Stop Telling Me about the “Lazy” and “Entitled” Poor

Stop Telling Me about the “Lazy” and “Entitled” Poor January 17, 2018


Years ago I led my small-group discussion on Christ’s troubling parable about Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19–30). It’s a harrowing story about a poor man named Lazarus who’s ignored every day by a very wealthy man. When they both die, they experience a biblical Freaky Friday. It’s the rich man who suffers torments while Lazarus is comforted. The message is clear. We can make sacrifices for others today, or have the choice made for us later.

Imagine my disappointment when—instead of wrestling with this extremely troubling story—my small group decided to take the conversation in a different direction.  They focused on the urban legend of freeway-off-ramp panhandlers who were secretly pulling in six-figure salaries. Except it wasn’t a story to them—it was an obvious truth. Here were “poor” people cheating good people out of their hard-earned money.

The point of Lazarus and the rich man is pretty clear, but I would have had an easier time getting a cat to discuss its implications. This group wasn’t interested in the parable’s application. They had a narrative about the poor that exonerated them from responsibility. I remember sitting in my car afterward and quietly crying frustrated tears.

Banksy and privilege

I was reminded of this story a couple of months ago when I shared a Banksy quote on Facebook:

“The human race is an unfair and stupid competition. A lot of the runners don’t get decent sneakers or clean drinking water.
Some runners are born with a massive head start, every possible help along the way, and still the referees seem to be on their side.
It’s not surprising that a lot of people have given up competing altogether and gone to sit in the grandstand, eat junk food, and shout abuse.”

Banksy is talking about privilege here, but within two comments, someone responded with:

“Conversely, many have also chosen to stand on a skateboard or sit in a wagon and ask others to push or pull them along because they feel entitled or are too lazy to make an effort themselves.”

Once again, the point was completely ignored by turning the focus on “bad” poor people. It’s as if invoking these examples is like putting on a pair of sunglasses that block out the UV rays of culpability and conviction. These deflections come in a variety of styles:

  • They’re just going to spend my money on drugs or alcohol.
  • They’re in this position because of their choices.
  • People on welfare all have 60″ TVs and iPhones.
  • I had to work for what I have. They should, too.
  • There are plenty of entitlement programs available.
  • People spend their food stamps on steak and lobster.

I’m not suggesting that there’s never any truth to these critiques. Some people will spend what money they receive on booze, and people are receiving SNAP who might occasionally splurge on expensive foods (which I’m not sure I judge them for—Top Ramen shouldn’t be your penance for poverty).

The point is that Christians shouldn’t use the occasional abuse of charity as an excuse to ignore need and be self-indulgent with their finances. It’s like Jesus saying, “I shouldn’t extend grace to these knuckleheads; someone might abuse it.”

We don’t have an excuse

We could look at how infrequently the needy abuse help. We could discuss how the system makes it difficult for the hard-working poor to get themselves ahead. We could even build a case for why impoverished people deserve our attention and aid. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. If you follow Jesus, the responsibility isn’t on me to prove that poor people deserve assistance.

In the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt. 25:31–46), Jesus points out specific charitable actions that he views as being done (or not done) specifically to him. For instance, he tells the “sheep” that when they give a glass of water to someone who was thirsty, they were doing it to him. Conversely, when a glass of water was withheld from the thirsty, it was being withheld him.

The specific people (and actions) he mentions are:

  • The hungry (they are fed)
  • The thirsty (they receive water)
  • The stranger (they are welcomed)
  • The naked (they are clothed)
  • The sick (they are cared for)
  • The imprisoned (they are visited)

The point of this parable rests on what was (or was not) done for the “least of these.” The sheep and goats are separated by what they did (or did not) do.

What we need to wrap our heads around is this: Jesus never addresses the reasons someone might be hungry, naked, or sick. It doesn’t matter. Jesus doesn’t say, “I was undeservedly a stranger and you welcomed me.” He doesn’t point out that “I was in prison for a crime I didn’t commit, and you visited me.” There’s no point in this parable where the goats respond, “Some people are hungry because they’re lazy and entitled.”

As a follower of Jesus, it doesn’t seem like I have the luxury to embrace a narrative where the poor are undeserving of my help. Obviously, I want to be wise with my giving, but I don’t think I’m allowed to try and discern whether the poor have earned my care.

Who am I to judge?

After the comment about the lazy and entitled poor, there was more discussion. At one point they said, “I’m all about helping those who can’t help themselves for whatever reason that may be.”

I appreciate that sentiment, but I see big problems with it:

  • How do the poor prove their helplessness to us?
  • Who ultimately gets to decide whether someone is deserving of help?
  • What reasons are acceptable for being unable to help themselves?
    • Sickness?
    • Mental illness?
    • Addiction?
    • An upbringing that screwed them up or modeled terrible behavior and decision making?

I think the reason that Jesus doesn’t qualify who’s deserving of charity is that the judgment isn’t ours to make. If we’re to leave vengeance to the Lord (Rom. 12:19), I imagine that includes people who abuse our kindness. We’re to be the hands through which he cares for others—deserving or not. I mean, I was an enemy when Christ gave up his life for me. I’m going to withhold a money, shelter, or care from someone because I think they’re unworthy?!

Are we sheep or goats?

