May  2017 10
An Oklahoma Budget to Honor Mother’s Day

In seminary, my church administration professor told us, “A church budget is a moral and theological document. The way we raise and spend money indicates what our real priorities are.” That is a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

I was reminded of this teaching when I heard David Blatt, executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute (a fabulous organization!) open a talk recently with the statement, “A state budget is a moral document.”

Well, in Oklahoma, we don’t have a budget yet this legislative session. Legislators face another huge (for this state) budget hole. The lawmakers in charge of the state’s legislative mechanisms are deathly allergic to raising taxes in systemic ways, e.g., on higher income persons or fossil fuel energy companies.

Although we in Oklahoma don’t have a budget yet, I predict the question of the morality of this budget will not be a driving or important question in setting the budget. And that is a shame.

Surely, I understand there are differing ways to understand the role of state government, and differing understandings imply conflicting moral universes.

A state that understands decent health care as a human right will behave very differently from a state in which government exists primarily for private profit-making and protections from wrongdoers. But each kind of state promotes a moral order through the legislation and the budget it passes. The questions become, what is the moral order we have and what is the moral order we want?

From my perspective, the moral order in Oklahoma, or the social fabric, or the social contract, is thin. Too thin. Much too thin. On so many levels.

Think infrastructure. Infrastructure should not be a conservative or liberal issue. Our roads and bridges are in awful shape. If the average of vehicle repair costs to drivers was taxed rather than paid to repair shops, the state would be able to maintain the highway system.

Think quality of life. In addition to matters I’ll name in the next paragraph, consider what we do with our leisure time. Oklahoma boasts over 55,000 miles of shoreline around lakes and ponds, and more human-made lakes than any other state. Human-made.

Can you imagine Oklahoma’s state government (or nearly any other state, for that matter) authorizing such a project today, along with the recreational areas that are falling into disrepair and being sold to private firms because our sense of “public” has shriveled?

Now, think major questions of moral order. Support for public education, at every level—some legislators have been heard to deride public schools as “government school.” Health outcomes. Mental health. Incarceration rate, and what we imprison people for. Divorce rates. Spouse and partner abuse. Education (I wrote that but I’m writing it again). Damaging drug usage. Violent crime. Religious freedom for ALL citizens AND freedom from discrimination (rather than religious freedom as a right to discriminate).

We do rank about 10th nationally in attending religious services, where one would hope moral imaginations are being formed. Actually, here is a really interesting research question: Where are the moral imaginations of Oklahomans being shaped and who is shaping them?

Anna Marie JarvisYou may know the story of the origin of Mother’s Day. The founder is Anna Jarvis (pictured here), who wanted to honor her mother Ann, a friend of Julia Ward Howe (author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”).

Howe advocated for mothers around the world to work for peace, a cause Ann Jarvis supported, and for which Anna Jarvis advocated, along with honoring mothers. To honor mothers is to honor the work mothers do.

By 1914, her efforts led President Wilson to declare Mother’s Day a national holiday. Toward the end of her life, Anna hated the way the holiday departed so far from its original intent and was captured by the greeting card and confection industries, so much so that she regretted having spearheaded the push for a holiday.

Look again at the list above outlining a state budget as a moral document. There are domestic expressions of every one of those issues, because every social issue that afflicts this state is felt in homes. I think it would be grand if Oklahoma’s legislators would honor mothers by passing a budget worthy of the moral vision of a real Mother’s Day.

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips Faculty
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