Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Accountability and compassion

Much current political discourse in the United States pits advocates of personal accountability against advocates of social compassion.

Advocates of personal accountability want individuals to take responsibility for their actions. Men who father children should pay child support and assist in other childcare responsibilities. The same is true for women who give birth to a child. Individuals who overspend, whether through credit card mismanagement or taking an unaffordable mortgage, should suffer the financial consequences of those choices.

Advocates of social compassion want to ensure that everybody has a minimum quality of life. People make poor choices for many reasons. Regardless, everybody deserves basic food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare. Government programs appropriately express the community’s social compassion.

I find both views have merit. Paternalism is unhealthy. Rabid individualism is also unhealthy. Neither works. The confrontational either/or rhetoric obscures that both accountability and compassion are indispensable.

The nation (like a family or any health community) needs to balance compassion and accountability. A healthy family holds its members accountable and ensures that nobody suffers catastrophic failure.

The larger the group, the loser the bonds that bind people together, the more difficult to identify and to inhabit that healthy balance. Yet that is what we as a nation (all nations) and we in our civic communities need to do.

For example, an individual should be accountable for any child the individual procreates. However, penalizing the child by making the unwanted child entirely dependent upon an uncaring, inept parent who consistently shirks parental responsibilities makes the child and the rest of society into losers. We need creative alternatives for accountability coupled with genuine, contextually appropriate compassion.

The constructive, Christian middle ground for public discourse will work to hold individuals accountable for their actions, aiming to incentivize and to form, not to punish or to inflict vengeance. The constructive, Christian middle ground for public discourse will work to establish compassion for all, not as a substitute for accountability but as a complement, caring for the most vulnerable and least among us as if they were Jesus himself.


Ted said...

Yes we all want both accountability and compassion, just ask any politician; but at what price. As long as there are no lasting punishments people will continue to do what ever they want because we forgive and forget.
In America’s case, when we try to stop the negative occurrences, compassion kicks in and we forgive and pay for their problems, then complain.
When Jesus returns, he better bring a large bank account as prayer will not correct outrageous habits.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Clifford, for someone who enjoys the benefits of being part of a tax-exempt organization (the church) you certainly are doing alot of political preaching on this blog. I thought that dabbling in politics was off limits in that it threatens that economic advantage. Shouldn't you stick to saving souls and get out of the political arena before the IRS reads your drivel?

George Clifford said...

I’m unsure what benefits I enjoy by being part of the Church because of its tax exemption. I am a non-stipendiary priest (i.e., a volunteer) and pay for all costs associated with this blog using after tax dollars. In any case, I lean toward ending property tax exemptions for all non-profits because they utilize the services provided by municipalities. I’m also inclined to argue that churches should not accept tax-free contributions because doing so entails an element of government control. I proffer both positions tentatively and welcome dissent, though I’m thoroughly familiar with the arguments that the community benefits from having non-profits, thereby justifying tax exemption.

Incidentally, dabbling in politics – as you call it – is not off limits, as you could learn by reading by series of posts on Religion and Politics (Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7). The IRS prohibits tax-exempt religious organizations from devoting substantial resources to lobbying and from endorsing candidates and candidates. The IRS has no rules about religious organizations addressing issues from a religious/ethical perspective. And, I’m an individual, fully taxed (albeit at too low a rate for the collective good) and not a tax-exempt religious organization.

Furthermore, I welcome diverse views on my blog. However, I also seek to promote civil discourse. Labeling my posts as drivel without even offering an explanation as to why you reach that conclusion stretches the bounds of civility.