Most of the time, the people who respond to discussions about charity by pointing out how the poor are gaming the system are the same ones who tell me it isn’t the government’s job to take care of the poor. They say that taking care of poor folk is the church’s responsibility. It makes me thankful for the government’s involvement because a lot of church people I know seem to think the poor are getting exactly what they deserve.

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  • Jan Moyer

    Yes! Thank you. I teach in a community impacted by poverty. I believe in erring on the side of kindness, giving without question, and not placing my standards on a lifestyle I have not lived. Thank you.

  • Jayson, this is good. It struck a nerve. Sunday we had a speaker from Ravi Z ministries speaking on gender/identity (another story). At one point he described a convo he had with a young woman he met on a plane; there were some snickers in the congregation (though he was respectful and didn’t play it for laughs) when he said she described herself as a Buddhist atheist.When she told him she was a social justice advocate, he asked her about karma and whether it made sense for her to work for justice when Buddhism says people just get back what they give out anyway. But in my mind I’m going, wait: this “you get what you deserve” philosophy is deeply entrenched in North American evangelical Christianity too. Can Christians puff themselves up as being better than a Buddhist atheist if they support merit-based social programs and literacy tests to receive health care, or if they insist that Jesus meant we should only help the deserving?. It’s true that here in Canada we envision and structure government aid programs differently (we grumble about tax rates, but we don’t call the entire concept of taxation a form of “stealing”), and I’m glad — but many of the same negative attitudes prevail here, including among Christians. And anyway, the speaker was American, so I wondered how he could avoid seeing the irony in the argument he was making — that karma actually seems to be a greater guiding principle in Christians’ lives than compassion at times. We can be so smug about having the “right” belief system, yet we can also miss the point so spectacularly.

  • CroneEver

    C. S. Lewis, “Letters to an American Lady”, Oct. 28, 1962:
    “It will not bother me in the hour of death to reflect that I have been ‘had for a sucker’ by any number of imposters; but it would be a torment to know that one had refused even ONE person in need. After all, the parable of the sheep and the goats makes our duty perfectly plain, doesn’t it. Another thing that annoys me is when people say, ‘Why did you give that man money? He’ll probably go and drink it.’ My reply is, ‘But if I kept it, I should have probably drunk it.’”

    Almost 40 years ago I was in a New Testament class in which we were discussing the parable of the sheep and the goats, and the teacher asked if there was ever a point at which being rich would be immoral. Every single one of the people in the class (except me) said, not at all! We can accumulate as much money as we want as long as we we’re Christians. And I said no, after a certain point, you can’t get that much money without having sinned or inherited from sin. The teacher (and we were often at logger-heads, I was an argumentative student) agreed with me. But the students remained unconvinced. They knew that they could do what they wanted. Which may be the epitaph of this generation.

  • CDMan

    The best article I have read from you by far!

  • Brandon Roberts

    panhandling is really good money if you know what you’re doing though sure there are some that are really poor and a lot of homeless people have problems that would make it impossible for them to hold down a job

  • raz mataz

    greed. all excuses not to give. selfish. most americans need to go to a 3rd world country to realize that they are RICH. they are the rich guy in the bible. ice cream. raz

  • Will

    I’ve had the same experience in my small group discussions. It’s very frustrating.

    What bothers me, though, is that most people seem to take either a very cold/harsh or naive/lazy approach to the subject. Christ never said that somebody had to deserve what they got. But Christ also never advocated for Ceasar to take care of the poor. He told Christians to do it. While the church is obviously (supposedly) made up of Christians, he was talking to Peter individually when he said to “feed my sheep.”

    On my first inner-city mission experience, my leader told me that it was MY job to meet the needs of the poor when we took to the streets. But adding to that, he said the absolute worse thing I could do is to give them cash and walk away. Instead, we spent time and invested in people. Got to know them. Figured out what they needed. Were they hungry? Buy them dinner. Were they cold? Give them a blanket. Were they homeless? Bring them to the shelter. More often than not, they just needed a friend that showed them the love of Christ.

    But that takes TIME. Time away from our social media, blogs and cell phones. Time away from our video games, movies, and other entertainment. Time away from our own self interests and that’s just too “hard.”

    It reminds me of the humorously true (and sad) old song from my youth by Acapella:

    Everybody said that anybody could do
    The important things somebody should do
    Everybody knows that anybody could do
    All the good things that nobody did

    So in today’s pop-culture Christianity, we must instead take political sides. We must rant on social media (like I’m doing now *lol*), feel justified about our position and direct our ire at the opposing view. We must either be uber-conservative prudes and say that the poor are entitled, lazy bums that aren’t worth our time. Or we must be uber-liberal elites that don’t lift a finger, but pat ourselves on the back about our stance on the need for more charity and welfare. Both of us think we have the solution but are both the problem. It is only when I put MY faith in action MYSELF, that I actually “feed his sheep.”

  • Catch-22

    First Position: is most American’s have more TV experience than experience with other human’s – that is fact!
    Second Position, From this false reality do they relate to the world, and twisted in that is the Roman concept of – Compassion is a from of weakness –
    Third position on this From the Great TV to the False Christians, GOD is Money and they Wrote the name on it: I got 1 million GOD’s or Power to 10.
    Fourth position, from the Roman Concepts to False Christian Concepts, you get this hate for the poor, and GOD WORSHIP of money, which then states that the poor ( which are most now) are GODLESS and therefore open for contempt, death and abuse/suffering.

