Now we command you, brothers in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (2 Thessalonians 3: 6-12, English Standard Version)
Last week, America dissected the F. Halsey Frost family of Baltimore. Mr. Frost and his wife Bonnie have four children, two of whom were severely injured in an automobile accident several years ago. The Frost family earns approximately $45,000 per year with Mr. Frost being self-employed as a trim carpenter, working "intermittently," and Mrs. Frost working part-time in a clerical position that does not offer health benefits. The Frosts claim that individual health insurance is cost-prohibitive, which is why the Frosts had no health coverage at the time of the accident. The two injured children and their two siblings are now covered under the children's health insurance fund administered by the state of Maryland and funded by the federal government.
I grieve for the two Frost children who suffered those terrible injuries in the automobile accident. And I am pleased that Maryland has a state health insurance program that will cover their treatment and therapy. Obviously it would be nearly impossible to find private coverage for these two children now, given that their injuries included severe head trauma and crippling physical damage.
But I am less than pleased with the decisions made by their parents and their extended family for two reasons. First, the Frost family comes from old New York City money. Halsey Frost's father Corwin Frost is a Princeton graduate and has been a professional in the field of urban planning and project management for decades. It is not a stretch to assume that he does very well financially. And the two previous generations of Frosts preceding him operated a successful Manhattan architecture firm. The Frost family, at large, is not poor; nor can it be argued that Halsey Frost had no opportunities to learn how to earn a good living. And second, it was discovered that even now, in their current state of financial dearth, a Volvo SUV, a GMC SUV, and a Ford F-250 pickup all sit in the Frost's driveway.
Before I offer my thoughts on all this, I'll let JayTea from WizBang explain what I am going to talk about:
Far too many people -- largely baby boomers -- are stuck at a permanent adolescence.
They don't want to be grownups. They want all the rights and privileges of adulthood, but shy away at some of the attendant responsibilities and burdens that come hand-in-hand with them.
They want to be parents, but don't want to deal with the harder, more challenging, more difficult aspects of parenthood. They don't want to deal with their children's developing sexuality, so they try to get someone else to handle that part. A normal adolescent would try to foist the burden on their parents, but that doesn't work here -- so they turn to the government, the "nanny state," to do the dirty work.
They want their own sexual freedom, but they don't want to live with the likely consequences (children, disease, social stigma, etc.) So they push for abortion on demand, massive public funding for STDs, try to push the boundaries of what is "socially acceptable," and so on.
This is compounded by the explosion of college education in the 1960's. Among all the other effects, it gave a lot of people who were decidedly lacking in maturity enough of an intellectual veneer to construct elaborate excuses to rationalize their own shirking of responsibility.
Abortion is not something shameful, an admission of a private failing in taking responsibility for oneself -- it is a right and a "choice" to be celebrated and protected.
Having children you can't support on your own is not your fault, it's society's fault -- and society's responsibility to make sure they're adequately supported and raised.
Taking care of your own health and well-being is too burdensome. We want miracle pills and quick fixes, and we want someone else to pay for them. So "health care" becomes a right -- especially when it's redefined to mean "health care where someone else picks up at least a part of the cost."
Today we face a serious dilemma: how to distinguish irresponsible people from impoverished people.
There is a difference, a big one. Poverty is largely the result of a self-perpetuating destructive environment. Impoverished communities and impoverished families generally share two common deficiencies: lack of education, which severely limits their ability to legitimately earn money, and the inability to understand that delayed gratification is often far more beneficial than immediate satisfaction, which nearly always leads to bad lifestyle and financial decisions. Whenever these two destructive traits become permanently programmed into either a family or community dynamic, generational poverty will result.
On the other hand, irresponsibility is the failure of individuals to understand or accept the consequences of their own bad decisions. Irresponsibility is what leads young college graduates to rack up tens of thousands of dollars in automobile and credit card debt. Irresponsibility is why an unhappy worker quits their job with little or no consideration about how they are going to replace their lost benefits. Irresponsibility is why two parents, who are barely able to support themselves and the two children they already have, decide that having three more children is no big deal.
Irresponsibility is not generational. It is not the result of learning to make bad choices because you grew up in an environment where everyone else continually made the same bad choices. Irresponsibility begins and ends with the individual. And, as my excerpted passage above explains, irresponsibility has become very easy for Americans today. I believe this is because America's policy-makers, either through ignorance or deliberate strategy, have blurred the distinction between poverty and irresponsibility.
But the problem gets more complicated when the children of irresponsible parents suffer because of their parents' mistakes. It is the children who are at risk, not only because of the immediate financial hardships that they face, but because their parents are not teaching them to be responsible. When this happens, the life journey of these children can take a detrimental turn toward true poverty. I believe that intervention -- both financial and educational -- is necessary for these children.
The Bible gives us a clear mandate concerning the impoverished -- we are to give of ourselves, both financially and emotionally, in order to alleviate the suffering of the needy. The Bible even makes it clear who the needy are: widows, orphans, and sojourners in the land. In the ancient world, orphans, widows, and resident aliens had few rights under the law. They could be trampled by others as the others pleased, for they had no legal recourse against them. Also, they could never earn enough money, no matter what they did or how hard they worked, to rise above the bottom level of society. In other words, the truly needy are those who are trapped in poverty because of circumstances beyond their control.
On the other hand, through the writing of the Apostle Paul, the Bible gives us a clear directive on the treatment of those who are irresponsible or lazy. The passage that opens this essay is very clear in its meaning, although admittedly it is not what we would call "compassionate." I think that this is because we have misunderstood the definition of compassion.
Compassion, in the Biblical sense, can be summed up quite simply: "your pain in my heart." It involves solidarity between those who suffer and others who voluntarily shoulder the burden of that suffering. The end result of compassion is a bonding and unity among people that is stronger than anything negative that the forces of evil can create.
But how are we to form this kind of solidarity with those who are simply lazy or irresponsible?
I believe that a genuine, honest discussion of the American societal safety net is in order. We should ensure that all who are truly needy and truly impoverished get the financial and educational assistance that they need. We should also ensure that the innocent do not suffer because of the irresponsibility of others. But at the same time we should make certain that irresponsible adults are not rewarded with free money from the government, because that money is not really 'free'; it has to be taken from the rest of us. Critics extensively noted that the recent proposed SCHIP expansion failed miserably in this regard. So what should we do instead? Unfortunately I do not have an answer; this is why we need dialog.
Which brings us back to Halsey Frost. I don't think that he is hiding anything or lying. I believe it is most reasonable to assume that he and his wife just wanted to be "free" of the encumbrances that an Ivy League education and professional career demand. But there is a trade-off. You can't completely displace yourself from the professional world and its financial rewards, and then expect to be able to periodically join in the "good life" whenever it suits you.
A driveway filled with expensive vehicles gives authentic testimony to the fact that we now have a system that allows anyone to ask the government to pay for the things for which they feel "entitled," with little accountability for the way that they utilize their other financial resources. Christians in particular should take a long hard look at this situation, because such a system is not just short-sighted -- it is non-Biblical as well.
Columnist Mark Steyn discusses this in his latest piece, but from a fiscal perspective. It's worth your time to read.