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?”
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.
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.