    The US like much of the world now is separated between their thoughts and feelings. Ramped up on TV images and False Preachers Words.

    Where in all the Right Wing talk do we ever hear these words:


    Plaque of the Eight beatitudes, St. Cajetan Church, Lindavista, Mexico
    The eight Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3–12 during the Sermon on the Mount.[7][8]

    Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:3)
    Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted. (5:4)
    Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth. (5:5)
    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled. (5:6)
    Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy. (5:7)
    Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God. (5:8)
    Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God. (5:9)
    Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:10)





  • Common Sense

    Tell me, just what is a “progressive Christian”?

  • Big Shonna

    So, my mom … A spiritual leader shared this article, as I am actually the person who uses (multiple, multiple times a day) some of the excuses you’ve mentioned in order to make the people littering the streets with cardboard signs and the 5 people who come through the El (like clockwork) each and every night without fail asking for money, disappear.

    I wrote a scathing article on my blog about people who help people on the street, counting them as people who are looking for an easy way to do a “good deed” for the day.

    Last time I checked, Panhandling is illegal. Why can’t people volunteer their time at a soup kitchen or shelter?

    Another reader said something very important, to the effect that the worse thing you could do is give money and walk away – personally I think this is absolutely right because it’s enabling. The likely hood that a few dollars is the answer to the reason they are on the street is a really far stretch.

    It’s not about judgement … In my opinion it is about common sense and logic.

    When a panhandler asks me for a dollar, it doesn’t make sense and when something doesn’t make sense, yes … I have to think about why it’s happening.

    The book of Proverbs? Unless I am reading it wrong we are allowed to use discernment.

    Under no circumstances would God want us giving away money to anyone who says they need it just because they need it.

    For someone like me who genuinely wants to help people who are in need, I wouldn’t make it home with anything in my pocket if I took that approach. I live in an impoverished city were panhandlers nod off from dope with cups of change and cardboard notes saying their hungry.

    When my church held a community meal, I volunteered every chance I got. When my mom volunteered at a shelter, once a month she was allowed to bring me along.

    I loved this post and I cannot wait to dig through this blog to see what inspires me … You are truly a great writer … But on this I’ll have to keep being the person I have always been with the panhandlers on the street.

    Thank you for this post, your wisdom, and allowing me to share my thoughts safely.

  • Chuck Johnson

    Giving without question is not a good idea.
    Giving out of ignorance is not a good idea.
    Knowledge and understanding enhance the power of giving.

  • Chuck Johnson

    Progressive Christianity can be a lot of different things.
    But here’s a generality:
    A progressive Christian sees much in the ancient stories as false, ignorant or foolish.
    Extravagant miracles are an example.
    Then the progressive Christian makes use of sensible information from the Bible by applying it to the way that we live our lives today.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor
    alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of
    bread.” – Anatole France.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    One who actually believes all those things some Jewish hippie socialist said.

  • Common Sense

    Evidently not

  • Common Sense

    I was thinking something along those lines. So, a “progressive Christian” decides for themselves which “ancient stories are false, ignorant or foolish”?
    I am sure it is satisfying but it all sounds so very humanistic. If some things are foolish how can you know which? Who is to decide? Is it all just subjective?

  • Chuck Johnson

    I am sure it is satisfying but it all sounds so very humanistic. If some things are foolish how can you know which? Who is to decide? -Common Sense

    For Christians, the individual is the one who decides.
    In some cases, they might have to choose a different church.

    Yes, progressive Christianity tends to be more humanistic than conservative Christianity.

    Conservative Christianity tends to be more authoritarian.

  • Chuck Johnson

    Is it all just subjective?-Common Sense

    I am an atheist and a scientist.
    My picking and choosing of Bible information is guided by science.
    Therefore, my choices will be more objective than the picking and choosing that most other people do.

  • Common Sense

    Wait. An “atheist scientist progressive Christian”?
    I admit confusion here. Is that not like a bull with wings and gills? Is it possible for these things to exist together?
    Did you write the original post?

  • Chuck Johnson

    I am not a Christian.
    I am an atheist and a scientist.
    I was sent to church and Sunday school by my parents, but I didn’t like it (for the most part) and the miraculous was never very credible to me.
    This is that New England church:

    I see the world (including theologies) through the lens of science.

  • Arnold Bragg

    Most people don’t really understand we are just passing through this place. Do what you can and build your treasure in heaven not on this passing through place. God Bless

  • fractal

    You never really know the end results of your actions—there are probably many, both good and bad.
    Giving isn’t necessarily about the results.
    In fact, I encouraged my young child to give often, to establish giving as a habit which fostered her spiritual growth.

    Eastern Philosophy suggests we renounce the results of our actions, as irrelevant to the spiritual exercise of giving and selfless service.
    So, I guess it depends on why you are giving.

  • fractal

    There is more to sacred writings than ancient stories.
    For me, in the bible, the Psalms are where it’s at.
    The ecstatic relationship with Divinity, which transcends dogma and the whole notion of “true and false”.
    I will take being flooded with grace anytime, over slicing and dicing translations to arrive at liturgical purity.
    What may be true and right for someone else at their stage of spiritual growth, may be entirely wrong for me, at my point in the spiritual quest.

