Christians, Politics and the Poor

As you may know, there’s a “serious” discussion about how best to care for the poor. Some in the GOP think it’s not the government’s business; some in the Democrat party think it is.

What would Jesus do with the U.S. economy?

That’s a matter of fierce debate among Christians — with conservatives promoting a small-government Jesus and liberals seeing Jesus as an advocate for the poor.

After the House passed its budget last month, liberal religious leaders said the Republican plan, which lowered taxes and cut services to the poor, was an affront to the Gospel — and particularly Jesus’ command to care for the poor.

Not so, says Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee. He told Christian Broadcasting Network last week that it was his Catholic faith that helped shape the budget plan. In his view, the Catholic principle of subsidiarity suggests the government should have little role in helping the poor.

“Through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities — through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community — that’s how we advance the common good,” Ryan said.

The best thing that government can do, he said, is get out of the way.

There’s enough simplicity-it is in this whole discussion that one wonders whether or not these folks really do care to dig both into Scripture and into the Christian tradition enough to be challenged by Christian truth.

1. Some folks are poor. They deserve, in most cases, our empathy and our compassion and our help — both as relief and as a path to employment.

2. Scriptures teach God’s people to care for the poor, and when God’s people ignores the poor, God makes it known that he is on the side of the poor. (Let’s not debate the specifics of the “preferential option for the poor.”)

3. Scriptures don’t emerge from either socialism or from free market enterprise, and those who think they do are making a gross historical error. It requires historical finesse and hermeneutical nuance to move from that world into our world. Turning the Bible’s laws into eternal laws is great example of biblicism and will land you in trouble most of the time.

4. God’s people responded to the poor in a variety of ways, including distribution — ever read about Moses in Egypt? And Jubilee? And the laws of gleaning? These are divinely-commanded and governmentally-administered required donations designed to help the poor.

Sometimes God’s people responds individually and locally to care for the poor. Ever read about Paul ad his collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem? (Which, by the way, was a Christian concern for fellow Christians, was an offering and not a tax, and which is not a good set of texts for how democratic societies care for their poor.)

5. The Church’s teaching traditions are worthy of serious exploration, including how Christians have helped shape public policy in a variety of countries in order to make sure the poor are cared for.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Hannes

    Christians do not have a choice, we have to care for the poor. No way around it.

    Governments do have a choice to care or not to care. I believe a compassionate government should care and ‘get in the way’ of poverty on a balanced level of empowerment and provision.

  • Hannes

    What should governments in poor countries do if they were to apply the Paul Ryan train of thought? Nothing? Get out of the way?

    Might work in a US context with a GDP per capita of $48 387, but what should the Democratic Republic of the Congo do with a GDP per capita of $300?

    If Mr. Ryan argues that his faith shaped a plan that results in leaving poverty to civic society in a US context he should be able to apply the same principle in any other country.

  • phil_style

    “The best thing that government can do, he said, is get out of the way.”

    The is an incredibly flawed position, suggesting that governments are a barrier to care.

    We’ve set up nation states over the past 300 years. Governments are the ONLY organisations with the jurisdiction and reach to affect the entire political and geographical dimension that is the nation state. Governments are forced to act, because only they can.

    If we want “less government” then we have to re-design or remove the nation state.

  • http://kingwatch.co.nz/Church_Ministry/caring_poor.htm Blessed Economist

    The left and the right positions on poverty are both a cop-out, to avoid dealing with the issue.

    The left assumes that a bit more tax on the rich, a couple of laws and a few extra programs can solved the problem. That is totally unrealistic. Dealing with poverty will require generosity, love, compassion, real love, a willingness to get hands dirty by serving, and a huge amount of sacrifice. Governments just do not have enough of any of these to get the job done.

    The right wants the government to keep out, but they forget that the government has got in, because Christian are not doing the job that they claim they can do. Create a community where wealth flows down to those at the bottom who are struggling, and the government would not need to be there.

  • Diane

    I agree with the Blessed Economist. If private charity were covering the problem, no one would need gov’t services, but the fact is that private charity can’t do the job alone.

  • Br. James Patrick

    A friend made this telling comment: “If you tell me the church should be doing something the gov does, I’m going to ask if your church has to hire nursery workers.”

