It Ain’t Compassion if It’s Someone Else’s Dime

Give me your money, so I can show compassion with it.

Absurd, right? Especially at the point of a gun.

By definition, governments and their agencies, cannot show compassion. That’s because they fund their activities — benevolent or not — through the threat of force. If you don’t pay your taxes, terrible things happen to you, such as having to wait on hold, stand in line, talk to IRS agents, and go to jail.

If I take YOUR money by force, and give it to the next guy, who’s showing compassion?  Answer: NO ONE. Sorry, Robin Hood.

Compassion cannot be coerced.

Compassion cannot be legislated.

Compassion cannot be charged to someone else’s credit card.

Please notice I have NOT said that our government should get out of the business of doing good for people. Of course not. Our federal government exists, in part, “to promote the general welfare…” So, please don’t leave a comment about how I want to throw impoverished children onto the streets. I am simply arguing that NOBODY gets “compassion points” for anything governments  do.

Nor am I suggesting that all individuals employed by our federal government are heartless bureaucrats. Some are. Most aren’t. When I processed the 501(c)3 application (tax-exempt recognition) for my Chicago church at the U.S. Post Office in downtown Chicago, I met with a most wonderful, kind-hearted, compassionate, federal government minion. Yes, they’re out there.

But, as personable and compassionate as she was individually, she still followed the letter of the government’s laws.

The “passion” part of the word refers to emotion, and governance mixes with emotion as well as Kanye West with Taylor Swift. The government does NOT feel your pain, presidential claims to the contrary notwithstanding. In “Men in Black” Tommy Lee Jones deadpans the camera and says, “We’re the federal government, ma’am. We have no sense of humor.” Right. And no compassion either.

Can the current health care debate be about compassion as long as it is about government, too?

Can we delegate compassion to a soulless bureaucracy?

You can’t shift the burden your compassion to the government. Nor can you pat yourself on the back for voting for a candidate because his/her policies are “more compassionate.” THEY’RE SPENDING SOMEONE ELSE’S MONEY ACQUIRED THROUGH TAXATION!  IT’S NOT COMPASSION! Never has been, never will be.

“Compassionate conservatism?” No such thing; not unless compassion is a marketable commodity. “Compassionate liberalism?” No such thing; not unless feelings of mercy can be coerced by government regulation. A “compassionate” government is inevitably dysfunctional; governments run by laws, not feelings, and no amount of legislation can codify compassion. Good governance is dispassionate.

Can institutions weave compassion into their core values?  Yes. They can and should. But that compassion ceases the instant the institution’s funding becomes coercive. Samaritan’s Purse, Bongolo Hospital, most churches, and other eleemosynary organizations… compassionate institutions all. Yes, compassion can be institutionalized, but NOT by government or any other coercive agency.

But mostly, it’s personal.

Compassion is one man taking off his shoes and handing them to a neighbor who has none. Compassion is a woman pounding nails for Habitat for Humanity. Compassion is kids pulling money out of their piggy-banks for medical missions or literacy or to give a Happy Meal to a family on the streets. It is putting your arm around a hurting friend and stumbling through a prayer. It is cooking meals for new moms, and stopping to put on a spare for a senior citizen. It is the tenderness of heart that results in joyful self-sacrifice to meet another’s needs. It is person to person and neighbor to neighbor.

It doesn’t kick the cost down the road to our neighbors or their children.

It isn’t funded by someone else’s dime.

Jesus volunteered for the Cross. He didn’t shift the burden. He didn’t agitate the Roman government to create a compassionate society. He accepted the full weight of God’s love for our needy race. He cared. He came. He gave. He paid.

That’s compassion.