives and we, the voters who support them,would not forget the moral imperative placed on us by none other than Jesus in Matthew 25:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

The Supreme Court has decided that Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church is protected under the First Amendment when they protest at military funerals. In its majority opinion the Court said:

“Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and – as it did here – inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course – to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.”

Samuel Alito, Jr. was the lone dissenter. His response: “Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.”

I have made no secret of my utter revulsion at the actions of the members of this Kansas-based church and its leader, Fred Phelps. They have brought unneeded pain to grieving families and utterly dishonored the Christ who died for their sin. However, I cannot disagree with the position of the High Court. The freedom of speech that is embedded in that First Amendment is essential to a society that has chosen democracy over autocracy. It is the freedom that allows dangerously foolish expression, but also permits people the freedom to express their faith–to worship as their conscience dictates and to speak the truth in love to a world that desperately needs both truth and love. I would hope that Pastor Phelps and his flock would stop protesting long enough to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit who is surely grieved by their hate speech.

But if we begin choosing who is entitled to free speech, assuming that some are not – it is a slippery slope.

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