Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Is Entitlement a Bad Word?

Psalm 82 begins:
God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

I’ve been thinking lately about the attitude of entitlement. Entitlement is a buzzword that raises all kind of red flags whenever it is mentioned. Post Katrina, many people blamed the troubling situation in the Gulf Coast region not on inept responders but on a culture of entitlement. The argument goes: Many in our society have become so dependent upon assistance from other sources that when all that support gets yanked away, they collapse. If they were just more independent and lived more self-sustaining lives, they would not have been in such trouble.

Entitlement is also on the minds of the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church, specifically, the Conference Congregational Development Team. One of that team’s stated goals is “reducing the sense of entitlement, which has begun to suppose that if a church is building an addition or adding a new worship service, the funding should in part be from the annual conference in the form of a subsidy.” (That is quoted from a letter from Congregational Development that a colleague shared with me recently.)

Here are some of the questions I have been pondering:
- As Christians, how do we distinguish “entitlement” from “rescuing the weak and the needy”? Why do only the rich and powerful use entitlement as if it is a bad word?
- As United Methodists, how do we distinguish “entitlement” from “connectionalism”? Why is a local church wanting money from the conference “entitlement” but the conference wanting money from the local church “apportionments”?

I welcome any insights you readers of the Rainbow might offer. I’ll write more on this topic in days to come.


DogBlogger said...

Andy, I've always struggled with Question #1. It's been worse since my college-educated sister and brother-in-law have been on food stamps. Why, if I help them, is it called "enabling"? They are well below the poverty line because of the combined effects of debilitating illness and a really big mistake made in the 1980s. Yet I'm warned time and again not to get entangled. What about weak and needy there? I see both, and I want to help.

I really can't speak to your second question as it applies within your Conference. I can say that the congregation I'm a part of has been "weak and needy," but those days are over, and when we start our new construction we will do it with no financial help from the Conference.

Adam Caldwell said...

Interesting topic. I struggle with the whole concept personally.

question: dogblogger, do you struggle with identifying that your sister and brother-in-law are in fact "weak and needy?"

I think the issue is who do we determine are needy? I we talking specifically monaterily and possessions here? I absolutely know that I am privelidged. I know that I am not "want" for anything in this world, but I also don't know if that is honestly the most healthy for me.

The closest experience I can speak to happened this past summer in Mexico. While there, I found myself envying those who were living in that situation. Those who trusted in God really did have to trust in God. It's a little different when you truly are trusting in God to provide funds for your next meal. That's certainly shed's a whole new light on things.

I know I have rambled. I guess my question here is, who are the needy?

DogBlogger said...

Hi Adam -- No, I don't think I struggle with identifying them as weak and needy, as I once did. My biggest emotional struggle is with other family members who seem to recognize the problem but are unwilling to talk about it or act on it. You see, it's acceptable to help people in Juarez and Biloxi, but not in our own family.

Anonymous said...

Andy - Is that you in the picture? It kind of looks like you.
Here's the way I look at it. When one seeks to "do all the good you can, to all the people you can, in all the places you can, etc, etc", it is a given that some people will take advantage of you. Some people will have the attitude that the are entitled to whatever help is coming their way when in reality they could do more to help themselves, or they don't really need the help, or they are fraudulently going from place to place asking for help with the same situation over and over again. So what? In order to help the ones who really need it, You are pretty much forced to help others who maybe are taking advantage of you. And if the latter group has to resort to such tactics to get by in life, they certainly are weak and needy, aren't they? And after all is said and done, I have so much more than they do that it really doesn't hurt me when they take advantage of me. cb

Brad said...

Hey brother man,
Well, since everyone kinda focused on question 1, I'll speak my opinion on question 2. OF COURSE, the conference should help churches grow, get out of debt, find new areas of ministry. If we start cutting things off now, then we'll become a conference of a few powerhouse churches that can do it on their own and then all the rest who are flailing in the waters clutching at straws. Oh, wait, we're kinda already that conference aren't we?

~Little Brudder

John said...

Usually people who approach the church are products of bad decisions that they themselves made. Sometimes they have nasty attitudes and expect handouts. Jesus didn't address such irritating people. He just said, "Give to any who asks of you."

Now that's for the Church. It's a different matter for public policy, where you have no right to someone else's property.