NPR did an interesting story asking whether Jesus would be for bigger or smaller government.
Scot McKnight responded with five really important principles to remember during this conversation.
What is the discussion about, really?
The government cannot fix our social problems, because that is not the government’s role. The best way to care for the poor is through churches that are involved in mission. The US government has gotten so big and bloated that the tax burden it places on her citizens is illegitimately large – so as to be confiscatory. Yes, Jesus loves the poor. However, the way to help the poor is not via government, but via Christians being like Christ. The rich are the ones who make all of the jobs and should not be punished with high taxes. The reason people are poor has more to do with their own personal choices and the government sucking the economy dry. Free enterprise, the churches, and charitable organizations can address systemic poverty more effectively than big government.
The poor are struggling, the middle class is shrinking, the rich are getting away with murder. The system is broken – look at the urban poor of any major city, look at the rural poor of any small agricultural town. The reason the poor are stuck in systemic poverty is because the rich have been able to contain our social problems among the poor. The system may be broken but as long as the symptoms of the brokenness are isolated among the poor (and minorities), the rich seem fine to ignore this reality. Hence, government has to step in and keep the greed of a few who prosper on the backs of the poor from causing (as this generally does at some point) a revolution of the underclass which could threaten the entire society..
BOTH ARE RIGHT / BOTH ARE WRONG:
Side one is right – The church should take care of the poor. Jesus is the hope of the world not the nation. Government is too big and wasteful. However, when will he church actually take care of the poor? If the government all of the sudden drastically cut back entitlements do we really think churches would be able to take care of those who live in poverty? Most churches think all they are doing is teaching people how to get to heaven when they die & how to have the ultimate religious experience. Would churches be able to fill the gap of reduced unemployment benefits or social security? Unless there is a drastic change, the answer is no.
Side two is right – The rich are getting away with murder in our society. Systemic poverty is linked to greed, racism, and a system which shows complete deference to its richest members. Corporations now wield unprecedented power. The government will have to play a role in changing the system. Getting government out of the way would only make the problem worse. However, the government cannot become our excuse for doing nothing. The church is pathetic on poverty. If we’d get to work the government could ratchet down spending as we ratchet up generosity and attacking the roots of systemic poverty.
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?
RICH CHRISTIANS IN GOVERNMENT
Last month Paul Ryan, the House Budget committee chairmen, pushed a budget through the House of Representatives which lowered taxes and cut services to the poor. Ryan represents a district that has very few poor people. Wisconsin’s 1st District is 85% white, has a median income of nearly $60k a year, and 56% of people living in his district make over $50k a year. Ryan is a rich white man who serves a rich white district, and he’s writing the budget. Of course he doesn’t care about the poor. He doesn’t represent the poor. Unless he’s a Christian (which he professes to be), and then he’s obligated to the least of these. I will grant him every argument he wants to make about how the church should be the ones to care for the poor, the government is too big, taxes are too high, and whatever else he wants to stipulate – I grant it all. And still, Christians are obligated to make the first move. We go first. We love the enemy. We care for the poor. We don’t wait for everyone else to do what’s right, we just do what Jesus asked us to do & we do it first.