    Blessed Economist is correct mentioning a balanced approach. I would like to add that the Church, cooperating with AND redeeming society at large would be a powerful, servant movement to say the least. I also believe that the Church gets more out of service WITH the poor, than the poor. Serving with our poorest friends will help save the unfeeling Church. Just my 2 cents.

    James 2:5

  • DanS

    Apart from the elephant in the room, the federal debt that threatens to make us all poor and saddle our children with an immoral burden, this criticism of Ryan is wrong on so many levels.

    The same New Testament that tells us to care for the poor also says that widows should be cared for by their families first and if they have no family and are alone, then the church should step in. It also warns against idleness, and suggests those who refuse to work should not eat, which is not to say all poor people are lazy, but does suggest that there be means testing for assistance. I’m reasonably sure that is part of what Ryan refers to as the basis of his “faith” connection to his plan.

    Ryan’s proposal is not about eliminating the safety net, it is about rescuing it from unsustatinability. It never ceases to amaze me that anyone would think the same federal government that has mismanaged the budget (failing to pass one for three years in violation of the law), has mismanaged Fanny and Freddie, has mismanaged the TSA, border security, NCLB, Fast and Furious, Obamacare, has dramatically increased the number of folks on food stamps and borrows 40 cents for every dollar it spends should be the primary source of aid to the poor. Whether the government has some role in aid to the poor is not the issue. The issue is that inefficiency, mismanagement, fraud and waste need to be addressed and that state and local solutions are preferable to a massive federal bureaucracy.

    If we don’t control the immoral and irrational levels of spending – we will all be poor. Who will help us then?

  • Gloria

    Ditto to what DanS said.

  • Roberto

    Hannes, each country must decide for themselves (or not) how to handle their own poor. In addition, African nations are now telling other countries to get out of their way and quit trying to solve their problems. They want to work out their economies on their own.

  • http://dry-bones-valley.blogspot.com Rob Dunbar

    DanS hits an important point when the says: “Ryan’s proposal is not about eliminating the safety net, it is about rescuing it from unsustainability.” We now spend more than we take in with Social Security & Medicare taxes. I’m not going into the debate about how Jesus would vote, because I think it misses the point, as Scot implies. That most often ends up becoming justification for toeing the party lines rather than for honest and creative thinking.

    BlessedEconomist isn’t that far off from what Ryan means about government getting out of the way. In Ryan’s view, government gums up the work of effective charities, which can make a bigger impact with less money simply by virtue of being ministries rather than programs. In Illinois, for example, Catholic Charities no longer work with the state on adoption because the state requires contracting agencies to accept gay couples as adoptive parents. Yet Catholic Charities was the largest adoption agency in the state, doing the most effective work. This is the kind of thing Ryan has in mind–not “just blow up government,” as some have taken his words to mean.

  • Kyle J

    To paint in broad strokes:

    The Bible consistently takes the approach of giving the benefit of the doubt to the poor.

    Contemporary conservative thought–as distilled most clearly in the Ryan budget–takes exactly the opposite approach. His budget clearly rests on the assumption that the poor are taking advantage of the government, while wealthier taxpayers and the defense budget are suffering and must therefore be protected.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/the-ryan-budgets-priorities-in-two-graphs/2012/04/02/gIQARH2vqS_blog.html

    And if the concern were really “debt,” then revenue increases would be on the table, given that we’re collecting the lowest levels of taxes since WWII.

  • Ryan B.

    If churches and nonprofits could systematically and efficiently care for the poor, they would have already done it and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. There are some ministries that do a good job of care for the poor, but they are the exception. As it stands now, most churches and nonprofits are stuggling to keep the doors open.

  • Albion

    Create a community where wealth flows down to those at the bottom who are struggling, and the government would not need to be there.

    What kind of community is that? The ones I know, the ones where this country’s wealth resides, have gates all around them. Wealth stays put.

    I don’t think democrats are saying raising taxes on the rich solves the problem, it raises some much-needed revenue to address the deficit. But if you’re intent is to starve the beast of government, and then cut the programs you’ve starved to balance the budget, you ask the rich for nothing and they’ll oblige.

