When Jesus began his ministry, his message was exactly the same as that of John the Baptist: “Repent, for the kingdom is drawing near.”
A lot of years later, it is a good idea to look at that message and examine what it says, and what it does not say.
The whole of Jesus’ ministry was consumed by living examples of his love for people. He healed sick people. He fed hungry people. He pulled people who were scorned by their neighbors into the center of public life. Everyone who says that Jesus called us to do the same thing is exactly right. We are supposed to care about people and for people. We are to love and serve and give of our means. This is the core of Jesus’ teaching about our way of life. Jesus certainly taught about prayer and worship, and he was an example of commitment to core principles and self-discipline. Jesus called people to a costly sort of discipleship that demanded everything they had and everything they were. By this means the followers of Jesus would continue to take the kingdom near to people everywhere.
What Jesus did not do is suggest that they give everything they had and everything they were to the Roman government in the hope that it would be generous and kind and charitable. Jesus did not suggest that they work really hard to get elected in local councils in order to compel the local community to live up to Jesus’ teaching about charitable, sacrificial giving regardless of the community’s commitment to Christ. Jesus never asked his followers to give their all to the Roman government or any other.
Jesus did not ever suggest that the way the kingdom of God would come near was in the form of government programs.
When I complain to my Christian friends about excessive taxation and government’s constant overspending and obvious fraud, they simply say to me that Jesus called us to care for the poor and needy, and that taxes are the way it gets done.
To this idea I say, “Poppycock!” The kingdom of God will never be manifest on earth as the outcome of federal reform of social programs.
This is one of my most fundamental differences with liberal political thinking. Many, many, many people who vote for or support vast social programs administered by the federal and state government actually believe they are doing God’s work. They truly believe that it is God’s will for the nation to compel people who have no love in their hearts for anyone to pay very high taxes in order to provide for the poor and hungry.
I see three fundamental problems with that point of view:
1 – God never did impose any law that punished anyone for failure to pay the poor tax.
2 – The government is a terribly poor steward of a dollar,
3 – The US Constitution does not authorize the federal government to engage in social engineering or charity or whatever you want to call it. That is to say that it does not authorize Christians to impose their view of charity as a response to Jesus’ call on people who do not follow Jesus.
My Christian friends think I am a complete heathen. So be it.
I contend that our founding fathers had it right. The unalienable right to liberty was given to every human being by God, and if God does not impose charity by taxation on people, then the government ought not to do it either. The founders further reinforced that point of view when they wrote the Constitution itself and limited the role of federal government to internal and external security and to the protection of commerce in and among the states and with the world at large. That is what the founders planned for the federal government.
More important however than that truth is the deep truth every Christian knows: Jesus did not call us to abdicate our responsibility for the sick and the poor by agreeing to oppressive taxation in the name of caring for those people. He had a chance to suggest that when people asked him about taxes, and his statement clearly delineated a boundary between the responsibilities of government and the responsibilities of discipleship. Government has a very important role in the order of our daily lives, but we cannot abdicate our responsibilities to serve people in the name of Jesus by allowing government to be the collector from people who have no commitment to serve the Lord. In fact, I suggest that it is completely antithetical to our obligations to serve people in the name of Jesus when we give all our resources to a program that forbids us to mention the name of Jesus, which government programs routinely do. I would likewise suggest that any church that applies to the federal government for money to run programs it can’t afford on its own is crossing a line better left uncrossed. What does a church do when the government forbids it to mention the name of Christ in the process of serving people just because the government makes that a rule in the name of separation of church and state? What does the church do then?
What is terribly sad about the people who believe we must shape government in the form of Christian charity is that there is nothing at all charitable about what results. Take a look at the most recent debacle: healthcare. In theory, the whole idea of passing such a law was that millions of people were without health insurance. However, two thousand pages later, millions of people were still without health insurance. The law did not really do anything for those without health insurance except to press a mandate for the government to punish them if they did not obtain health insurance. This is complete insanity.
Further, we need only look at the failed social programs of the past century to see quickly that the federal and state governments are completely incapable of helping the needy without demeaning them and driving them into greater and greater dependence on government services. Surely the objective would be to nurture them into self-sufficient living! That does not appear to be the goal of any government program. What’s more, when we take account of the actual outlay in programs like the War on Poverty, it is clear that the war took its real toll on the impoverished and only increased their numbers. How sad. The accounting for these programs tells a tale of slipshod management, dismissive relations with the people to be served, and no progress against the real enemy. If you have any remaining doubts, take note of the latest news that says more people live in poverty today than at any time in the past.
Be contrast, programs such as the Heifer Project and the Lutheran World Relief Fair Trade project actually improve people’s lives and lead them away from dependence to greater economic security and personal achievement. We get no real numbers from government programs to tell us how much of any dollar gets to the poor, but our common sense observations tell us it is undoubtedly less than half of all the money allocated to the programs. The programs are so top-heavy administratively that there is little opportunity for much of the money ever to reach the hands of those “deserving” poor who qualify for the program. LWR, however, reports that 92 cents of every dollar goes to the people. Only 8 cents is used for administration.
If this were the only support I could offer for the rejection of government programs and the rejection of oppressive taxation to support them, this would be enough. The amount of money that goes to government programs would, in the hands of Heifer or LWR serve exponentially more people.
Which leads to the really silly reason Christians support the taxation. They say that if taxes were reduced, giving to charities would not increase. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary. They might be correct that people would not voluntarily give to charities the same amount of money as is now stolen from them by oppressive taxation. However, the track record of the charities leads to the obvious conclusion that the charities could do a lot more for people with a lot less money. And that does not take into account the generally more expansive and healthy economy of a nation with low taxes, small government, personal liberty and free enterprise.
It is time for Christians to stop deceiving themselves. Supporting a government that buys votes with the deceptive promise that it will feed the hungry, house the homeless, and heal the sick is not the same thing as doing God’s work of love for people. The kingdom of God comes near when someone in whom the Holy Spirit dwells gives a cup of water to a thirsty person in the name of Christ. The federal government is not the means by which God will bring his kingdom near.