Rector’s Ruminations for June 2011

Essential Services

My reflections this month are a continuation of some concerns that I expressed in my ruminations last month regarding paying taxes.  I stated that beyond the legal requirement, we have a moral opportunity and imperative to pay taxes given the tax “benefits” and “dividends” that we enjoy as citizens.  Much of what informed my thought was how our government through fair and just policies of taxation should support and ensure the common good.

In April concomitant with the debates about deficit spending, budget cuts and the need to address fiscal responsibility loomed the possibility of a government “shutdown.”  Part of the political melodrama included the need to define what essential government services would need to continue in the event of such a shutdown.

However, the political rhetoric and financial crisis surrounding a possible government shutdown begs the deeper question of what should our government provide as essential services for its citizens?  The IRS provides one answer, “Essential services or essential governmental functions are basically services that would normally be provided by a nation to its members…and perform in its daily operation.  The statutory interpretations of what constitutes essential services and essential government functions have continued to evolve, with court cases addressing these concepts.” (ITG GAQ #3)

Drilling down beyond the legal to the philosophical, I suspect most of us would argue that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness provide the basis for government or public services through either the public sector or by financing private provision of such services; such services agreed upon by social consensus and usually expressed through democratic elections and that these services should be available to all citizens regardless of income.  Such public and essential services include, education, electricity, environmental protection, fire service, gas, health care, military, police service, public information, e.g. libraries, public transportation, social housing, social services, telecommunications, urban planning, waste management, water services to name a few; In short, our national security, domestic infrastructure and human welfare.

Going deeper, essential services as public services point to the public or common good.  It is interesting to note that historically the nationalization of essential public services followed both World Wars of the first half of the twentieth century in Europe and here in the United States.  Following the Second World War many countries began to implement universal health care and expand education under the funding of the state.

In addition there are various examples of how different countries have privatized public services to include free market corporations managed and owned by private investors.  Which raises a host of questions as to how essential services should be funded, operated and managed to support the common good.

All of which brings us back to the question, what do we consider to be essential in service to the common good?  Much of what we profess as a nation, e.g. democracy, free enterprise, capitalism, equality of opportunity, human rights, religious freedom and those truths that we espouse as “self-evident” require persons, structures, services and money as the means to ensure our esse or being as a nation.  Political office, public service, community volunteerism, taxation as well as philanthropy are ways in which we support the ideals and practical concerns that we think and feel to be essential to our identity and character as a nation.  Next month I shall offer some thoughts on how the Church as a “tax exempt” institution provides “essential services” in working for and embodying the common good.

In conclusion, I bid your prayers for the nation and sound government:

O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth.

Lord, keep this nation under your care.

To the President and members of the Cabinet, to Governors of States, Mayors of Cities, and to all in administrative authority, grant wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties.

Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

To Senators and Representatives, and those who make our laws in States, Cities, and Towns, give courage, wisdom, and foresight to provide for the needs of all our people, and to fulfill our obligations in the community of nations.

Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

To the Judges and officers of our Courts give understanding and integrity, that human rights may be safeguarded and justice served.

Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

And finally, teach our people to rely on your strength and to accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for the well-being of our society; that we may serve you faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name.

For yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as

Head above all. Amen.

(The Book of Common Prayer, p. 821-2)

E pluribus unum,




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