  • Adrian

    Short due to work.
    Government does what the people want it to do. Governments, historically are the WORST way to help anyone. The waste in resources to help the poor or anyone is enough to make the least bit thoughtful person to say, “Get the government out of it!” So to make like of limited government people is to show a lack of understanding of the basics.

    What should christians do? Bless Econ had it right. Christians (in the US… other countries can worry about themselves to a point) gave up the duty for caring for the poor when they let the government in back in the 20s, 30s and 1940s. Christians SHOULD want to a return of the God given responcibility of caring for those in need instead of indulging themsleves about caring for their wants. I would think a normal Christian would want their tax revenue returned to them so they could in turn give (or heaven forbid they actual start up a group to help people… that would go against your public school teaching) to a Christ centered group to help and share the gospel. I am not saying a Christian is a GOPer. A Christian is a follower of christ. A Christian should ask themselves do they want the govenment to take their money and use it for the secular purpose it will be used for, or do they want control over it themselves? The former is akin to monarchy or socialism started by those who wish to wield power over you. The latter is the course of individual liberty to be able to serve others to the maximum Christ has blessed you to do for the sake of his name. You choose which sounds better and vote for whoever the guy/gal who gives you your result. If that person isn’t there maybe you should get off the bench and get in the game.

    I vote individual liberty.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    I was appalled yesterday to find this article from Bread for the World, where they did the math on proposed cuts of $35 to the food stamp program. It comes out to about $50,000 for each congregation in the country per year.

    Allowing for the probability that at least some churches could use money more efficiently than the Federal Government (although I’ve always been under the impression that the food stamp program works quite well), I don’t see how anyone thinks that churches can find an extra $50,000 each to be picking up the slack.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    That should read “$35 Billion” above. Can we get an “edit post” feature? More and more blogs use them.

  • Jim

    If A takes from B to give to C, A is not necessarily compassionate, B is not necessarily charitable, and C is not necessarily better off.

    Further, your examples of gleaning & Jubilee do not take into the account the fact that those were administered by a theocratic government and not a secular government. Not sure of your implied leap from that to a secular state taking from one group to give to another by means of force.

    “The poor…” what constitutes poverty? Who are “the poor”? Certainly, some people are poor and need the assistance of others, if even garnered via taxation. But who defines “the poor” and on what basis? “The poor” may be defined as ‘those with < X income' and within that class of people one may be an Alzheimer's patient sans family support and another may be someone who games the system and smokes dope all day. In terms of the economic measure they are both "poor" but the one needs assistance and the other is simply being enabled.

    I am not against taxation in the name of helping the poor BUT (1) to do that we have to take into account our massive debt and our propensities toward Empire and the ensuing expense i.e. can we afford to have over 700 military bases around the world while providing defense for people who do not provide adequately for their own PLUS do what needs doing at home and (2) we need better way of evaluating who is "poor" and whether our assistance is helping or enabling. Of course, to do that in the way we currently do that is to increase the size of agencies given that task.

  • Fish

    Government is an institution created by God through which we do things we cannot do alone.

    And Government is NOT historically the worst way to help someone. That is Ayn Rand fantasy-land. Imagine, if you will, what would have happened had Goldman Sachs or any of their Wall Street brethren been in charge of Social Security. Or if FedEx were in charge of the Postal Service. Or if the electric companies decided what households created enough profit to justify running power lines to them.

    Our health care system, the most profitable in the world but quantitatively ranked second-class (30-something in the world) in terms of quality of care (by the WHO) and patient satisfaction (by any number of customer satisfaction surveys), and one which drives far more people to leave the US for care than come here (google “Medical Tourism”), ought to be enough illustration.

  • Ben G

    1 Timothy 5:3-16 is interesting in this discussion. The bible teaches that family is responsible to take care of family. The church should only intervene after the family has failed. God has a very low view of people who don’t help out their own family – BTW. The phrase “worse than an infidel” is incredibly provocative and even begs the question: “Should the church excommunicate members who have the means to help out poor family members, but don’t?” In any case, family supersedes even the church in God’s welfare program.

