One of Tony Blair's applause lines, as he moved a decade ago toward becoming Britain's youngest prime minister in almost two centuries, was "I am my brother's keeper; I will not walk by on the other side." With those words he knocked Margaret Thatcher and portrayed the Labor Party as a home for Bible-readers and not just Bible-stompers.
Democratic Party leaders on this side of the pond are trying to impress churchgoers, so it's not surprising that John Kerry used similar "other side" rhetoric in a speech last month to the National Baptist Convention: "For four years, George W. Bush may have talked about compassion, but he's walked right by. He's seen people in need, but he's crossed over to the other side of the street."
Sen. Kerry is doing better than Howard Dean, who lost credibility when he identified Job as his favorite book in the New Testament. Mr. Kerry said, "In the story of the Good Samaritan we are told of two men who pass by or cross to the other side of the street when they come upon a robbed and beaten man. They felt compassion, but there were no deeds."
Mr. Kerry gave the priest and the Levite in the story more credit than Luke did: Nowhere does the Gospel account suggest that they felt compassion. But here's the important question: In what sense has Mr. Bush "crossed over to the other side of the street"?
If we measure a president's official compassion by his spending patterns (I don't, but Democrats do), then the Bush administration has presided over increases in spending said to help the poor. If we measure a president's personal compassion by tax-deductible contributions (that can be part of the picture), income-tax returns show a consistent Bush record and an erratic Kerry one.
But a reading of the whole Good Samaritan parable suggests a different kind of measurement. According to Luke 10:34, the Samaritan showed compassion in this way: "He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him."
Only after the text shows the Samaritan investing many hours in personal assistance and having to walk rather than ride does discussion of money kick in. The next verse notes that the Samaritan "took out two denarii [two days' wages for a laborer] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.'"
Almost a decade ago I proposed (tongue-in-cheek) a rewriting of the New Testament to make it fit with some contemporary philanthropic theory, but somehow no one has taken up the project. So as a public service, I'll suggest once again (did I say tongue-in-cheek?) the marketing possibilities for a revised Luke with stories such as, "How the Kerry administration passed a Good Samaritan Act":
"A man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. Two humans passed by on the other side. Then a Samaritan came and was outraged that some people were so poor that they were forced to steal clothes.
"He returned to Jerusalem and convinced the Sanhedrin to pass a Good Samaritan Act that gave stipends to disadvantaged youth who might otherwise turn to crime along the Jerusalem-Jericho highway. The Act also funded a monument at the spot where the robbery victim had died."
That's the type of "Good Samaritan" work we could expect in a Kerry administration. We could also expect educational initiatives that continue to trap inner-city kids in bad schools. We could expect nationalized healthcare proposals that would trap everyone in bureaucracy (ask the Brits!).
I'm glad that John Kerry knows the Good Samaritan story in the Bible, but I wish he would visit Good Samaritan Health Services in Tulsa and see how Christian volunteers are binding up the physical wounds of the poor while building relationships that lead to help with spiritual needs as well.
The Bush administration sometimes hits upon the wrong strategy, but one of its goals is to help Good Samaritan-style faith-based efforts. John Kerry, though, apparently walks only on the government side of the street.