Loud Christians make the most entertaining TV hosts, and of course, they have the funding and backing to get on TV in the first place. The majority of Christians around the world are poor, but they are not the ones who can afford to give their interpretation of the Gospel on late-night programs all the while asking viewers to continue padding their overflowing coffers. Rich televangelists and politicians, most of whom espouse fiscal conservatism because of their own socioeconomic status, are the ones most able to disseminate their beliefs, but this is only one interpretation of the Bible on money matters. I find more biblical evidence for its opposite.
I believe that Christians need to use government institutions to dispense charity in addition to the works of individuals because we operate according to different morals. So many individuals work with a haughty “I’m going to get what I deserve” mindset. This is not only antithetical to a Christian perspective, which states that we deserve nothing, and that all good comes only from God; it is also an unproductive, dangerous basis to any community.
With the root of desert, individuals start to assign personal value, making matters like vengeance, self-importance and judgment easy conclusions. This leads to a meritocracy that assumes that poverty is a personal defect, or worse, a sin in the Christian canon, and then concludes that dependency upon charity or welfare is a blemish on one’s character without taking into account the causes of such a state.
“Government-assisted charity” has to exist only because of the things that provoke it into existence: unfair tax systems, pre-existing systems of prejudice, dissolution of close relationships and communities and human greed. A tax system that favors the rich over the poor, judicial systems that condemn us based on race, healthcare systems that abandon us based on wealth and employment compensation that values us based on our reproductive organs, are only a few longstanding setbacks that make “equal opportunity” impossible. Moreover, failure on the part of individuals to perform “human” duties such as community building and caring for one’s neighbor further necessitates institutional measures. Who will care for our most beloved if even we cannot? While one facet of charity involves uplifting those not yet empowered, another facet must include the active undoing of these man-made imperfections. Because we as individuals normally lack the drive and resolve to fight injustices on our own, government safety nets provide a passive way for normal citizens to contribute, even if trivially, to the undoing of such societal injustices.
Governments are inefficient, of course, and fiscal conservatives often use this as a reason to leave matters like public welfare solely to the charitable acts of individuals. However, individuals — Christians and non-Christians alike — are just as imperfect, and they are the ones who comprise governments. Individuals are mostly unwilling to sacrifice on behalf of others without an expectation of return. Jesus asks us, according to the Gospel of Luke, to lend to those we believe cannot repay us — quite oppositional to our cultural norms of high interest rates and preying upon the most vulnerable. As someone whose family was once considered hardworking albeit “dependent,” I can testify that such government programs are of incredible worth to many. Had they not existed, I don’t know what we would have done in a new country with no extended family and very few friends.
Fiscal conservatives often cite the “laziness” of welfare recipients as a reason to cancel welfare programs. However, laziness is not endemic to the poor; the rich are often stereotyped as fat-cat heirs to old money, enjoying the fruits of another’s labor. If this seems like an unfair assessment, then consider the equal silliness in assuming that poverty indicates a lack of work ethic. The argument that the poor are lazy is often made by those who have never been poor or those for whom work was enough to allay poverty. Much of the time, this is not the case, for complicated, enmeshed reasons of history, privilege, communal ties, cultural differences etc.
In addition, I challenge the commonly heard “Christian” notion that “God helps those who help themselves,” which is found nowhere in the Bible (It originated in Greek tragedy). On the contrary, the Bible calls believers to give lavishly. The Gospel of Luke details John the Baptist as saying, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” The same book later lists Jesus as having gone a step further: “If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” There are no caveats. One does not only give to the well-groomed, the educated, the fellow Christian, the fellow citizen or the family member. One gives to “everyone who asks.” This includes our financial resources. Individuals can rarely uphold such a call, and the well-being of others depends on the provision of God through our abidance upon such principals. Therefore, a society with our diversity of morals and beliefs must consider compulsory charity.
Unwillingness to be charitable translates into a desire to maintain strict control over one’s resources, all of which were given by God in the first place. One crux of Christianity is the belief that God will provide all of one’s needs — not just financial, but relational, spiritual, etc. While financial wellness is secondary to the others, money is intimately tied to spiritual health in that the “love of money is the root of all evil,” according to Paul in his first letter to Timothy. A Christian believes that God gives us things so that we can bless others with our things.
Christians live in such a paradigm not because we can solve all the problems ourselves, but because such beliefs and the actions sprouting from them glorify God, the only one capable of fully solving such problems.
The Bible explains that a day will come when God returns the world to what it was meant to be — without poverty, without inequality, without hunger. Until then, we work to create a vision, even if only a temporary, distorted mirage, of what that place and time will look like, so as to bring glory to the One who can make it happen.