    Interestingly, God’s government system gave every family, let me say that again, GAVE EVERY FAMILY a piece of property. And if the head of a family sold their property God’s system GAVE it back in 50 years. Since a person’s property is the most expensive thing they’ll buy in their lifetime (at least in this country), this is no small thing. In our economy that would be like handing every family an $12,000-24,000 housing allowance every year. Is our govn’t doing that?

    God’s system forbid loaning with interest. That would keep lenders from oppressing the poor & it would make them think twice about lending out money irresponsibly. Lending would be done either charitably or by businesses who wanted to sell items up front and were willing to accept less than immediate full payment.

    Just a couple examples there. In short, the Republican system is only selectively like God’s system – often selecting the concepts that help the rich while ignoring the concepts that protect the poor (Sorry it’s true). At the same time, how can you ever support a Democratic party that includes letting people murder their babies as part of their solution.

    Meanwhile, God’s system was an incredibly dollar wise system of helping the poor (why wouldn’t it be) & God’s system was set up to have the government do what it does best – execute justice through applying and judging the law to protect people from one another. The government is far better at executing law than it is at (re)distributing wealth.

    Furthermore in the Bible’s law, governments hold individuals responsible. The idea of a corporation sheltering a group of individuals from the legal consequences of their choices is foreign to scripture. If we held CEO’s (for example) criminally liable for choosing to risk lives to make more money, then we wouldn’t need to invest so heavily in all of the “safety” bureaus that the government currently utilizes (at great expense). I guarantee businesses would act differently if business leaders were held criminally liable for their choices. What if the CEO of an airline was prosecuted for 100 counts of reckless endangerment when a plane crashed for choosing to save money over executing proper pilot fatigue practices. (We can’t prosecute every time something goes wrong, but when big things happen, big investigations are already done to find out why it happened. Sure, some might get away with it, but if enough don’t, then the culture will start to think differently.)

  • http://timsuttle.blogspot.com/ Tim Suttle

    From a Paperback Theology Post Today: “WHO SHOULD GO FIRST? Should he Christians of the world wait to be generous until the government shrinks its size & gets spending under control? Should Christians refuse to do what we are asked to do by Jesus (Mt. 25:31-45), until “the government gets off of our backs?” I’m thinking now of Jesus’s first followers, struggling under the oppressive tax burdens of Caesar, Herod, and even the temple rulers – stuck living in an empire which allowed the rich to prosper on the backs of the poor. I do not know if they whined and complained & held tea party rallies, but I know that they were generous (Acts 2), I know Jesus said this generosity & love was the mark of a true believer (Jn 13:35). What are we waiting on? We should go first.” (read the whole post at: http://timsuttle.blogspot.com/)

  • Jim

    @ Blessed Economics: “The right wants the government to keep out, but they forget that the government has got in, because Christian are not doing the job that they claim they can do. ”

    While I don’t disagree completely, it may be that Christians are not doing that job because the government got in and (1) co-opted what might have been done more by the church and (2) takes funds that might have gone to charitable giving.

    Further, I think it’s not only that Christians weren’t doing that job but that certain political parties can peddle influence among certain classes of people by means of other people’s money.

    ON another note…

    Let’s not forget that the money that the “government” passes along, by and large, comes from people who are relieved of funds by force and threat of violence. The government, as such, has no money apart from that which it takes from people, or prints (thus devaluing dollars and inflating costs) and acquires by means of investment, much of which is done in secret by a Federal Reserve.

  • http://www.utmgr.org/blog_index.html Joel Shaffer

    Its quite easy to throw a below the belt jab such as Ayn Rand (which I doubt anyone on Jesus Creed is influenced by) rather than having a healthy dialogue with those who lean conservative that actually desire to come alongside the poor and help them break the cycle of chronic poverty. In my context of 20 years serving the poor in my inner-city neighborhood, I have seen the government be the worst culprit of helping create dependency rather than empowering people. Not to say that the church is much better since I’ve also seen churches do some pretty toxic things as well. I don’t know if we really have the patience to really help the poor. Much of the problem is the temptation to, as Fickkert talks about in his book, “When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty without hurting the poor or ourselves” apply relief in situations where rehabilitation or development is the appropriate response.

