Christ Enriches People’s Lives, The Government Perpetuates Poverty

I have pointed out previously that Jesus did not teach that we should give all our money to government in order that the government take care of the poor. Now I will explain why. Our decisions about our relationship with our government is part of the way we live in obedience to our Lord. When we choose to make the government the agent of our social concerns, we are denying our personal stewardship of the means God gives us to care for ourselves and others. We are further denying our individual and communal calling within the church to be Christ to the people we meet. This decision is not simply a mistake. It is bad for everyone.

Think about the amount of money and the number of programs our federal government has initiated in its efforts to help the poor. The outcome is obvious: there are more poor people than ever before. Common sense tells us that if we try something that fails miserably, the smart response is to try something different. We may decry the poor stewardship of God’s provision when programs fail. We may point accusing fingers at administrative failures and lying clients. But the bottom line is that the federal government keeps starting more and more programs that do not work, all designed to give money, housing, education and so forth to the poor, but none of them have ended or even reduced poverty. The number of people in poverty continues to grow year after year, and the cost of giving things to more and more people escalates with the client base.

Why?

Because as one radio commentator said recently, government social programs do not eradicate poverty; they simply make poverty easier to endure.

Everyone knows that poor people feel deprived and devalued. Those who have never known anything but poverty wonder where the people they see on TV got all that stuff, and they want the same stuff. This is the kind of envy that fuels the Occupy movement, which is largely populated with people who are not poor. The “Occupy” partisans simply feel angry and hurt that somebody has more than they have, and they feel entitled to take what others have acquired. They allege to believe that they are leveling the playing field.

When we Christians buy into this rhetoric, we are denying the teachings of Christ.

Remember when Jesus told us not to worry about what we need? This statement was not a mystical exercise to be folded up along with your meditation mat and your candle after prayer

time. This is the real thing. Jesus promised us that if we got our priorities straight, God would bless us with everything we need.

Sooo. How much is enough? How do we know that we have what we need and we don’t need any more? This is a very different question than the one the Occupy movement asks. The people in the Occupy movement look at other people and say, “You have more than you need.” Jesus says we should look at God instead of other people. We should ask what God wants us to be doing with our lives, instead of probing into the lives of other people to determine what they should and should not do. Jesus said we should be concerned about doing what God created us to do. He said that if we are achieving our own purposes, then we will be happy, fulfilled and not needy.

In other words, there is no single answer to what anybody “needs.” The government makes all sorts of definitions and regulations and policies and procedures. Despite all that effort to end poverty, there is more poverty than ever. What’s more, even people who are not in poverty feel needy. Government programs that attack one problem generate envy, jealousy and outright greed among people who have a different problem. They want to know why their problem is not being solved for them.

None of this is God’s plan for people. God created each of us to be blessed in relationship with him. He gave each of us gifts and vision and purpose, and he promises that when we are using our gifts and following that vision and accomplishing his purpose, we will be happy and content. He never ever at any time says that he wants everyone to have the same things or the same number of things. He does not even say that the playing field will be level or the rules will be fair. The mountains will become plains and everybody will be completely joyful in the new heaven and earth at the end of time, but not here and not now. In the here and now we will have challenges and fears and doubts and failures and wants and needs and happy days and sad days. This life will never be a picnic, but it will be fulfilling and worthwhile. The sense of fulfillment and the recognition of value will not be about some balance in a bank account.

Government can do nothing for the spirit of a human being. Government can grant people money and possessions, but that is all. Sadly, the human who has nothing but the gratification of biological needs is not a human being fully alive. That human is miserable, and all he or she looks forward to is receiving another possession or another payment. That is what we all see in the people who settle into government housing buying food with government payments and waiting for a raise in their benefits. They learn how to optimize their benefits, and they teach their children the same attitude.

This is not what God created people to be. If we Christians, who know Christ and the fulfillment of life in relationship with Him do not love and serve our neighbors ourselves instead of foisting it all off on the government, the world will become a desolate and dreary place. We must reclaim the role we have historically had in doing good for people. In big ways and small ways, we must show people the love of God every day. We must demonstrate that we love people by sacrificing self and serving others. We must do this in our daily lives in a million small ways. We must not put it off to be done by “ServeNow.org.”

Am I the model of this behavior? I am not. I am working on it. I spent most of my life believing I was supposed to spend all my time in mental activity. I am only just waking up to the truth that every Christian has the same calling – servanthood. I have never been humble and selfless and caring, but now that I see what government administration does to programs intended to love and serve people, I am positive that this is not the way to lift up the poor and bring liberty and prosperity to all. You tell me. What are you doing? Tell me what you do in big ways and small ways that have nothing to do with society or government or activism or “awareness” or any of the buzz words. Help me learn. I need your help. I am praying for guidance, but I do believe there are people out there somewhere living in the style that exemplifies Jesus’ teaching. Please share your experience and your thoughts.

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One thought on “Christ Enriches People’s Lives, The Government Perpetuates Poverty”

  1. You ask such good open ended questions. And I want you to know you’re not writing to a vacuum. I hope my post will inspire some additional posts. Perhaps I can draw out a retort by someone more aligned to Paul’s budget, than I am.