    Grokking both immanence and transcendence has given me way more spiritual mileage than memorizing prayers and creeds.
    Giving to strangers across oceans, where I will never really know how fruitful the gift was, is a more meaningful act of faith for me, than trying to force myself into a “belief system” that is ultimately irrelevant to my personal relationship with the Sacred.

  • Chuck Johnson

    I guess it depends upon your definition of “results”.

    If you would give something with the intention of doing harm, the results would be different from giving with the intention of providing benefits.

    The spiritual exercise of giving and selfless service are the results that you seek? – – – That sounds small-minded and selfish.

    Here’s the proper guidance:
    As you go through life getting what you want and what you need, do this in a way that helps others to get what they want and what they need.

  • Chuck Johnson

    You never really know the end results of your actions—there are probably many, both good and bad.-fractal

    If you are so unsure of the results of your giving, then give somewhere else so that you will have more confidence of the results.
    Also, check up on the results.

    Giving because some ancient philosopher instructed you to is not a good idea.

    If you don’t understand what you are doing, don’t do it.

    Your fellow human beings benefit much more if you understand the ongoing results of your giving.

  • Common Sense

    Thank you, Chuck
    If you are not a “progressive christian” I suppose I am confused why you are speaking for those who are.

  • Common Sense

    Thank you, fractal
    That is very beautifully written.
    Do you feel that the scripture is about you? I guess it is some, but mostly it is about the One Who Inspired the writing. If that One, mostly known as God, says something about Himself, why should I doubt it… unless I do not actually believe?
    References to RAH do not clarify here.

  • fractal

    Please explain how the spiritual exercise of giving…are small-minded and selfish. Is self-improvement just egotism in your world-view? Is developing a habit of giving REALLY selfish?

    And how do you know that giving something with a harmful intention, will cause worse results than giving with good intentions?
    YOU DON”T.
    You cannot control what happens to a gift after it leaves you hands, no matter how much you try. You cannot even imagine what events will stem from the results of your giving.

    BTW, your mansplaining THE PROPER GUIDANCE to me is a huge egotism and a said next to nothing useful.

  • fractal

    Don’t know what RAH is…
    I do not believe that anyone’s scripture is “divinely inspired”, in that God isn’t dictating anything to anyone in verbal form.
    However, I do believe that some spiritual teachings have great truths embedded, and multiple layers of truth, quite often.
    Happens when the writer has both direct experiences of the Sacred, and the wisdom to know how to winnow out her own ego and keep the experience intact, without the mind trying to place personal interpretations in the way.
    Of course, experiencing Grace flooding thru you is, by its nature, a non-verbal experience which English simply doesn’t have the language for—Sanskrit does, though.

    sounds much more like a meditation instruction to me, with Jesus trying to teach the disciples how to connect/relate to the Kingdom WITHIN, the eternal “I” at the center of all life and self.

    Taken from a mystic’s POV, these quotes from Jesus show the Unifying Principle of Divinity, that a self-reflective consciousness has the ability to apprehend.

    To me, the quotes of Jesus are pretty straight-forward about the poor.
    HELP THEM AND DON’T GET JUDGEY, would be my summary.
    After all, if you believe Christian stories, you never know when a poor person might be Jesus in disguise.
    I see no ambiguity there.

  • fractal

    Sure it is subjective—how could it be otherwise?
    We are all at different places in our spiritual growth, and will hear/interpret a story in different ways.
    Just like any meme in HIS-story.
    It is from the viewpoint of the winning males, though there are many different POV’s that stem from the same story.

  • Common Sense

    Thank you, fractal
    You quoted Robert A Heinkein (RAH).

    Is this the essence of “progressive christianity”?

    Could others comment here?

    For me there is a disconnect. A certain inventiveness that is odd given the context and connection to the Bible and the God described within.

  • fractal

    I used the word Grok, because it implies a deeper knowing than what can be found with deductive reasoning, brainwashing thru repetition or invoking religious authority. Peak experiences and/or complete immersion stuff, implying new paradigms and heartfelt, intuitive intelligent connection. Connecting with God immanently.

    When I think “Progressive Christianity”, I think of Humanists and mystics who use the Christian Tradition as their sweet, foundational launching pad of familiar icons and rituals.
    The kind of Christian that would laughingly and fondly call themselves a Cafeteria Christian.

    My Sufi teacher was that.
    Many American Sufis think of themselves as “Jewish Sufi” or Catholic Sufi” for instance, and have no cognitive dissonance surrounding their dual spirituality.
    Whatever religion you want to call yourself, the Progressives I know have an emphasis on selfless service as a spiritual practice, and an open-ended, individualistic approach toward the understanding of what “God” is and our relationship with nature and Divinity.

    And yes, as I understand it, Progressive Christians don’t take the Bible literally, but use it more as a inspirational tool or a device for examining the awakening of the Spirit, from primitive “mountain god” (EL worship), progressing into iconography of God as Machismo Tribal Elder, to basic concept of monotheism and into the Jesus ideal of Compassion and Sacred Connection.
    In addition, I see Progressive Christianity as the antithesis of Fundamentalism and “Conservative” Christians, who rely on concepts like salvation, belief-driven, doctrine, authority, hierarchy, man-centric, either/or-ism, and damnation.

