You may or may not have heard about the recent controversy involving the South Fulton, Tennessee fire department. If you haven't, here's the background. South Fulton, Tennessee offers a service to residents of the county living outside the city limits. For $75 a month county residents can get the services of the city's fire department. Simple enough. You pay, you get covered. You don't pay, you don't get covered.
Christianity in action?
The whole fiasco started when Gene Cranick's house caught on fire. The fire department responded and put out the fire threatening a neighbor's house who had paid the $75 fee, but the fire department wouldn't help Cranick because he hadn't paid up. Cranick frantically told the fire department that he would pay for the expenses involved in putting the fire out, but the firemen were steadfast in their enforcement of the policy, even as his house was burning.
Libertarians everywhere should be rejoicing at this show of tough-love in the little town of South Fulton. The general reasoning by libertarians goes like this: people will be more likely to pay for the fire department's protection now, resulting in people being safer and the fire department being better funded. I don't disagree with this line of reasoning, and in many ways it's true.
But here's the problem. Some people, including Christians and a blogger on this site, have said the the fire fighters did the right thing, the moral thing, and the Christian thing by letting Cranick's house and possessions go up in flames. And now that they mention it I do seem to remember that verse where Jesus says "Love your neighbor as yourself, unless your neighbor forgets to pay for protection by the fire department. At that point let his house burn." That's ranked up there in the sayings of Jesus with "Blessed are those who own guns, for they shall be called sons of God" and "Blessed are the capitalists for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Let me frame the situation in a little different language. Let's say the town of South Fulton also offers the protection of its police department for the same fee of $75. But only if you pay up, can you get the service so generously offered by the town. A lady calls 911 to report that someone is trying to break into her house, and he seems threatening, so the police respond to find the man violently beating the woman and robbing her house, but because the lady hadn't paid her $75 dues, the police hop back in the cruiser and head back to town. Does that raise any moral qualms in your mind? I hope it does, especially if you profess to be a Christian. The problem with Christians calling the fire departments' non-action Christlike is that these Christians are endorsing, in principle, the policemen standing by as a woman is beaten, as long as that woman hasn't paid her fair share. Show me one place in the Bible where Jesus endorses that kind of thinking. As far as I know, such a reference isn't there.
I don't think anyone is arguing that the fire fighters were legally in the wrong. In fact, they were technically correct from a legal standpoint to stand down from helping Cranick as his house burned down to the ground with all his possessions in it. But for anyone to insinuate that what the fire department did is moral and right, much less Christlike is an affront to what Christ stood for. Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." People bandy about words like "personal responsibility" and "accountability" in their defense of the fire fighters being inactive in the midst of person's crisis, but not only is such an argument morally reprehensible, it is the antithesis of what Christ stood for.
Jesus was once asked what by an expert in the law, what one must do to gain eternal life. Jesus threw the question back at him, "What was written in the law?" The expert responded with the great words, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Jesus then goes on to elucidate exactly who our neighbor is, but I think we can all agree that the "neighbor" in this situation is the man whose house burned down. So, the question remains, were the firefighters loving their neighbor as themselves? Well, unless those firefighters hope their houses burn down, no, they weren't. Now I realize that the firefighters were acting under orders to stand down. But I also know that if I were out there watching a house burn, I would be doing all I could to put the fire out out, even if I was reduced to using a bucket.
I don't blame the firefighters for not responding. After all, they were under orders. But I do blame people for calling an action Christlike when it is so obviously the complete opposite of what Jesus taught. Furthermore, I find it utterly wrong when Christians try to defend their idea of what government should be like without actually stopping to think about whether their views line up with what Jesus taught.
I'll leave you with a teaching of Jesus that is particularly pertinent to this issue. "Do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."