The “Lazy Poor” Mentality

One sobering experience in raising children is witnessing them practicing the influences upon their impressionable minds before they are equipped for reason and informed beliefs. They tend to spout off bits and pieces of comments they hear at home, or from peers, or from teachers.  And usually these comments originate from a lack of context or from a lack of crucial information.  Yet what I hear from them is not always too different from what I hear from pundits or my adult friends.

One particularly troublesome discussion I had recently with my 14-year-old was about poverty.  He started complaining about how Obama takes money from those with jobs and gives it to the lazy poor, and how the poor just need to go get jobs.  He then started mouthing off about Obama letting the poor use food stamps to buy drugs.  I was like, “What?  When did an alien take over my son’s body?”  This really hit me hard.  He does not hear this stuff at home, yet he buys it hook-line-and-sinker from those who spew it, just like many of my adult Conservative friends.  Just the kind of stuff you would hear on Fox News (a whole other post to come).

When did Conservatives, particularly Evangelical Conservatives, lose their compassion? I will be one of the first to admit that our welfare system needs reforming, but this whole “Don’t take my money and give it to the lazy poor” and “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality is just downright frightening from a spiritual standpoint.  What of scripture that says God will punish NATIONS for how it treats the poor?

“Among my people are the wicked who . . . do not defend the just cause of the poor.  Should I not punish them for this?” declares the Lord. “Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?”

Jeremiah 5:26-29.

Consider God’s instructions to the Isrealites regarding treatment of the poor:

If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

Deuteronomy 15:7-11.

The Bible is not equivocal about how we are to treat the poor among us.  No, to the contrary, we are instructed to “be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.” Deuteronomy 15:8.

I often hear complaints that the poor will abuse the charity by buying drugs or alcohol or will continue in their poverty if we give them money because they will have no incentive to work.  Therefore, why do we enable them to make such poor choices?  Even if this is true for some of those charity recipients, where in the Bible does it say to weigh the motive of the poor person BEFORE you give to them?  I suggest to you that it does not.  Now, the poor person will have to answer to God for his or her own conduct, but that is between that person and God.  Who are we to judge?

While the Bible tells us that God blesses the poor [Luke 6:20 (“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”); James 2:5 (“Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?”)], I believe that our instruction to be generous to the poor is as much about the giver’s heart as it is about blessing the poor person.  It is a reflection of what Jesus did for us on the Cross.  He freely gave his LIFE for sinners, who were unworthy of His sacrifice.  As Jesus gave freely to those who were “unworthy,” so also should we give to the poor, whom the world considers “unworthy.”  And by doing so, God blesses the faithful giver:  “Give generously to [the poor] and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.”  Deuteronomy 15:10.  This is not a prosperity gospel; rather, it is a promise in return for having a heart right with God.

I can already hear my Conservative Christian friends complaining right now.  “I never said that we are not supposed to give to the poor.  I Just mean that we are supposed to do it individually, not through some socialist policy with all the bureaucratic complications that come with governmental intrusion into our lives.  The private sector can better address the individual needs of the poor.  Plus, all the government welfare programs have done is create a culture of dependency.”

I cannot say that these complaints are without merit.  I agree that caring for the poor on an individual basis often has better results for that individual.  I also agree that government tends to screw things up, and has done so with our welfare system.  I also agree that there is a culture of dependency that has grown out of our current welfare system. HOWEVER, I disagree that these complaints justify scrapping our welfare system wholesale.  I also strongly disagree with the socialist label placed on Democrats due to their historic affinity to government run welfare programs.

Contrary to the assertion that charity is for individuals and not government, the Bible is clear that God will judge NATIONS for how they treat the poor.  Therefore, the NATION must also see to it that she cares for the poor.  The person who argues that the Bible’s instructions regarding caring for the poor are for the individual only, will be the first in line complaining that we cannot compartmentalize our faith, such as in the discussion of the separation of church and state.  While addressing poverty on an individual level may have better results for the individual, it is Utopian to believe that we can just scrap our national welfare program and individuals will massively respond in kind and care for the poor on a level needed to address the national (or global) poverty problem.

The concern that we not give to the point of hurting is extremely valid.  A dependency culture is a very real problem.  But let’s not “throw out the baby with the bath water.”  My encouragement to Conservative Christians is that instead of complaining about the socialist government taking taxpayers’ money and giving it to the poor, let’s focus on how best to structure or reform our welfare systems so that we reduce (you can never eliminate) the hurting factor.  Let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking that a NATION helping its poor has no Biblical foundation. And let’s stop slinging around the word “socialist” every time the government steps in and does something on our behalf that we should be doing ourselves, especially when there is a Biblical foundation for the government’s actions.