    Probably your version of “Progressive Christian” is different than mine and others like-minded.
    But then, we aren’t really trying to pin the term down to a dogma and hang a shingle on it.
    Obsession with any holy book, to the point of making its words the sole foundation of your spirituality, seems odd and “false god-like”, to those who are mystics or see their spirituality as an extension of the Humanistic Ideals of compassion, harmony, inventiveness and egalitarianism.

    Does that answer your questions?

  • Chuck Johnson

    I am speaking about those who are.
    You can speak about them, too if you like.

    But since you are not an atheist, why are you telling us what topics an atheist may speak about ?

    Jesus was not one of the Pharisees, but he did not hesitate to speak about them.

  • Chuck Johnson

    And how do you know that giving something with a harmful intention, will cause worse results than giving with good intentions?YOU DON”T.-fractal

    For most people, giving with good intentions will be the better choice.
    But if you are the nihilist that your comment implies, then don’t bother giving anything.

  • Chuck Johnson

    BTW, your mansplaining THE PROPER GUIDANCE to me is a huge egotism and said next to nothing useful.-fractal

    Now, you’re trolling.

  • Martha Deacon

    You gave them anything but a choice. Agency is better. Who would prefer some blanket – probably not the quality you yourself use – to some cash? Your idea of what to eat for dinner? Liberals are right: give money and let the poor choose what to do with it.

  • onlein

    Jesus and his immediate followers made it very clear a number of times: We are to pool our wealth, even sell our homes in doing so, to meet the needs of the poor. Ensure that needs are met before we satisfy our wants. And we are not to judge. That’s pretty much the Christian message. Ouch. Oh, and the love of money is the root of all evil. In fact, as Kathleen Norris has reminded us, the dessert mothers and fathers in the early church used to see lust “as a form of greed, the desire to possess and use another person inappropriately in pursuit of one’s own satisfaction.” This sounds like a very good explanation for the bad behavior of many prominent men reported in today’s news: persons, especially women and girls, being used as sex objects rather than treated as persons.

  • Robert Long

    As the new pastor of a rural church our congregation recently encountered a man said to be traveling through Mississippi from Florida but he was having car trouble. Wishing to be shepherd of a caring flock, I suggested we take up a “love offering” and the man was presented with a sizable amount … but he was politely asked to sit through an hour-long sermon, during which was a message interjected about Christ’s love to all those, even those who society sees as undeserving. Hucksters fall into the undeserving category and we should love them, too. Didn’t know if indeed he was a huckster … as they say, it’s on him. We did our part as Christ commanded us to do … the rest is on Him to sort out the goats from sheep.

  • Richard Lambert

    I am convicted, though im not sure what I can personally do. There’s this elderly woman who’s been living out of her broken down car behind a diner in my town. I’ve spoken to her a few times there and I treat her to food when I’m able…. she told me that after her husband died she was kicked out of her trailer who as her brother in law, and when ever I’m sitting with her she practically begs me to take her home with me. I would like to think I would take her in if I was able, but I don’t know. Reguardless, my entire house is a one room studio apartment, converted from a storage unite (its even in storage lot) …there’s no way my landlord would let me house someone else, and say what you will, but I’m not inclined to rest him on this…if he had a mind to avict me, what good would that do anyone? I did try to see if my church might be able to help her somehow not to long ago, but I’ve yet to receive an email back. I searched for local charities and women’s ministries, but most of them only take youths and women with children, both of which the women in question is not. I really hate this, but it’s gotten to where I try to avoid her unless I have the money to feed her or somthing. It’s hard hearing her beg me to take her in when I can’t, and not knowing what else to do to help her immediately and or lastingly. Everyone else I’ve talked to seems to favore calling the police on her…they reason that they might put her in touch with resources that would help her, but I’m sceptical. I’m more afraid they would just run her off or toe her car away. I just don’t know what to do. Any advice?

  • RednGreen

    Sometimes it seems compassion has disappeared entirely. The other day I was reading something that included the phrase “Compassionate Conservatives.” It was jarring to see those two words together and I found myself thinking, “Is that a thing nowadays?”

  • Georgianna

    I have always, sometimes intentional, because I needed to help my emotionally disabled son and daughter, have relied on things like food stamps and welfare to get by when I wasn’t able to work. I have worked, I worked for a temp agency for 16 years when I wasn’t able to find employment elsewhere. I have worked other jobs, as well. I just wonder how many people know what some of these poor families have to to go through while relying on the government to help feed and keep a roof over the head of their families. If those Christians could step into the shoes of one of those families, even for just a few days, they might understand more about what it takes to live like that. How humiliating it is for these families to have to say no to their children when it comes to being able to do the things that other children do.

    I know some people who have done well for themselves and they are very generous people. They are faithful to God and to helping others. I guess I am fortunate in that way. Unfortunately, there are many more that think that they earned their money and have a right to have all the thins that they do. I hate to think what they will say when they come before the Lord.

