Momany: Flint water “crisis” sign of the times

FLO_title-01I am not a Socialist. Seriously. I have never been impressed with government policies that treat people as interchangeable cogs in some machine. Most especially, I do not believe that God created humanity to be treated in this manner. The witness of Genesis, interpreted in various ways, teaches that human beings are created in God’s image. That tells me that persons are sacred. They are unrepeatable expressions of divine intent, bearing an inherent value. Oppressive, one-size-fits-all power never affirms this reality.

Yet many of us have talked our way into believing that if collectivism is wrong, the most irresponsible individualism must be right. And that is where I part company with self-serving economic theories. They justify a profound lack of respect for the poor and powerless.

One example from history illustrates my point. Before 1989, Pope John Paul II was heralded as a towering intellect who defended the “human person” against the smothering absurdities of Communism. It was a vocation forged in personal experience, when Poland suffered first under the Nazis and then under a Soviet-dominated government. Karol Wojtyla (the pope) was a college pastor and professor in his younger years. He opposed government practices that treated people as things – that attempted to make sacred children of God mere means to an end created by the powerful.

Yet we often forget how, following the collapse of Soviet-styled Communism, this same pope warned about the days to come. He feared that release from state Socialism might result in a familiar philosophical abuse. He wrote in 1991 that predatory market practices could lead to an equivalent injustice where people are “considered only a means and not an end” (Centesimus Annus). One need not agree with all of the former pope’s policies to appreciate his insight here.

Enter the saga of Flint, Michigan. In an effort to cut costs among a variety of dynamics (debt, the legacy of industrial pollution, and the practice of appointing unelected “emergency managers” to struggling communities), Flint changed from a more expensive source of public water to a less expensive source. However officials never treated the “new” water properly, and it caused lead to leach from the old plumbing systems of the city. Water quality monitors were not honest about the increased contamination, and thousands of people were exposed to toxins. Finger pointing is the order of the day in this debacle, but governance that stresses corporate-style strategies, unelected power, and lack of concern for the most vulnerable was undoubtedly a factor. Innovation, cost-effectiveness, and “continual improvement” can serve just government, but they are not, in themselves, equal to the dignity of persons.

One might even conclude that this tragedy happened in Flint because our era accepts the unacceptable belief that some people count and some people do not count. For Christians, this ideology is not good enough. It does not understand and reverence the authority of God and the intended value of people. We have, indeed, entered an age – following the Cold War –where some people are still considered only a means to advance particular narratives spun by the powerful. Until we come clean about this and drop the labeling of one another, we will forego the abundant life and simply glorify the other side of the coin that is abuse.

Chris Momany, UMR Columnist

Chris Momany

Chris Momany has been chaplain and director of church relations at Adrian College since 1996 and has taught in the Department of Philosophy/Religion since 1998. He is an ordained United Methodist minister, and a graduate of Adrian College, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Drew University. His academic interests focus on Christian ethics and philosophy. He has been published in the Christian Century, the Wesleyan Theological Journal, The Asbury Theological Journal, the Circuit Rider magazine, the United Methodist Reporter, and other venues. Chris also writes for the Daily Bible Study curriculum of the United Methodist Publishing House and for MinistryMatters, an online ministry resource. His book on the Wesleyan ethic of love and justice bears the title, Doing Good: A Grace-Filled Approach to Holiness. Chris has led many conferences, workshops, and continuing education events. For several years he has combined his research and teaching with a focus on human trafficking. Today it is estimated that 27 million people are held as slaves throughout the world. Chris has been a national leader among college and church professionals in confronting this issue.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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Chris Momany, UMR Columnist
Christopher P. Momany

Wow! Blame citizens who have been made to live under un-elected, state appointed power? Praise business models? In Michigan, the Emergency Manager system that was a huge part of this mess prides itself on running “government” like a business. Very poorly informed comments thus far. And NO, I am not (repeat, NOT) a socialist.

Richard F Hicks
Richard F Hicks

The Flint water crisis is a sign of what government and lazy citizens can do. The city government, the county government, the state government, and the federal government failed the un-involved lazy citizens of Flint. If these four levels of government were businesses, the water consumers could sue. As it is sovereign immunity protects the government fiends from prosecution. Hurrah for big centrally commanded and controlled government! Single source is always best! I hope the reader catches the sarcasm. Thank you, Richard F Hicks, OKC

Wes Andrews
Wes Andrews

Exactly. Government does not compete. It controls. Governments and politicians create laws that make them immune from accountability. I have someone in my church who was in a auto accident with a city vehicle driven by a city employee. It was the city employee’s fault and the city payed the claim….. $100,000 for an injury that cost $500,000 in medial expenses. I understand that as a citizen, I want to be protected from losses that would cost me more taxes, but there is low or no accountability when it comes to government, except to vote every four years. Most companies… Read more »

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