The underlying social contract
Elizabeth Warren has declared herself a candidate for the US Senate. Some of her words have been getting good circulation, of late…
Warren rejects the concept that it is possible for Americans to become wealthy in isolation.
“You built a factory out there? Good for you,” she says. “But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.”
She continues: “Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
The thing with what Warren says is that it challenges the notion of entitlement and the idea that we can – each of us – make it on our own. And the problem with that way of thinking is that people begin to believe they live in isolation of each other – that their neighbour’s contribution, or their neighbour’s needs, have little or nothing to do with their own.
With the campus ministry in which I’m involved, in Kelowna, a small group of us traveled to Vancouver this past weekend. We visited LUMS and First Lutheran Church where justice work with marginalized people is being done. The role of the church needs to be – in effect, it needs to return to being – about those we serve. Sadly, even Christian communities have taken on the idea of entitlement and making it on our own. Instead, we need to be about seeking the welfare of others, especially the least among us in society: those with little or no financial clout, those who tend not to be heard. We need to speak up and advocate for the rights of all people, for the humanity of all individuals. And, we need to serve those who would otherwise have nothing, or no-one.
As Warren has noted, none of us make it on our own (see also an article I wrote for campus paper, The Phoenix). We forget the great privileges so often bestowed on us by birth, and neglect the great poverty into which so many others are born. And, perhaps even more than just giving back when we’ve had access to things like public roads, schools, hospitals, and so on – we need to work at helping others, elsewhere, have access to such basic needs in life. As people of faith, we need to care about the well-being of all creatures and creation, everywhere!
This kind of caring means that we give of ourselves – it means we give ourselves away! It means that we no longer see only our own, personal or church, needs as primary; rather, we are to see need wherever it exists and work to address it. Can we give ourselves away? Can we follow in Jesus’ way to the point where we show grace and mercy because we have, first, been shown grace and mercy?
This is the challenge of our faith. This is the underlying social contract we, as faithful people, must hold up in our society more often.