  • Randy Robison

    The article made a good point that we don’t need to manage the motives of people who are in need when we give. We are called to love even our enemies(Matt. 5:44). Also, it is pretty clear from the story of the rich man and Lazarus that there will be people who lived a life of poverty in Heaven and that there will be rich people in Hell. However, why does the author switch from individual responsibility to government responsibility at the end of the article. Jesus certainly wants us to be charitable, but He was not calling on the Roman Empire to care for the poor. He does say that the poor will always be with us in this broken life (Matthew 26:11).
    The article asks if we are sheep or goats. Interestingly, the sheep were unaware of their good deeds (Matthew 25:44). They probably didn’t know they were sheep. They were not concerned with obtaining God’s favor. They gave out of a genuine love for people that God gave them. I know many people who serve the poor in the church. Maybe the author is hanging around the wrong churches.

  • jamesparson

    BTW, this is stereotype of what atheists think that Christians believe.

    I personally don’t think it is that common, but it is interesting to see someone write it.

  • Right. Because pointing out that someone is mansplaining can never be a LEGITIMATE criticism, because women that point out male errors are ALWAYS just….trolling. Right?

  • Chuck Johnson

    But here, you are trolling.

  • No, Sir. You are most definitely the troll here.

  • Cynthia Brown Christ

    Did you even read the article, or the gospels? It does not seem so.

  • fractal

    I think it is TACKY to ask people to sit thru your brand of spiritual brainwashing, before being helped in their time of need.

  • fractal

    When my daughter was three years old, I began giving her coins to give to the people panhandling in the neighborhood.
    It instilled a habit of GIVING.
    Perhaps if you thought less about the mental exercise of “discernment”—since you obviously don’t REALLY know anything about each particular person—and instead, think of giving as a spiritual exercise to strengthen your generosity muscle, you might be a happier person.

    Personally, I think you are using Proverbs as an excuse to judge others.
    That whole mentality is toxic to your heart and soul.

  • K Curtis

    There are different ways to help, and not all are mutually exclusive. For a homeless person on the street, (or a similarly needy person) it may well be that what their most immediate need is, is for a meal, and perhaps getting help to a place to stay. That does not solve the long term problem, but the compassion of meeting an immediate need is not a small thing either – particularly when the person simply may not know how to make their situation better at that moment, and for a variety of reasons, may not be able to learn quickly enough. Should we stop there? No, of course not. The assistance they may need goes beyond that – but that does not diminish the immediate need or the compassion that can be expressed. Sometimes just being treated like a genuine person and not simply an object that has been judged and found in some way “less than” is a huge gift. Knowing exactly what else to do is much more complicated, and time consuming. That is precisely why government sponsored and privately sponsored resources can, and most often need to be, part of the on going solution. Suggesting or supporting those kinds of resources is not shirking a responsibility, it is actually doing something very responsible – particularly in those situations where we may not know how to help someone solve their longer term challenges. We can be their friend along that journey, provide time and support, and encourage them to take advantage of and make good use of whatever resources are available to get them to a place where they are stable and able to be independent again. There will always be people who game the system, and who, for a number of reasons may not want to get the help they need – but I cannot allow that to either release me from, or blind me to, the necessity to express compassion and care. I agree that we need to act smartly and wisely, but we need to be careful about how we configure what that looks like, understanding that qualities like mercy and compassion are still huge. It is after a relationship has been developed that we are most able to determine if we are helping or enabling, and in some cases that might lead to hard choices – but that cannot be used as an excuse to simply look the other way because helping is hard, challenging, and sometimes not as successful as we wish it would be.

  • Chuck Johnson

    I am responding to fractal.
    And your superstitions are not especially relevant here.

  • Brandon Roberts

    i find it weird how little some people understand that many poor do work hard

  • Ivan T. Errible


  • Ivan T. Errible

    Suppose they use the money for drugs/booze?

  • fractal

    I don’t feel the need to micromanage the poor.
    I give because the habit of giving is good exercise for the heart.
    Blessed are the lilies of the field, and all that.
    Whatever brings them comfort is this painful world; we all self-medicate.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    I do feel the need to micromanage my income-I consider that I’d use it a lot better than someone lying in a pool of his own piss or screaming at someone who’s not there.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    I’m heading over to you house right now; why bother to go to work when you’re willing to give me money?

  • fractal

    Do you realize you are just projecting your sociopathic personality disorder onto others?
    Projection is one of the most primitive of defense mechanisms; and it involves a lot of narcissism, to think the whole world thinks and acts just like widdle ole’ you.

    When you talk about the poor that way—you are really talking about yourself. It is blatant and sad.

    If you came to me as a stranger, asking for money, I may or may not give, depending on what I had that day—but you would probably get something.
    And whether or not it helps you, it will certainly help me, as I grow my heart cave.

    When Jesus said: “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat…”
    did he also say:
    “If you think I don’t look “deserving enough”, you have the option to not feed me…”
    Jesus NEVER SAID to judge the poor.
    He said to care for them.
    I don’t think you understand what that means.

  • fractal

    sure you would…

  • Ivan T. Errible

    Well, I’ve got a house and a car and food in my fridge-plus the lights are on and the water is always there. So I guess I do manage it better.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    Do you realize that you’re using rhetorical questions?

  • Ivan T. Errible

    No, I’m not; I’m not drug or alcohol addicted and not mentally troubled enough to prevent me holding a job/cleaning myself.

  • fractal

    You don’t know what a sociopath is, do ya…

  • Woollcott

    No, Fractal is not trolling. Just calling you out for your arrogance.

