A controversy has erupted over a decision by the South Fulton, TN
fire department to allow a rural home in Obion County to burn to the ground
because the owner did not pay the requisite $75 annual fee to secure fire
The fire department was called when Gene Cranick’s grandson
accidentally set his property on fire, but made no attempt to extinguish the
flames, for the simple reason that they had no legal or moral authority or
responsibility to do so. When the fire endangered the property of Cranick’s
neighbor, who had paid the $75 fee, the fire department swung into action and
put out the fire on the neighbor’s property. Cranick’s home meanwhile, burned to
the ground after his family had fled for safety.
The backstory is that, while South Fulton had a fire department
several years ago, the county did not. Rural residents approached city
officials and asked them to extend their fire protective services outside city
limits. Fine, said the city. We will provide fire services to any rural
resident who pays an annual $75 fee. You pay the $75, you just bought yourself
a year’s worth of fire protection. You don’t pay the fee, that’s fine too, it’s
your choice, but be aware that you are making a deliberate choice to forego
Fine, said Mr. Cranick, I’ll take my chances. He didn’t pay the
man his $75, and when his house caught fire, he was on his own, by his own
(It’s worth noting that, had the fire department responded, it
likely would have violated the terms of its contract with its liability
insurance carrier. The fire department almost certainly had to enter into a
legally binding commitment not to operate outside its jurisdiction. So our “compassionate”
Christian friends would want the fire department to break its solemn agreement
and put the entire city of South Fulton in a position of virtually unlimited
risk. That hardly sounds like the Christian thing to do - demand that somebody
violate a solemn oath and put an entire city at needless risk at the same
The fire department did the right and Christian thing. The right
thing, by the way, is also the Christian thing, because there can be no
difference between the two. The right thing to do will always be the Christian
thing to do, and the Christian thing to do will always be the right thing to
If I somehow think the right thing to do is not the Christian
thing to do, then I am either confused about what is right or confused about
Christianity, or both.
In this case, critics of the fire department are confused both
about right and wrong and about Christianity. And it is because they have
fallen prey to a weakened, feminized version of Christianity that is only about
softer virtues such as compassion and not in any part about the muscular
Christian virtues of individual responsibility and accountability.
The Judeo-Christian tradition is clear that we must accept
individual responsibility for our own decisions and actions. He who sows to the
flesh, we are told, will from the flesh reap corruption. The law of sowing and
reaping is a non-repealable law of nature and nature’s God.
We cannot make foolish choices and then get angry at others who
will not bail us out when we get ourselves in a jam through our own folly. The
same folks who are angry with the South Fulton fire department for not bailing
out Mr. Cranick are furious with the federal government for bailing out Wall
Street firms, insurance companies, banks, mortgage lenders, and car companies
for making terrible decisions. What’s the difference?
Mr. Cranick made a decision - a decision to spend his $75 on
something other than fire protection - and thereby was making a choice to
accept the risk that goes with it. He had no moral, legal, ethical or Christian
claim on the services of the fire department because of choices that he himself
Jesus once told a parable about 10 virgins attending a wedding
feast, five of whom failed to replenish the oil in their lamps when they had the
chance. The bridegroom came when they were out frantically searching for oil,
and by the time they made it back to the party, the door was shut tight. The
bridegroom - the Christ figure in the story - refused to open the door, saying
“Truly, I say to you, I do not know you”
The critics of South Fulton thereby implicate themselves as
accusers of Christ himself, making him out to be both cold and heartless. They
may want to be careful about that.
I talked about this story yesterday on my “Focal Point” radio
program, and defended the fire department without reservation. It’s been
intriguing to watch - I haven’t received as much angry blowback over anything
I’ve said on air since the program began. I’ve been told I’m evil and anti-Christian
to even suggest that the fire department may be in the right and that Mr.
Cranick has no one to blame but himself. (Where, I might ask, is all their
Christian compassion toward me?)
Christian compassion, of course, prompts us to feel truly sorry
for Mr. Cranick. If he were a friend of mine, I’d feel horrible for him and do
what I could to help him in his time of need. But even were I his friend, I
would not blame the fire department for the loss of his home. That’s on Mr.
Cranick for making an irresponsible choice in the first place.
Even he admitted to Keith Olbermann last night that “I’ll have to
suffer the consequences” of failing to pay the annual fee.
Now it’s intriguing to note that Mr. Cranick had insurance on his
property, and told Olbermann that his insurance company was right on top of
things, and he was going to receive in short order the full value of his
insurance policy. Why? Well, because Mr. Cranick paid the premiums on the
policy. If he had refused to pay the premiums, he wouldn’t be getting any help
from the insurance company either, and likewise would have no one to blame but
himself. So even Mr. Cranick implicitly accepts responsbility for the loss of
his home, whether he realizes it or not.
What angry folks fail to realize is that if Mr. Cranick had been
able to get away with this - if he’d been able to wait til his house started to
burn, then offer $75 and immediately get help - it wouldn’t be long before
everybody else stopped paying. Why bother if you can wait until the emergency
hits? If you pay when you don’t need to, that just makes you a sap. Pretty soon
nobody would have fire protection at all since the city can’t afford to fight
fires at $75 a pop. The city would have to withdraw its offer to the county,
and everybody, especially responsible folk, would be less safe.
(Essentially what Mr. Cranick wants is “guaranteed issue” for fire
protection. This is the same thing that is going to destroy the health care
industry, as it is already starting to do under RomneyCare in Massachusetts. If
you can wait til you get sick before applying for insurance, and the insurance
company has to provide it, everybody will just wait til they get sick to get
insurance and pretty soon nobody will have insurance or health care, either
This story illustrates the fundamental difference between a sappy,
secularist worldview, which unfortunately too many Christians have adopted, and
the mature, robust Judeo-Christian worldview which made America the strongest
and most prosperous nation in the world. The secularist wants to excuse and
even reward irresponsibility, which eventually makes everybody less safe and
less prosperous. A Christian worldview rewards responsibility and stresses
individual responsibility and accountability, which in the end makes everybody
more safe and more prosperous.
I’m going with mature, robust Christianity on this one.
(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the
author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family
Association or American Family Radio.)