Every few years around election cycle the same discussions repeat themselves over and over again. While there are a few issues here and there that crop up because of new gaps in culture, the bulk of the issues debated are quite predictable.
One of those issues is “big government.” One side of the political spectrum will typically advocate for social programs, while the other side will object and call that “big government.”
On one hand, the idea of small government sounds great. I think the average person would like to experience as much freedom from external restrictions as possible. And of course, no one enjoys being taxed. Thus, in theory small government sounds great.
However, over the course of time I have come to see that when politicians say “small government” they’re often using that as a code-word for cutting spending for the poor. It also seems true that they don’t want to take away the tax breaks which benefit the rich donors and corporations who got them elected.
Thus, when folks talk about small government and reducing government spending, it seems highly likely that they really just mean “the government needs to spend less money on the poor.” Many of those pushing this philosophy are professed Christians who believe the Church is the responsible party for dealing with poverty.
For example, David Barton (who helped pen the Republican party platform in 2012) said:
“It’s not the government’s responsibility to take care of the poor and needy. It’s the Church’s responsibility.”
While I think there’s a sound biblical argument for the government assisting with providing for the poor, they are right in that caring for the poor is one of the core tasks of the Church. In fact, in Matthew 25 Jesus makes one of the boldest statements in his ministry when he said that Christians who don’t feed the poor or clothe the naked will be shut out of his Kingdom at the last judgement.
The idea that the Church should be outspending the government on caring for the poor is actually a fantastic idea– I think we should be first in line to set the example for everyone else. Conservative politicians however, seem to be taking this concept to an extreme of “Church not state, instead of Church and state.”
However, I have no love or trust in secular government, so if their idea worked in practice instead of theory, I’d be all on board. But, there’s one major snag to this idea:
Statistically speaking, the Church in America doesn’t do its job. In fact, it is my contention that most Christians in America don’t actually believe we have a moral responsibility to care for the poor.
Why? I’m convinced that what we believe is revealed by our actions, not our words. It is in what we do, not what we say, where truth is revealed.
And if this is the case, caring for the poor via generous, charitable giving, simply isn’t a widely held belief among American Christians.
Case in point: Presidential candidate Ted Cruz is among the professed Christian candidates who want less government spending and to transfer a greater portion of caring for the poor to private charity. However, recently released documents show that between 2006-2010, Cruz gave less than 1% of his income to charity— even though he made over $5 million dollars during that time.
While Cruz’s hypocrisy is an extreme example, we know that the average American Christian doesn’t believe it’s the Church’s job to care for the poor either (if judging by actions instead of words). In fact, recent research by the Barna group found that 95% of Christians in America do not tithe.
And even among the 5% who do tithe, how much of that goes to the poor? After salaries, building funds, and a host of other line items found in a typical church budget, there’s not much left to do things like feed the poor or pay for their healthcare.
So here’s our problem Christians of America Land: Many of us say that the government shouldn’t be caring for the poor. Instead of that “socialism” stuff, we’ll say the Church should be caring for the poor.
But almost none of us actually believe it, because almost none of us are actually doing it.
And this is the tragic reality: cutting government programs for the poor doesn’t mean they will be taken care of by Christian charity– it simply means they will go without.
Until we as Christians in America learn to honor God with our finances, until we embrace a belief in giving radically, and until we actually believe it’s our job to care for the poor, we have no moral high ground to complain when the secular government tries to do what we should have done in the first place.
Sorry for past comments on other articles, I thought the down arrow was a disagree, not a flag.
I believe government should help all the unemployed including the physically and mentally disabled but in a different way. Help by degree and even provide jobs.
I am physically disabled right now but I believe could be trained in new employment along with real long term physical therapy which would make me a contributing member of society again. I can never do the work I did for over 30 years again but have some degree of intelligence. If I get on social security disability I can never get off.
My former line of work put me in contact with many people who needed and qualified years ago for permanent disability. With technology there is work they can do but because of the health care they permanently need they must remain unemployed. Many of them do volunteer work which we need with our aging population and two working parent families who need the help with their children.
Pay mentally disabled people for volunteer work they have good and bad days and if they could contribute on good days and go for immediate help, when they feel they need it, on bad days it would be helpful.
Not only do people need enough money for food, clothing, shelter, TP, and mattresses. We also need human touch and to talk and listen to others.
A good church is a community where we listen to each other and a bad church we listen to a sermon and go home.
When discussing the size of government with my conservative in-laws, I frequently find myself pointing out two things.
1) Most people who claim to want small government don’t actually want ‘small’ government. They want ‘my size’ government. They want government to spend a LOT of time, money, and legislation on the issues they care about (defense spending, banning gay marriage, investigating Benghazi) but not spend a dime beyond that on issues they don’t care about.
2) There is often an hypocrisy among Christian conservatives when it comes to church roles vs state roles. They say taking care of the poor should be the role of the church, NOT the role of the state. But they are completely for assigning other church roles to the state such as determining morality (pornography, alcohol, pot), defining marriage, including ‘God’ in the pledge and currency.