  • Barbara

    Thank you for this. I was confronted by this same quandary just 2 weeks ago. I didn’t give to someone at a train station asking for money to ‘get home’ because I didn’t trust that that was what they were really going to use it for, thst if I gave thrm money I would be a sucker. But ever since I have felt guilty and that I may have made the wrong decision. Thank you for this timely reminder that it’s not my place to know whether someone is telling the truth or worthy, it’s judt my job to give if and where I can, and the rest is up to God.

  • Elene

    Insulting people by referring to their “superstitions” is nasty, and the gospels are obviously relevant to a discussion based on Christian teachings about charity.

  • Elene

    But just giving money is easy. Getting to know people and treating them like human beings is a lot tougher.
    And buying someone dinner does not imply choosing what they eat!

  • von Igelfeld

    It seems to me the author and the members of his Bible Study group are at extreme ends of the issue. You can’t be charitable without getting conned at least sometimes. But if the Prodigal Son had had a government safety net he might never have repented and come home to his father.

    Jesus fed the multitude, but stopped because they started following him for the free food.

    Jesus and the disciples were supported, in part by wealthy women. Our family has often been in a position to help others only because we chose professions that paid well. We try to take seriously John Wesley’s admonition to “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”

  • von Igelfeld

    It seems to me the author and the members of his Bible Study group are at extreme ends of the issue. You can’t be charitable without getting conned at least sometimes. But if the Prodigal Son had had a government safety net he might never have repented and come home to his father.

    Jesus fed the multitude, but stopped because they started following him for the free food.

    Jesus and the disciples were supported, in part by wealthy women. Our family has often been in a position to help others only because we chose professions that paid well. We try to take seriously John Wesley’s admonition to “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”

    As to deciding when someone is “deserving poor” (not perfect) a relationship of some kind is usually required. This is why we generally give to people we know or established ministries with expertise. That doesn’t preclude giving to strangers, but it minimizes bad charity that can sometimes corrupt the character of the recipient.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    Suppose you don’t believe in god; why should you do any of this? If you can show why you should do this without bringing god into it, why bother with religion?

  • Ivan T. Errible

    How is this “mansplaining”?

  • Ivan T. Errible

    How am I supposed to “get to know” someone with major personality or mental issues and/or drug addiction?

  • Ivan T. Errible

    “Grokking”? Seriously?

  • fractal

    You know what it means.
    Just lookin’ for something to jeer at.

  • reformr87

    I think the growing intolerance toward the poor receives a lot of ammunition from converging sources:

    1. The growing influence of Word-Faith “prosperity” theology, even in Evangelical sectors
    2. A narrow Calvinistic understanding of who is “Elect” in God’s kingdom, as measured by financial success.
    3. Dichotomies that pit poor against rich, winners against losers and successful versus unsuccessful people.
    4. A stubborn unwillingness to focus on the growth of the WORKING poor in American society.
    5. An ideology that spins any proposals for social welfare as anti-capitalistic or even communist in intent.

    I would call these the formidable five at work in many churches today.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    No, I don’t.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    No, I don’t know. What a twit-just answer the f*cking question!

  • Georgianna

    The best you can. When a person has a mental health diagnosis you need to remember that they are a person, first. Talk to them, if they respond, then you have made a small bit of headway. If they don’t or won’t talk then you can bless them and go to the next person. But if you see that they have an obvious need, make the offer of what you have, give them the choice to take it or not.

  • Georgianna

    But how can you know if it is “bad charity”? What is bad charity? If you give someone something, without thought of return or even being thanked, then it’s a blessing to you, no matter if it is “bad charity”. You are not responsible for what the person does with what has been given to them.

  • Georgianna

    But how do you do that?

  • Georgianna

    I attend progressive Baptist church. Where God’s love is preached and all people, I do mean all people are welcome. We don’t discriminate or shame our members.

  • Georgianna

    Not really. Most Christians have enough guilt on them when they come through our doors, they don’t need someone telling them about how wrong they are. Others who come are looking for a place filled with love and forgiveness.

  • Steven Waling

    Give yourself a pat on the back. Your membership of the self-righteous brigade is in the post.

  • Chris

    Hi! I don’t know if you’re still following comments on this post, but I just saw it because a friend of mine just shared it. Great work!

    I recently published a book on the same topic and with a similar argument. I’d love to send you a review copy! You can find it here:

  • Brenda Thomas

    I have spent 30 plus years of my life working with poor people, legal aid mostly. I am not an attorney. My work was support staff, but I did a lot of intake/paralegal work, and just being in the community and being around folks – this is a very honest article. There are a few people who get a free meal who don’t deserve it, but who cares. Geez. The people getting food stamps and the little bit of help from the government isn’t even a drop in the amount of money that is wasted, squandered, lost by having such inequities in people who work so hard for so little and people who sit in an office, if they decide to go today, and get so much for doing nothing. The big corporations and the top .001% that are making 97% of the wealth, and paying no taxes, when I’ll owe tax because I took out $2000 from my ($4000 TDA) to help last year getting by with my Social Security. There’s something wrong with that. I worked from the time I got out of high school until I’ve retired, paying into Social Security every pay check. That is not an entitlement. We have all paid.