    I’m not saying that we should gut the government programs. But we do need to get a realistic perspective, which goes against seeing government poverty solutions through rose colored glasses.

  • Ben G

    Sorry – my phrase “the church should only intervene after the family has failed,” is an overstatement. The church should be the church and reaching out in love. But enrolling a person into an “entitlement program” isn’t the first option to achieve that.

  • http://aloveaffairwithwords.blogspot.com Jenn

    @Mark Baker-Wright: I think you make a common mistake in your post – you assume that reducing the amount of money spent on food stamps must therefore result in an equal increase in the amount of money spent by private organizations to meet the needs of the poor. I don’t believe this is the case.

    While there are many people who need assistance, there are also many people who do not and yet still receive it. Because the help given by private organization tends (not always, but usually) to be more personal and individual than what is given by the government, it is not abused as often. People see government aid as their “due”, as sticking it to the man – not connecting that the aid they receive comes from the pockets of their friends and neighbors. On the other hand, charity isn’t as faceless as the government, and so people are more likely to only take it when they really need it.

    Private charity (like private industry) is much more efficient than anything the government can do. Some of that $35 billion (probably a significant percentage) goes to pay administrative fees, salaries and benefits. Those dollars are much less likely to be needed in a private organization or church since they are more likely staffed by volunteers.

    And finally, many of the private organizations that could take the place of food stamps seek to rehabilitate, not just meet immediate needs. In essence, the goal is to reduce poverty – not just make it more comfortable for people. This doesn’t seem to be the case with food stamps. I realize there are other government initiatives and programs in place for this kind of thing, but food stamps in and of themselves are just a band-aid.

    I know I’m painting with broad strokes here, but I think it’s much more complex than a simple “the government is cutting $35 billion dollars, and so the churches need to come up with that much more money”.

    (And I think, too, that some of this conversation misses the point – that the government is broke, that we’re in massive debt, and that we don’t have the funds to continue to operate as we do. Something must be done to address that, and raising taxes won’t be sufficient.)

  • Kyle J

    @Joel

    Paul Ryan has specifically stated that Ayn Rand had a great influence on his work. (He requires his staff to read her work.) Since we’re talking about Ryan’s budget, I don’t think it’s “below the belt” to bring her name into the conversation.

    http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/80552/paul-ryan-and-ayn-rand

    More substantively: I would love to see some concrete evidence that the church was making significant strides against poverty prior to the New Deal. This argument that the church isn’t doing as much as it would be without government programs strikes me as ideological fantasy. (Never mind that the majority of the tax cuts tied to eliminating those programs would go to people who aren’t active Christians.)

  • RobS

    I’d like to see the issue become more depoliticized. If a bi-partisan group could make a decision to craft a plan, and then encourage the parties to agree on a national effort to address many of the challenges and how the government might interact with the private sector (business, churches, non-profits, hospitals, etc) to drive solutions, that would be interesting. Then, perhaps, we all stand behind a policy that, although not perfect, offers some solutions and doesn’t become a campaign stance for anyone.

    Right now it’s rather sad that all these topics must become constant political issues.

    One more thought/question: if the church could do more and the government would do less, would it help drive the poor people to the church for solutions — and then could the church be a better witness for the Gospel because of it?

  • http://www.dysmas.org Dysmas

    The problem with government programs designed to help the poor is that mostly they don’t. Who they help is often the bureaucrat who draws a bloated paycheck from being attached to the program. Marvin Olasky and Doug Bandow, to pick two Messiah followers, have written extensively on this. Bandow’s book, “Beyond Good Intentions”, remains a sort of gold standard for how religious people can help and how the government does not.

  • T

    There’s a lot to be discussed here, but I don’t know if a blog can facilitate much in the way of helpful dialogue. I used to be a supply-side, near libertarian, advocate. I majored in economics in college and focused on monetary policy. In that vein, I still think that brand of thinking has a lot to offer and learn from. But it is also limited, and it is certainly not synonymous with Christian economics, or Judeo-Christian economics, if by that we mean something that is primarily shaped by the biblical witness. Individual ownership isn’t the foundation or core of economics in the bible nor is individual freedom the chief goal, nor is legally structured and mandated care for the poor or even regular redistribution of capital any great evil to be avoided, at least not in the bible.

