COMMENTARY: Somebody else's problem

(RNS) IBM's decision to cut loose 110,000 retirees from its company health plan continues a disturbing trend toward addressing problems by evading responsibility.

Rather than attack the problem of mounting health care costs -- a health care system that delivers less and costs more -- the tech giant unloads its retirees onto health-insurance exchanges and, eventually, onto taxpayers.

General Electric and Time Warner have done something similar, and an estimated 29 percent of companies are studying the idea.

In a similar manner, anti-abortion forces resist steps that would make it more difficult for young women to get pregnant and fight any steps to end pregnancies.

Instead of fixing a broken educational system, politicians cut school budgets, discourage classroom teachers, issue tests to measure how little U.S. children are learning and pour money into helping the advantaged stay advantaged.

Instead of giving an inch on gun controls, the gun lobby offered the insane suggestion that classroom teachers pack heat.

Rather than reform a health care system that favors the wealthy and harms the poor, New York state officials want to close more hospitals serving the poor -- beyond the 26 it has already closed in New York City.

Punishing the victim goes on and on. Raleigh, N.C., police threatened to arrest church members for daring to feed the homeless. New York City police stop and frisk young black men who would much rather have jobs than stand around on street corners.

The victim is an easy mark, of course. Clever bankers maneuver unsophisticated elderly into taking out reverse mortgages on their paid-for homes. States bail out foolish politicians and bureaucrats by unleashing casino gambling and lotteries on the unwary.

An attitude of scorn emerges. If some are suffering, it's their own fault. They should have paid attention in class -- never mind the hunger and chaotic home lives that dulled their desire to learn.

The poor need to get jobs, say the smug, while blocking efforts to create jobs. Immigrants just need to go home, say descendants of immigrants.

With money on the table, who cares about the victim? Businesses want customers, not liabilities. Schools want better test scores, not high-risk students. Churches want to throw dwindling funds at improving Sunday worship, rather than caring for the needy. Gun sellers want sales, not safety.

By their very nature, victims are tiresome. They lost. The pretty and handsome won, those born to privilege won, those lucky enough to get a good education won.

How do we deal with mounting resentment among downwardly mobile citizens? Funnel more wealth to the undeserving 1 percent, while subjecting the 99 percent to a maze of rules, police actions, dwindling benefits and a surveillance state.

Victims put up with it because victims become accustomed to losing. It isn't just abused women who protect their abusers.

I continue to believe that faith communities should, could and someday will step into this breach. If any organization has a charter to care for the least of these, it is churches.

Do we have the heart? I don't know. When push comes to shove, many are in it for Sunday enjoyment, not for the least of these.

Tom Ehrich is an Episcopal priest, author and former Wall Street Journal reporter  living in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Tom Ehrich is an Episcopal priest, author and former Wall Street Journal reporter
living in Winston-Salem, N.C.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of "Just Wondering, Jesus" and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)