Responsible vs. Vulnerable

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By Tom Holmes

Contributing Reporter / Religion Blogger

I interviewed staff members from West Suburban PADS the other day, and what interested me was what theologians sometimes refer to as their theological anthropology, i.e. the agency’s theology of human nature.

On the one hand, they view their clients as vulnerable people who can’t make it on their own.  Last year, PADS provided emergency shelter and two meals to 533 people, assisted 377 people with services, got 172 folks into permanent housing and prevented 90 households from losing their housing.

On the other hand, they view many of their clients as responsible people who can learn to provide for their own needs or make significant progress toward that goal.  Lynda Schueler, PADS’ director, contends that her agency is not about applying bandaids to the problem of homelessness.  “We are not perpetuating the problem,” she declared.  “We are solving the problem.”

That is, PADS’ goal is to teach clients how to be as independent as possible.  PADS may meet a client at the emergency shelter, which is more or less a handout.  But if people return and show symptoms of being chronically homeless, processes immediately are implemented to assist the client to move toward some degree of independence.

In other words, PADS’ theological anthropology understands human beings to be vulnerable creatures who are capable of a large degree of independence.  We humans are BOTH vulnerable and responsible.

As I listen to the political wrangling going on in Washington D.C., I and many others note that the Republicans emphasize responsibility of the individual and the Democrats focus on those who are vulnerable. 

I wish PADS could give all those senators and representatives a seminar on human nature, because they both see part of the truth.  What would happen to the political process if we/they were able to integrate both perspectives?

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