Thursday, October 23, 2008
“What we need to do is get the government out of the way and let the church do the job of caring for the poor“. I’m pretty sure you’ve heard that in one form or another. The logic seems to go like this:
1) The government always does a poor job caring for the poor (sorry for the pun). (Though it does seem they’re doing a pretty fair job helping out the not so poor these days).
2) God appointed the church to care for the poor and they did just that in the days of the Roman empire when there was no welfare state.
3) Government usurped the church’s role in caring for the poor, instituted programs that were a complete failure and now we have one big mess.
4) Government needs to get out of the way so the church can resume our rightful place and care for the poor.
Well dudes and dudettes it‘s time to go back into the hornets nest because I‘d like to challenge those assumptions. I’ll begin by asking what the average person in your church thinks about the poor? Who would they define as poor? Would they say that poor people are those with jobs that pay at or near minimum wage or those who just don‘t want to work? Are the poor those people who’ve failed to find jobs that pay a living wage and consequently have given up trying? Do they view poor people as those who lack the drive or imitative to take the necessary steps to climb out of poverty? Or do they see the poor as those who don’t have as much access to opportunity as others? How would we go about distinguishing those who need help from those who just want a hand out?
These questions are important since how I view the poor will directly impact the way I believe they either should or should not be helped. If I genuinely believe that poor people are or remain poor due to a lack of desire to move out of poverty then perhaps the help they need is a swift kick in the pants. And if that’s the case the issue isn’t whether they should receive help from the church as opposed to the government but whether they should receive any ‘help’ at all. If I and those I worship with are convinced that the poor somehow lack the necessities to make it in a society that provides equal opportunity for all then the root issue isn’t a lack of help and it therefore follows that few if any resources (time, counseling, money etc.) should be spent on them. Why open and maintain a soup kitchen for those who could just as easily get a job and buy their own soup?
There are times when I wonder if the whole ‘get the government out of the way so the church can do the job mantra’ is a smoke screen. I wonder about that because we haven’t settled on who we believe is poor, why they are poor and the causes of their poverty. In fact we rarely even really talk about the poor. They always seem to be those people out there who remain on the fringes of our world until someone laments what a poor job the government did in trying to lift them from poverty. I wonder if it’s a smoke screen because if we’re honest with ourselves we know that if the government turned the care of the poor over to us tonight that we most likely would not be ready, nor able, nor particularly eager to address their challenges. I wonder if it’s a smoke screen because it sounds good, gets hearty ‘amens’ and knowing nods without us having to actually come up with a plan to actually address the issues of the poor.
So the next time someone confidently declares ‘What we need to do is get the government out of the way and let the church do the job of caring for the poor’, ask the following:
Solid, the government should get out of the way and let the church do our job. What is your church’s (or denomination’s) plan for helping the poor in your area? Have you thought about how much this will cost? What percentage of your church budget would you be willing to devote to this and for how long?
Brothers and sisters I have no problem with the church helping the poor. But let me leave you with this. Over the last several years there’s been a growing number of reformed theological conferences. How many of those conferences have focused on what scripture says about the poor and powerless? If our conferences are indicative of what we believe is important and the theme of poverty rarely if ever makes a peep at those conferences then why in the world would those who do believe that government has a role in assisting the poor entrust us to care for those we’re not even talking about?
To Him Who Loves Us…