Vail Daily column: Why should the more fortunate help the less fortunate? |

Vail Daily column: Why should the more fortunate help the less fortunate?

Jack Van Ens

Motivated by human need, contributors around Thanksgiving donate to charities and food banks. They fund religious organizations that shelter homeless people. On Thanksgiving Day morning, some citizens staff soup kitchens in urban parks.

Government helps, too, when personal altruism alone can’t serve dire human needs. When the Salvation Army runs low on resources, governmental agencies step up to bolster social services for the destitute.

Roman Catholic convictions on justice persuade many citizens to align their compassionate efforts with government partnerships. For instance, citizens joined Uncle Sam to abolish child labor in the early 20th century. They also introduced safety and health regulations in factories to protect immigrant workers on assembly lines.

As the 20th century unfolded, progressives who practiced democratic socialism aligned themselves with the government, getting Congress to approve food and drug laws protecting consumers. Some social activists went to bat for laborers, making it difficult for tycoons to bust unions. Social justice advocates supported the passage of Social Security in 1935. Republicans warned such legislation opened doors to socialism. Today, those pressing for justice among the have-nots support universal health care. It’s the decent, ethical thing to do. Christians “…bear another’s burdens,” (Galatians 6:2) because this is how Christ acted toward children, women, the ostracized and the poor.

Puritans planted seeds of liberty in America and founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony. There they practiced democratic socialism. A decade after pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, a band of four hundred first-generation Puritan immigrants set sail in four ships from England on March 29, 1630.

Aboard the ship Arbella, Gov. John Winthrop (1588-1649) inspired them with a sermon sparkling with a scriptural metaphor. He used the Sermon on the Mount phrase President Ronald Reagan loved to quote—“a city upon a hill.” Winthrop envisioned an American community committed to doing God’s will by expanding the common good to all citizens.

This sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity,” offends those who favor marketplace competition as the key dynamic in how our Republic has prospered. Gov. Winthrop pressed for an experiment weaving together inter-connected social networks. He spelled out how God intended that “every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bond of brotherly affection.” These Puritans had faith in God who covenanted with them to be a light of hope and goodwill, shining like a beacon on the world. They believed the “eyes of all people were upon them” because the arc of communal effort curved around their activities.

Ironic, isn’t it, how a secular Jew speaking with a strong New England accent sounds much like John Winthrop? Critics lambast Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. They accuse him of practicing socialism and selling out on the American Dream. What he reflects, however, is Winthrop’s blazing “city on the hill” that fosters common good for all citizens.

Doesn’t Sanders sound like Puritan Winthrop when he identifies himself as a Social Democrat? How does this identity jibe with capitalist America? Historian Bernard Weisberger describes how democratic socialism and American capitalism fit together. “…what social democracy simply means is a system that leaves room for small enterprises and individual liberty but also recognizes the fact that we’re all part of a larger community, and what hurts any one group of us eventually hurts us all.

“So there are some things we don’t leave to the so-called free market. We don’t want people going hungry or suffering from sickness or at the bottom of the ladder in educational attainments because they can’t afford them — especially when in economic downturns millions of us lose jobs through no fault of our own. So we tax ourselves to put money into a common kitty to make sure those things don’t happen, and we’re all the better for it.”

No fan of Bernie Sanders, GOP presidential contender Carly Fiorina intensifies America’s light beaming on the hill. Whether intended or not, she has echoed the democratic socialism John Winthrop illumined.

Her eloquent summation at the end of second GOP presidential debate sounded like what Bernie Sanders would say. Fiorina imagined Americans standing before the Supreme Court building, which is flanked by statues of Lady Liberty and Lady Justice. Fiorina’s voice swelled. Her words soared. “Lady Justice holds a sword by her side because she is a fighter, a warrior for values and the principles that have made this nation great. She holds a scale in her other hand, and with that scale she says all of us are equal in the eyes of God. And so all of us must be equal in the eyes of government, powerful and powerless alike.

“And she wears a blindfold. And with that blindfold she is saying to us that it must be true, it can be true, that in this country in this century it doesn’t matter how you are, it doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter what you look like, it doesn’t matter how you start and it doesn’t matter your circumstances. Here in this nation, every American life must be filled with the possibilities that come from their God-given gifts: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

This Thanksgiving season join Carly, Bernie, Roman Catholic workers for social justice and Puritan John Winthrop who shine lights of decency, fairness and compassion upon a sometimes dark world. With them, establish a commonwealth in which citizens and government work in tandem for the common good.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (, which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.

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