These days, anyone who says they don't think government-funded welfare is a good idea is immediately branded a heartless person with no compassion for those in need. A more ridiculous proposition is hard to imagine, but the illogical myth persists that if you don't want the government taking your money from you and giving it to people it chooses, you're a bad guy. It's as though no one would do anything out of their own sense of right and wrong, justice, or equity, so the government has to make sure it happens.
Which, all things considered, is pretty ludicrous. Since when did the government start caring about people in need? No, what's really at stake is a word all but formally outlawed by those in power—control. Politicians and elected officials don't like that word because it too accurately describes their motivation too much of the time. Those who can like telling the rest of us what to do with our hard-earned (and heavily taxed) money. Welfare isn't about the welfare of the poor so much as the welfare of the bureaucracy that runs it.
Does this sound too cynical? and are we just greedy ultra-capitalists who don't want to share? No, indeed.
The Bible makes it clear who should be responsible for making sure the poor have enough to eat, clean clothes to wear, and a roof above them—the Church, specifically the local assembly. There's also an order to it: first, the needs of other Christians must be met, then the needs of the broader community. Contrary to popular opinion, this isn't optional; Scripture indicates that our faithfulness in helping the needy is an indication of our love of God, both to each other and to the world around us.
How are we supposed to fulfill this biblical mandate if the powers-that-be do it for us? What's even more disturbing is the fact that the government has no reliable program for determining who's genuinely in need, and who's just lazy, so too often our taxes aren't going to feed hungry kids, they're going to feed the habits of the bum down the street who won't get off the couch except to buy hotdogs and beer....and then he usually sends his live-in girlfriend.
Fortunately (if ironically so), this neglect of making sure the need is real opens plenty of opportunities for local churches to step in. Children, the elderly, those physically unable to work, widows—these are the kinds of people requiring direct assisstance. Those who can and do work, yet still find making ends meet difficult, are eligible for more supplemental help. Those who chronically mismanage their money, or who can but won't work, aren't on the list of likely recipients, at least from a Christian perspective.
That doesn't mean we reject those individuals; it just means they need a different kind of assisstance altogether. Paul tells the Thessalonian church to gently rebuke such people, and encourage them to find work. He certainly doesn't tell the non-workers to procure government handouts, though such benefits were open even then to citizens of the Roman Empire.
Redistribution of resources in itself isn't a bad thing. The Bible commands it, in fact, but only under certain circumstances, and as a community rather than a government activity. Socialist or Communist redistribution programs attempt to eradicate poverty, but Jesus tells us we will always have poor people to care for. If Christ Himself couldn't magically dispose of human need and lack, how do secular human governments expect they can? It's the worst kind of presumption.
Some of the books we carry are warnings about the dangers of socialism and Communism (with a conspiracy theory or two thrown in for good measure), but most of them present strategies for subverting government benefit programs with church-led efforts of our own. The goal isn't to hold onto what we have and let others go hungry; the goal is to make sure everyone has enough following the principles of aid presented in Scripture. Who would oppose privatized welfare? Against such things there is no law.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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