I have never been able to reconcile the support by Christians and people of other faiths for the republican opposition to the social safety net that provides for the poor, the least among us, and the teachings, the tenants of their faiths. I know Christianity commands believers to provide for the poor, sick, homeless, destitute. Christ Himself commands this. Yet so many Christians support politicians, including all the republican 2016 presidential candidates, in their proposals to cut, slash, decimate the social safety net as well as the American social contract. It is not enough for the churches to provide stopgap assistance to keeps one’s needs from becoming worse, that just prolongs suffering. Unless the Christian Church in America is willing to commit to addressing the needs of those in need and lift them out of poverty it has a moral commitment to support politicians and legislation that meets that need. To those Christians and people of other faiths who support politicians opposed to the social safety net simply because of their anti abortion stance, how do you reject the fact that life begins in the womb AND continues after birth? Where is your faith in action after a child is born? Where is your faith based love and compassion for the child, the family that is hungry, cold, homeless, sick, uneducated? And have you ever considered that a strong social safety net would reduce the number of abortions? Following and supporting the gospel of greed, supporting and promoting the propaganda campaigns of politicians against the poor, weak, sick, destitute, the least among us is not supported by the faith you proclaim. Turning away from these people is turning away from you faith and is corrupting the very soul of the Church.
I absolutely think the state has a serious role to play in this arena as well.
First off, Romans teaches us that government does indeed have a place in our lives and is to be a “servant of the good” and I believe that includes policy making that addresses income inequality and poverty.
Secondly when, as reported by Oxfam, the 62 richest people in the world hold as much wealth as half the world´s population and the super wealthy saw an increase of 44% since 2010 — increasing their wealth to $1.76 trillion, not to mention tax havens that continue to help them stash away more and more while derpriving governments of a significant amount of tax revenue, we need better government policy, not simply more church compassion (as important as that is).
There is systemic economic sin at play in the institutions of the world that also needs to be confronted by policy makers who are being guided by the same compassion that should exist in the church. It´s a both/and, not an either/or proposition.
If you read some of Gore Vidal’s books which are set in the 19th-early 20th century (the Narratives of Empire series, specifically), they describe a time when the Church WAS the primary provider of social services (much like our leaders wistfully wish our modern society to be) to those in need and these institutions STILL couldn’t keep up with the demand for their services. Your example of Ted Cruz’s taxes brought that bit of trivia to mind
Tragically, this lack of compassion by Christians was demonstrated in the past, too. Back in 1977, Ronald J. Sider wrote Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity,
but in all those years from 1977 to the present evidently nothing has changed:-( Or it’s gotten worse.
Sider also wrote a short pamphlet, The Graduated Tithe, which emphasized that as a person makes more and more money, then he/she ought to give more and more to those in need.
A few humans do, thankfully. One successful individual was giving 90% of his earnings by the time he was an old person!
And think how many billions could be used to help the impoverished if multi-billions were spent on wars in the Middle East!
It’s sort of like how one of the first arguments against accepting Syrian refugees was that we need to look after our homeless veterans first. And then very soon after that, the same people saying that voted against another veterans bill.
Sadly, instead of trying to take the moral high ground, a lot of people simply start telling you about all the people who don’t deserve to receive help because they’re lazy, drug-addicted, gamblers, whores, welfare queens, sluts, unmarried mothers, alcoholics, etc. Because of course, those are exactly the people who Jesus avoided like the plague.
I agree with you 100%. I do tithe, I just don’t tithe to the church, because, as you say, most of it goes to the building, not the poor. Instead, I tithe to the Food Pantry, to the places that are feeding the poor and the homeless, supplying clothing to the poor and the homeless, to prisoner outreach societies, etc.
When people say to me that the government shouldn’t care for the poor because the church should, I say, “Well, then put your money where your mouth is. If you give enough to the church, and through them to the poor, you won’t have to pay taxes, the the church WILL be supporting the poor, and the government will have fewer needy people to care for. If everyone did this, the church would have adequate funding for caring for the poor, and the government wouldn’t need to.” Most people change the subject at that point.
Let me try some secular/spiritual reasoning that we might be capable of better governing ourselves from, maybe.
What is missing today from our secular and religious fore-father’s epiphany that
Oh, wait, women are missing. Oh, wait again, we finally included women.
Wait, enslaving once wealthy African nationals as well as a step up poor brown/white/red men, women and their children was acceptable and prevalent to our fore-fathers. Oh, we have since fixed that, for the most part, at least legally.
I will make a bold statement here that I believe is most true; all societies are dependent upon the government of the people, by the people and for the people taken as a whole people governed. I say this backed by the fact that a people under a totalitarian government once known as the USSR, in my lifetime, failed because the people refused to produce in a bountifully resourced nation to sustain the economy necessary for their rulers to endure.
I could make this much longer and an in depth study but for all our sake I will not … at this time.
In conclusion: what possible reason, secular or religious, could there be for a majority of a nation’s people to allow 1% of the nation to have 75% of the wealth? I suppose it makes sense to the Koch brothers who so well spread their parent’s wealth and love (or is it love of wealth?) throughout the world and their great nation to lift up and benefit all others, but what about those whose children are in prison only because of lack of adequate healthcare, education, a possibility of gainful employment and any hope to be considered equal in our great nation? What good is a nation of people’s government if it cannot govern to promote all the people within its responsibility equally? What good are parent’s who cannot find unmerited love for all their children equally? What good is a benevolent Creator famous, among all Christians by profession, for His grace (unmerited) granting equally all mankind with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness if His disciples cannot at least try to make it happen for the least of us?