Relying on faith

For many years, most Kansans have shared a belief that we are obligated to provide a basic level of care for the most vulnerable people in our communities. We have relied on a combination of services from our nonprofits and state and local government. Some of us believe our most productive pursuits occur when government partners with faith-based organizations to provide services.

Commonly, Kansans also have agreed that (1) we must be vigilant to keep costs of social services from growing too rapidly; (2) as much as possible, we should help needy citizens regain the ability to work and the dignity that comes from meaningful work; and (3) we should be innovative in finding better ways to provide services to those in need. The iconic Menninger family for years showed us that improving mental health care did not bankrupt us. Rather, it improved our workforce, strengthened families and made Kansas a richer, better place to live.

The seed for social service policies likely was sown by our common Christian belief that we are to “defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy … ” (Psalm 82). In short, to seek justice, government must balance the interests stimulating economic growth and fair taxation with the needs of the most vulnerable citizens.

Now consider three indicators as to how Kansas is performing. First, in the past year, five children have died in state custody. Two of these were not cases of neglect but of violent murder.

Second, the state hospital at Osawatomie lost its federal Medicare certification. The loss came after an extended period of deficiencies in caring for the mentally ill.

Third, programs to treat the most gravely abused children in our state have been substantially reduced in funding, even those using faith-based partners. For example, the abuse treatment program at Methodist Youthville in Dodge City, which also had private funding for horse therapy and companion canine programs, has been dismantled.

This is not a debate about pouring money into rapid service growth. Rather, this is now a debate about providing funding necessary for basic, effective services to the most vulnerable citizens of Kansas.

When Madison wrote that “the end of government is justice,” he put forth an idea that has its origin in the holy scriptures. Can we achieve justice while forgetting the words, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine you did for me?”

Dennis McKinney,