    Some of the reasons that Ryan had to go on CBN to talk about how his faith shaped this budget because his own Catholic leadership has roundly criticized it for exactly the reasons I’m mentioning. By contrast, conservative evangelical camps, despite the content of the bible whether new or old testament, believe that care for the poor through legal structures is somehow wrong or to be avoided according to the scriptures. But this conclusion must have much more to do with a general wedding of faith to “the American way” than it has to do with the faith itself, certainly if we’re talking about a faith that is shaped by the scriptures. I say this as one who went looking for the biblical endorsement of supply-side, libertarian economics: It just ain’t there. It is much easier to find, in fact, biblical encouragement for and hard examples of legal, nationwide mechanisms of several kinds that are each designed to prevent systemic, generational poverty, and regularly redistribute capital and aid in very substantial ways *in addition to* encouragement to private charity to one’s neighbor.

    I think maybe because Catholic leadership, and the RCC generally, is less wedded to any particular nation, it has been able to see and speak, ironically, more biblically on these issues than the American conservative Protestants. I’m not saying that the Bible obviously and clearly endorses Medicaid, Medicare or whatever other program we want to stick in there. But I am saying that the idea that the biblical witness stands opposed to governmentally structured and mandated care for the poor, the weak or old in a society is just not true.

  • http://azspot.net Naum

    The entirety of the edifices and structures that compose the core infrastructure of our civilization are constructed on the “public dime” — not just the military-police-guardian-judicial system, but energy and electricity, communications, roads, education, etc.… are government orchestrated endeavors, and are the means by which we are blessed with a modern civilization.

    It seems warped and twisted that we would accept this public investment in life sustaining infrastructure, but draw a line when it comes to helping the poor and diverting money to deliver life giving resources and aid to those in dire need. And it strikes as tragic and heartbreaking that *Christians* would align under the tenants of Ayn Rand selfishness rather than the edicts of the Gospel.

    True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. ~MLK

  • Kyle J

    Well said, T. And Naum.

    Another consideration here is what me mean by “the poor.” The conservative rhetoric tends to paint these people as all being individuals who could take care of themselves if faced with the right incentives. But for Medicaid, the largest federal anti-poverty program, the vast majority of recipients are disabled, elderly, children, or pregnant women.

    http://newsatjama.jama.com/2012/04/20/jama-forum-innovation-isnt-easy-when-it-comes-to-medicaid/

    Is the church equipped to provide ongoing medical care for those groups?

  • Rob McFarren

    A year or so ago I was fortunate to hear Dr. Gaynor Yancey (Baylor University, Professor of Church and Community, School of Social Work) speak to a gathering of non-profit organizations, churches, and government officials on the shifting of the approach toward homelessness and the poor.

    What was very interesting in her presentation was how she looked at how the questions we ask relating to the poor have changed over time. Our current questions, evidenced in many of the discussion questions above, are a form of “whose responsibility is it” to care for the poor? Yancey, in her research, found that this was a Roman question and not primarily the one used by the Early Church or Jewish society. Her research led her backward through the Roman, Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian, and early Christian Church understandings of the poor. (You can find a lot of what she discusses in Lesson 3 of this document from Baylor: http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/146506.pdf)

    Should we not reframe our discussion of poverty, as Christians, away from “whose responsibility is it?” because it is obviously our responsibility. This is clear throughout the Old and New Testaments, wrapped up within the Jewish and Early Church culture. Rather than debating who is responsible, we should reframe the conversation to how do we best lead with love to those who are poor.

  • http://www.utmgr.org/blog_index.html Joel Shaffer

    Kyle J,

    I am not even talking about the politician Paul Ryan’s view. I think it is below the belt to somehow believe that those of us that have to deal with the ineffectiveness of government poverty intervention on a daily basis have somehow bought into a Ayn Rand fairy tail.

    Actually my view goes against the libertarian view that somehow the free market alone will solve poverty as well as the more liberal view that government intervention and redistribution will alleviate poverty. I believe that individuals and groups who come along side the poor long-term are the most effective poverty fighters. For instance, Christian Community Development Organizations. As for pre-New Deal concrete evidence, Olasky’s the Tragedy of American Compassion is one source that provides historical evidence of the effectiveness of charities and churches vs. the government welfare state.

