This article was first published on the GiN site on April 22, 2010 and in a slightly edited form under the title "Churches misguided in opting for a government solution" in the Lincoln Journal Star as a local view column on April 30, 2010.
We are republishing this article as it's sequel "Charity...Entitlements...Do Names Matter" will be published in the next couple of days.
Also, we wanted to add to this piece the following point: Grassroots in Nebraska’s mission is to restore Constitutional, limited government. That means we want government out of charity, not to eliminate charity. As Christians we believe we are our brother’s keeper and we should take care of one another on a local level.
Next legislative session, a coalition of churches will ask Nebraska state senators to reinstate prenatal services for unborn children in all low-income families, including those here illegally. In the meantime, the member churches intend to educate their congregations about the moral implications of providing this care. As a Christian, I agree we have a responsibility to care for those less fortunate. However, I believe this coalition of churches is misguided in seeking a government solution. Their educational efforts within their congregations would more accurately reflect Biblical principles if they explained and encouraged private charitable efforts as opposed to state-sponsored social welfare programs.
State-sponsored welfare is based on the government forcibly taking from one group and giving to another. In that scenario, the persons from whom property is taken have no control over who benefits from their labor.
At the same time, government assistance programs are inefficient, operating as they do on a “one-size-fits-all” model. They often reward idleness and encourage the disintegration of the family, all in the name of qualifying for a bigger benefit check each month. For many welfare-dependent families, these monthly checks amount to a handout rather than a hand-up, teaching the recipients helplessness rather than self-sufficiency, and in some cases, producing multi-generational cycles of poverty and dependency.
For example, a recent article in the Lincoln Journal-Star discussed how Haiti is, in fact, worse off than it would otherwise be, all because years of receiving food aid have, essentially, rendered it unnecessary for Hatians to make any efforts to feed themselves.
Similarly, an article in the U.K.’s Daily Mail discussed a 2009 study of the impact Britain’s social welfare programs have had upon its citizens. The researchers concluded that the social welfare state, put in place in the U.K. beginning in the 1940′s, has effectively “wrecked the work ethic” of the British people.
The March 25th edition of the Journal Star reported that the Obama administration’s main foreclosure-prevention program risks helping few borrowers and may do more harm than good by merely spreading out the foreclosure crisis over several years. Although the terms of over a million mortgages on the brink of foreclosure have been modified, 85 percent of those borrowers have re-defaulted and have ended up facing foreclosure anyway.
Closer to home, another Journal Star article recently revealed that, in 2008, 47 percent of all the births in Nebraska were paid for by Medicaid. Clearly, we, as a people, now take it for granted that we are “entitled” to reproduce regardless of our inability to even pay for the costs of delivery, let alone the costs of raising those children to maturity.
We look to government to bear these and many other costs incurred as a result of misfortune or our own imprudent choices. But where does the government get that money? It takes it from our fellow citizens.
Is it possible to be charitable, in the Biblical sense, with other people’s money? I believe the answer to that question is no. Jesus did not tell the rich man to sell his possessions and give the money to the government, but directly to the poor. Jesus was not into lobbying Caesar for social programs to assist the needy. He was literally giving them the shirt off his own back. In short, Jesus didn’t come into this world to offer a government solution to its problems. In fact, He was not recognized as the Messiah by his own people, largely because they were looking for an earthly king to free them from Roman domination.
Charity implies an intention on the part of the giver to voluntarily part with something of value to him or her for the benefit of another. It is precisely this intention that, from a Christian standpoint, earns the giver the reward in heaven of hearing the Savior say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” This spirit of personal generosity is totally absent when government compels the contribution. How “charitable” does the average person feel on April 15th every year?
At the same time, government-funded social welfare programs deprive the recipient of the opportunity to feel and express true gratitude. Any appreciative awareness and thankfulness is intentionally stifled by the state’s insistence that social welfare benefits are not charitably given, but provided because the recipients are “entitled” to them. Thus, gratitude is replaced with expectation. It’s precisely this entitlement mentality that, today, interferes with Haitians’ abilities to feed themselves, the work ethic of the British people, the ability of bailed out U.S. mortgage holders to avoid default, and Nebraskans’ decisions to bear children they cannot afford.
Benjamin Franklin said, and I agree, that “[t]o relieve the misfortunes of our fellow creatures is concurring with the Deity; it is godlike; but, if we provide encouragement for laziness, and supports for folly, may we not be found fighting against the order of God and Nature, which perhaps has appointed want and misery as the proper punishment for, and cautions against, as well as necessary consequences of, idleness and extravagance? Whenever we attempt to amend the scheme of Providence, and to interfere with the government of the world, we had need be very circumspect, lest we do more harm than good.”