Moving On: Steps Toward Poverty Relief

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, March 8, 2017 0 comments

by David Odegard

Remember, constant reader, our object is not just to expose the extremities of Christianity, but to actually produce a comprehensive Christian social ethic. Let me begin with an urgent issue—poverty relief.

I remember once sitting across from a very nice person who had been raised by a progressive school system to believe that any evangelical Christian who identified as conservative probably hated poor people. And even if that particular conservative did not hate the poor, they were at least duped by a hateful system of deprivation and exploitation. I introduced him to a few of Jesus’ economic statements. As he thought about it more, he realized that we are all concerned about the poor.

Evangelicals, even those who identify as conservatives, do actually care about the poor. The real question is whether or not the help that progressives are willing to give actually helps anyone.

In our society, the progressives have controlled not only the purse strings, but also the narrative concerning what should be done for the poor. Evoking images of a Charles Dickens novel, they paint anyone who does not endorse government-controlled poverty relief as a Scrooge, tight-fisted and non-Christian. Consider this exchange that Scrooge has with an alms collector:

“At this festive time of year, Mr. Scrooge, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute.”
“Are there no prisons?” Scrooge asked.
“Plenty of prisons,” replied the almsman.
“And the union workhouses - are they still in operation?” asked the amicable Scrooge.
“They are. I wish I could say they were not,” said the horrified almsman.

Although this isn’t a direct quote from the book, A Christmas Carol, it is close enough that you’ll remember it. Dickens paints an either-or picture. Anyone who has read the book will agree he paints in vivid color that evokes powerful emotions in all of us. Nevertheless, either you agree with Dickens that the institutions he doesn’t like are evil, or you deserve to be haunted and damned to carry a long chain about your neck the rest of the afterlife. But what if the institutions that he takes aim at are actually alleviating poverty? Can we examine a “sweatshop” and see if it actually does help the poor, or should we condemn them out of hand because it has the word “sweat” in it?

The Bible vehemently denounces exploiting the poor. God watches over them and if someone uses a position of power to coerce another person, God takes note and will be against that one. Generosity is always praised. But can giving away money and removing the incentive to provide for oneself and one’s family ever backfire? Obviously it can.

There is a moral hazard when someone seeks to hand out money. The following is a helpful guide. First, where is this person getting the money? Is it his or her own money? Then do what you will. Second, did someone else earn this money and give it to you? Then you are responsible to obey their wishes for the money or give it back. For example, if they give you money to help single mothers, you can’t give it to the men’s group fundraiser at your church; that would be unethical.

Third, did someone else earn the money, but did not give it willingly? Do not take this money, it was stolen. But someone may ask, “What if the money was taken by the government?” If it is wrong for you as an individual to take someone’s money away from them against their will, then it is also wrong for you to send a politician to do it for you. Any poverty relief program that relies on the forced distribution of wealth cannot be called Christian since it relies on theft—even if that theft is through democratic action.

What is left to us then, since we all want to see poor people provided for and helped? Many other solutions are available that do not require coercion by political bullies. Jesus laid out financial principles that must be respected in a Christian social ethic. I will write about that next week.

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