    I am not for gutting certain government programs, but I’m just a little flabbergasted as to how many people see government intervention in regards to fighting poverty through rose colored glasses.

  • Kyle J

    @Joel

    I wouldn’t say I see government intervention through “rose colored glasses.” It’s an imperfect solution to the problems of an imperfect world.

    I’m not familiar with the Olasky book. I do question the relevance of a book that, according to its Amazon description, deals in the world of “soup kitchens and orphan asylums” to a modern world where major advances in health care have been made and corporations churn through employees by the thousands. Again, are private religious organizations going to pick up the tab for health care for the disabled and elderly who can’t afford it themselves?

    There’s no utopia on either end of the spectrum. As with most things, it’s a matter of balance. And the U.S. is, by any objective standard, on the smaller-government end of the spectrum among industrialized nations.

  • DanS

    Interesting that what is at issue here is not whether Christians have some responsibility to help the poor. Left and right agree on that – the disagreement is over how. Liberals argue that the church can’t possibly take care of the poor and that Jesus is “on the side of” the poor so obviously it is necessary to have some sort of federal program. Conservatives argue that the federal programs are inefficient and wasteful, too expensive and cannot be sustained and actually end up hurting the poor in the long run (See here for one example http://spectator.org/archives/2012/04/12/the-coming-cultural-disintegra)

    The issue is not whether to help the poor, it is how. My objection to the criticism of Ryan is that rather than critique the specific details and offer constructive ideas, the left has on one hand accused him of pushing grandma off a cliff (actual TV ads) and now suggest he is violating the faith.

    We can’t look to the Old Testament theocracy in an agricultural era for examples. We can look to scripture for broad principles. And we will find there commands for the rich to be charitable as well as commands for the poor to be responsible. We will find no blue print for how democratic governments in a capitalist society should tackle the problem.

    So we are left with the reality of programs we cannot afford in an economy that remains in a recession and not much time before the debt clock explodes. We are left with huge increases in food stamps, half of the country receiving government benefits without paying any taxes, and a party in power that refuses to propose a budget. Ryan’s plan does not gut the safety net programs, it trims them so as to save them. Ryan’s plan does reduce taxes on business which is a policy that has led to economic growth and a growth in tax revenue under both Kennedy and Reagan and has been demonstrated to work at state levels multiple times. That is not a “Christian” or “Biblical” position, nor is it demonic and anti-Christian or oppressive to the poor. It is just better policy than what is happening now.

  • http://kingwatch.co.nz/Church_Ministry/caring_poor.htm Blessed Economist

    This is a good discussion, but I find it odd that Christians keep looking over the fence for a solution to poverty, when the grass is greener on our side.

    The free market is great for producing goods and services effectively through the division of labour and economies of scale. The benefits everyone by making the things that they need cheaper to buy. However markets reward those who are successful and leave some people at the bottom of the heap, so they cannot eliminate poverty.

    Government programs to deal with poverty have been expanded now for more than sixty years, but the problem is getting worse, because helping people must be personal. Government bureaucrats simply do not have the wisdom, love, discernment, compassion and commitment that is required.

    The gospel is the best solution to poverty. Mary understood this (Luke 2:53) and the early church seemed to see the results (Acts 4:34). Christians should stop arguing about whether government or market is best for dealing with poverty and get on with the good news.

    I have described some of the ways that the gospel works for the poor at http://kingwatch.co.nz/Church_Ministry/caring_poor.htm and http://kingwatch.co.nz/Christian_Political_Economy/jesus_on_money.htm

  • DanS
  • Chris White

    Two things. 1) From my experience, certain poor families will take advantage of any church offering assistant to the point of abuse. I live in a big city which has food banks for the poor. Our church though provided emergency assistance to those who needed something and couldn’t get to the food bank that day, for whatever reason. We would give out food and information so they could hook up with the assistance they needed but we could not provide (we were a small congregation). The same folk would be back the next day–not even trying to go to the food bank–why? We were more convenient. Alas, to help others we had to limit access for people to once a month by photocopying ID’s. Some folks play that game.
    2) Government regulations limit what kind of assistance we could give. We could not provide shelter because we did not the required bathroom to people ratio or square footage or some other regulation. This dissuaded the leaders from even thinking about it again–we could not afford to meet all those regulations.