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10 thoughts on “The “Lazy Poor” Mentality

  1. I understand what you are saying and Im not disagreeing, but I think the way people are looking at it is, forcing someone through taxes who really does not care about the poor,who is not a Christian or even a compassionate individual, is basically making them practice something they dont even believe in. In their eyes its practicing a belief system instead of a government system. Some people really really dont care. I know people who sell their Vision cards for cash to buy cigarettes, beer, and drugs. Its prevalent in the inner city. They use harsh rhetoric but I think they may be referring to misusing the funds. I choose my church to give charity, not my government and I completely believe in helping the poor. Some stores in my area, if you walk in w a Vision card, the first thing they ask is if you want to sell it. It happens.

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    1. Thanks for that response. The way I see this is caring for the poor is a morality issue, just like all of our other laws and social programs. If we didn’t enact laws because they offended someone’s morality or lack thereof. we would have no laws. My point in this article is that Christians should champion the cause of the poor as commanded by the Bible. This should be a moral value reflected by our government, just as caring for the elderly through Social Security and Medicare, or requiring emergency room care for emergency conditions regardless of the ability to pay (EMTALA), or prisoner rehabilitation programs (just to name a few). Think how many disagree with or resent those values and programs. What you are getting at with the sale of vision cards is the abuse I referred to justifying serious reform of the system. I also believe the government needs to work more closely with community organization, like churches, to better administer welfare locally. There are all kinds of reforms that could be implemented to reduce abuse and dependency. The problem is we have two sides, one yelling “keep your hands out of my pockets” and the other side yelling “give them everything they need regardless of the consequences.” This creates a political environment of ineptitude.

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  2. I love this article. As a Christian and social worker, I see many of our under-privileged and poor. While some do abuse the system, the majority utilize benefits to help them to survive or pull themselves out a terrible place. I’ve seen people who have worked all of their lives, only to find themselves at 70 years old eating something you wouldn’t feed a dog. Wouldn’t you help them to get food? Technically they paid for it through their years of work. Seeing a child alone at home without childcare, because their parent is working a low wage job and can’t afford day care. Wouldn’t provide the child a safe place to be with supervision. A man who was laid off from his job and can no longer provide for his family, as he looks for another job. Wouldn’t you help him to feed them? What would our society look like without the help? We all fall on hard times..some harder than others.

    I’ve worked with hundreds of kids who are now better adults due to the assistance they or their families received. Then they are able to join the circle of people to uplift our society. For those who abuse it…I pray for.

    Beautiful article.

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    1. You are absolutely right. If I re-wrote this I would focus more on what you described. This was an early post and I was focusing more on the general conservative philosophy and politics of removing government from the welfare business. I admire you for your work. We need more Christians and conservatives to roll up their sleeves and personally invest in poverty alleviation.

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  3. Love these points: Contrary to the assertion that charity is for individuals and not government, the Bible is clear that God will judge NATIONS for how they treat the poor. / I believe that our instruction to be generous to the poor is as much about the giver’s heart as it is about blessing the poor person. It is a reflection of what Jesus did for us on the Cross. He freely gave his LIFE for sinners, who were unworthy of His sacrifice.
    I am a registered Republican, but often feel after watching Fox News (why do I do that to myself?) that I am unworthy to live because I am poor (or, as Eric Bolling says, “a taker and not a maker”). Right now, I am halfway through school to get a medical degree, so I can change that, and change my destiny, have a better quality of life, etc. I agree that many live off of the gov’t because they can (I’ve known a few people who didn’t want to better themselves because they would lose their benefits), but there are also many “working poor” who use it as a safety net–a lot of the poor work two or three jobs, and do things like donate their plasma for cash, etc. If we all think the poor are poor because they are lazy, that it’s their own fault, then why should anybody give to charity at all? I agree that it would be better if churches were the main source of charity, but I think there is so much need out there, they wouldn’t be able to keep up; it’s also extremely difficult to get help from churches. A local church will not help with rent unless you have an eviction notice and by that time, the landlord might be through with you. This same church has also given away food that is past the freshness date and bread that has went stale. A better option would be to reduce the liability on companies who throw perfectly good food away. When I worked at Publix, we threw away at least a dozen rotisserie chickens a night, and the manager wouldn’t mark them down at the end because he said that would attract the “wrong kind of clientele”. After Obama’s election, I decided I was no longer a Republican, but a social, and somewhat fiscal conservative (I like to say I don’t make enough money to be a hardline fiscal conservative as that would make me a hypocrite), because of the demonization against all of the poor (just as the left demonizes all of the rich). Class warfare is a classic Saul Alinsky tactic.

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    1. I think a Christian truly following Christ currently has no political home. I moved away from Republican Party during W’s tenure but with Trump’s ascension, I may never vote GOP again. o_O. Our broken welfare system has so much to do with people in Washington who simply refuse to listen to others or to reach compromises. The lot of them should be tarred and feathered.

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