  • Paul Aaron Ferderer

    It’s fascinating to behold evangelicalism’s ever leftward lurch toward a rehashed social Gospel as manifest in this little article. The general thesis has merit: Christians are too eager to ignore the needy. It’s also true that if read in isolation, Jesus’ command “do not refuse the one who asks” might suggest Christians should empty their wallets for every passing panhandler. But, I think its worth remembering that the 5th commandment and Christ’s iteration of the golden rule call us to avoid harming our neighbor. Withholding aid (or at least certain forms of it) can be a genuine act of love that keeps an afflicted person from doing deadly damage to themselves or others.
    Also, please note that in Matthew 25 Jesus commends the charity of disciples whose compassion extends to “the least of these, my brothers.” The context shows that charity “begins at home” with members of the Christian community and extends secondarily to the wider world. Similarly, Paul’s counsel to “leave vengeance to God” is given as a response to persecutors not the poor. The author’s shallow understanding and applications of these texts reveal the great danger of his argument. Bradley replaces one unfaithful extreme with another. While it’s surely wrong to cynically ignore the poor, it’s equally evil to give token alms in appeasement of one’s conscious while leaving the recipient to wallow in self-destruction, sin, and death.

  • Guthrum

    Last year there was a scam going on in which a couple was going around in parking lots carrying a gas can telling people that they were on their way to somewhere to see a relative who was in the hospital, but they ran out of gas and needed money for gas and some water to drink. They said they hsd left in a hurry and forgot their cash and cards.
    If you offered to meet them at the local convenience store up the road and fill up the gas can for them, they turned around and left. The local store manager offered gas and food, but they quickly moved on.
    The local police advised people not to fall for these fake scams.
    People should be good stewards of their money.

  • Guthrum

    The best way is to contribute and support agencies that help people in need. That is more effective in really helping people in need instead of giving them cash.
    A local pastor said that people often walk in and request money. When offered a box of food and clothes, most turn around and leave, usually uttering some choice words. “Fifteen dollars evidently would every problem they seem to have” he says.
    People are to be good stewards of their money. It does no good to support someone’s addictions.

  • Guthrum

    How about giving with good judgement? Such as giving to reputable agencies that actually help people. These agencies warn people not to give out cash. The best thing to do is direct people to relief agencies, and places that are hiring – which are now in abundance.

  • Guthrum

    We get the “just passing through, my mother is in a hospital in another state I have to get there soon I ran out of gas and guess what ? I left my cash credit cards at home I need some gas money” story. The police are aware of it. If you offer to meet them at their car that ran out of gas and put gas in the car for them, they take off. Don’t fall for it. Verify, but be safe.

  • Pennybird

    “…it’s equally evil to give token alms in appeasement of one’s conscious while leaving the recipient to wallow in self-destruction, sin, and death.”

    Who is to say it’s an either/or proposition? It looks as though you want the poor to pull themselves up by their bootstraps in that noble way that Americans of character have always done, but it ignores the structure of our society where some people, no matter how hard they work, are never going to get ahead. One person’s token alms is another person’s meal, and in many cases, the first one in a day or two.

  • Pennybird

    3a. Dichotomies that pit poor of one community against the poor of another community in order to divide and conquer.

  • fractal

    No one “pulls themselves up by their bootstraps”.
    Try it.
    It is physically impossible.
    The saying began as a commentary on how it is impossible to get ahead without the help of community.
    And it has been stolen by those so ignorant, that they don’t even know what it means.

  • fractal

    “Lazy” is not a human trait, naturally.
    We are made biologically to run/walk many miles daily.
    When someone is “lazy”, there is a problem.
    Disease, depression, vitamin deficiency etc…

    But don’t some people just LUV to judge!

  • fractal

    “The least of these, my brothers” refers to the fact that Jesus considered ALL to be his brothers—NOT that he wants us to selectively serve other Dominionists first.

    It takes real pretzel logic and a lot of gall to twist what Jesus says 180 degrees, and then call yourself a Christian.
    You are not.

  • Jay Hansen

    Speaking of Lurch………….

  • fractal

    How about making giving an exercise in personal growth, and not worry so much about the ways the gift is used?

  • Guthrum

    If the correct gift is given, it will encourage personal growth.

  • sg

    They will say what they say every week.

    “Most merciful God, I have sinned against you in thought, word and deed by what I have done and by what I have left undone. I have not loved my neighbor as myself. I justly deserve your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of the holy innocent bitter suffering of your son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a poor miserable sinner.”

    We are all beggars

  • fractal

    ANY gift given encourages personal growth.
    But trust a fundy to sneer, while full of judgement.

    Mark 12:41-44 New International Version (NIV)

    The Widow’s Offering

    41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

    43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

  • fractal

    Go fick yourself.

  • Chuck Johnson

    A gift of food might be appropriate.
    A gift of clothing might be appropriate.
    A gift of money might be appropriate.
    It depends upon the circumstances.

    Giving to agencies is not a panacea.
    Some agencies are incompetent, some are crooked.

  • Chuck Johnson

    Putting all that you have to live on into the temple’s treasury is an ignorant and immoral thing to do.

    Fractal, you are a halfwit.

  • Chuck Johnson

    I see that you are superstitious, too.

  • Chuck Johnson

    Here is a more spectacular scam involving a story about running out of gas.
    It netted 400 thousand dollars.

  • Lynn

    I have noticed the poorer someone is the more likely they are to help others even those better off than they are. As people go up the income level they give less of what they have and complain more. This includes physical help as well as financial and just taking with others.