    We did what we could–well…we did something, anyway.

  • http://abisomeone.blogspot.com Peggy

    I am encouraged to see a balanced discuss here. Thanks, everyone!

    I also want to say something about Ayn Rand’s thoughts, having just finished reading Atlas Shrugged. I made over 12 pages of notes on things that her book made me ponder. Thinking is a good thing to do, friends — and because a someone says an author is with reading, doesn’t mean that everything they write is solid Truth. There are very few writers I agree with totally, but I read widely so as to be challenged to think critically. Ms. Rand gets very “preachy” about Objectivism in her works, but there is some important perspective that can be gleaned, especially is one understands her background. Certainly the Russian Othodox church and socialist collectivism — which she witnessed personally — influenced her perceptions.

    That doesn’t make her right or wrong, but it does offer us an opportnity to ponder a view of the forest as well as a view of the trees that can be a helpful exercise. I have found it to be so. That does not make me Randian. It makes me able to have a more informed opinion. I am — and will continue to be — grateful for the pondering that comes from reading Rand.

  • http://abisomeone.blogspot.com Peggy

    …but commenting via tablet is a nightmare. Sorry, friends 8)

  • Kyle J

    Dan,
    Go back and look at the charts I linked to above on the Ryan plan. Those are the specific details. He would do more than just “trim” safety net programs. You can’t cut taxes further, continue to grow defense spending, and protect Social Security and Medicare for near term recipients without making very large cuts to safety net programs. That’s the critique. The fact that the outcomes seem wholly consistent with the Randian worldview that the poor are parasites at the expense of the rich is telling, but not the concrete reason the plan is opposed by liberals and moderates.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    To Jenn @ April 20, 2012 at 10:52 am,

    To be fair, the mistake you cite isn’t really mine, so much as the link I’m citing. But I’ll agree with you insofar as $35 billion cut will not necessarily mean that every individual congregation must spend $50,000 each just to compensate.

    That said, even if we allow for better efficiencies on the local level (which I absolutely agree will happen, and in fact explicitly said so in my comment above), the amount of money congregations would have to pay to make up for this loss is going to be huge. Far, far larger than can actually be plausible. I cannot believe that anyone who thinks the numbers through can make the argument that churches will be able to pick up the slack with a straight face.

    Regarding your last point. Yes, the government is indeed in huge debt, and cannot get out of it on the basis of increasing taxes alone. I know of no one Democrat, Republican, conservative or liberal, who argues otherwise. However, we seem to have one side that opposes any kind of tax increase, which strikes me as simply irresponsible when tax rates are at the lowest point since the 1950s.

    That just leaves the debate about where to make the needed cuts. I have a few ideas in mind, but they seem to be non-starters to the “right.” This particular cut, however, is an abomination. Even if this program should by no means be exempt, the amount is simply inexcusable.

  • http://www.wendymccaig.com Wendy McCaig

    I have been working with the homeless and some of the most impoverished people in our city for more than eight years. There is no easy answer here.

    For four years I have run a federally funded AmeriCorps program. I use the AmeriCorps funds to provide stipends to low income individuals who serve in their neighborhoods. With out the federal funds, I would never have been able to provide this financial support, job training and moral support to the more than 100 individuals who have been a part of our program, not to mention the good work they did in their neighborhoods that would have gone undone.

    However, the reality is that the program has become cost prohibitive because of the amount it costs us to administer a federal grant and the very narrow way the program is defined at the national level. So, we elected to drop our federal funding, a very painful and difficult decision.

    Will the church step up and provide funding for our good work to continue? The funding ends in August so I will let you know in September.

    I love Paul’s vision. The church and civic groups are far more efficient and come up with better responses than the federal government. Charity and justice should be tied to authentic relationships and I agree that if the church did this it would bring healing not only to the poor but to our consumer driven materialistic churches.

    So, I vote for a third way. Empower local communities to address their own issues.