    When discussing Jesus’ teaching and trying to put them into a modern context it might be good to first consider them within the context of Jesus’ life. Here’s a couple of websites that give some ecomonic overviews, http://ordman.net/Edward/Economics.html, http://www.kiev-orthodox.org/site/english/1072/. A book the gives a good account of the times, Debt: The First 5000 Years: David Graeber, (who is an anthropologist professor and a quasi leader of the NYC 99% protesters). The quick version is the temple class and the landowners were the rich, and all the poor were the landless land workers, landless craftsmen, and peasants. There was no middle class. The rich had an uneasy/symbiotic peace with the Roman military. Taxes were 2 days of wage (40%), and 10% of harvest. You can see the tax code was a bit burdensome on the poor workers. If you were poor, it was normal that your father might not be able to pay a debt, and you, as his daughter, would be indentured/enslaved to the loan holder’s family. There was no public assistance. You either paid your debts or your family was enslaved, and/or you went to debtors prison (probably a leper camp).

    Enter Jesus (according to Matthew, Luke). He was suspicious of all who had power, and/or money. There’s the famous temple incidence(s). He told his followers that the poor were blessed. He told his followers to give to anyone who asked. He told them to lend to anyone who wanted to borrow. Consistent with honor, although aligned with the rich agenda, he told all to pay their debt. All these things were necessary to enter the Kingdom of God.

    From what I’ve been able to research, in Jesus’ time, the temple did not pay money to the poor. Nor did the government.

    It seems the poor were reliant on handouts, from the poor and rich alike. It seemed to have worked, as the times were relatively stable (until about 300-400 CE).

    So when today’s liberals and conservatives speak about Jesus’ views, I guess I’d say he’d support direct donations to the poor, but then this would side step both the church and the state. Perhaps he’d grow to trust today’s Christian churches, or perhaps he’d be a United Way guy. We don’t know. Let’s assume he’d be a Church person.

    According to Paul Ryan, the Ryan budget is planning tax cuts (revenue reductions) by some $4.3 trillion, and cut spending by $5.3 trillion, both over 10 years. According to CBO, the Ryan budget cuts taxes by $4.3 trillion over 10 years; and it cuts spending by $4.2 trillion over the same period. So while the supposed focus was to reduce the deficit it seems reducing tax revenue and spending in about equal amounts seem to be the actual goal (reduce size of government). Presumably in supply-side fashion, the tax cuts will result in more revenue (at lower tax rates), eventually paying back the deficit, but Ryan and CBO agree this would be more than 10 years down the road.

    Where are the spending cuts coming from? Ryan would cut $770 billion over 10 years from Medicaid and other health programs for the poor, compared with President Obama’s budget. He takes an additional $205 billion from Medicare, $1.6 trillion from the Obama health-care legislation and $1.9 trillion from a category simply labeled “other mandatory,” which come from food stamps, welfare, federal employee pensions and support for farmers.

    As you implied in your blog, these program seem to be more the “feed the poor”, rather than “teach them to fish” type programs. The later of course might be a better return on investment. But we should also remember, regular food program feed children, which is considered an investment, as malnutrition results in a far greater costs to society, when these children end up badly educated, perhaps with health disorders, and most importantly, non-contributing society members.

    I think we’d both rather teach people to fish, rather than simple feed them (english proverb). However, as Jesus says, when the hungry ask, we should feed them (I’m paraphrasing, Ask, Seek, Knock, Matthew 7:7-9, NIV). So let’s assume religious institutions will make up for the government cuts. I scanned the internet, there’s about 17,800 Catholic parishes in the country, each has about 3000 members, 1167 households. Each household contributes 468 (about 1% of 2006 household income of 50,000). That’s about 550,000 gross/parish. If we assume about 60% is needed for buildings and staff, that leaves about 220,00 net/parish, which we’ll assume is all going to try to offset government programs cuts for the poor. Taking all parishes together gives us about 4 billion. If we assume other protestant churches will contribute a similar amount we have 8 billion for the poor. Well, the government has cut almost 2 trilliion over 10 years for other (food stamps, welfare). That’s about 200 billion/year. Looks like our 8 billion is only going to address 4% of what the government now does, and I haven’t even addressed health care cuts.

    We could appeal to good Christians to contribute 10% of their income to the church, especially since there’s been tax cuts. If we assume same parish fixed costs, this would raise almost 100 trillion from Catholics, and perhaps 200 trillion total. Problem solved. Looks like we can feed most of Africa too. But good luck with that.

    And what about the non-religious? How will we make them pay their fair share? Well, many give to United Way, Salvation Army. Perhaps they’re only giving in the measly 1% area (like I do). Perhaps we’re not really reaching them?

    I have an idea. Why don’t we tax everyone, in accordance with what our duly voted representatives consider appropriate, and then we’ll spread the burden fairly. I’m not sure how Jesus would feel about this, but seems fair to me. As you’ve said, perhaps we can see God’s hand at work here.

    The bottom line: it’s not just the religious who should look after the poor, it’s all of us. Your sentiment to take it all on is noble, but misplaced, I’d say. I for one don’t mind helping you out.

    Incidentally, I’m not sure where you get your data that programs for the poor just increase their numbers. I would suggest it has more to do with the unemployment rate. Before 2008, we were at about 5%. Since 2009, we’ve been at about 9% (we’re at 8% now), (bureau of labor).

    Another incidentally, since you seem to view the 99% protesters with suspicion, let me just say, that they’re an eclectic group, so to offer a single motive is dangerous, but I’ll offer they’re upset at the idea that Wall St and car companies got bailed out (didn’t have to do what Jesus says is important — pay their debts), and then Main St didn’t get any bail outs. They’re not looking for bailouts or debt relief. They’re looking for a bit better distribution of the money. Right now the average for Fortune 50, CEO pay to average worker is 213 to 1 (http://www.payscale.com/ceo-income). That means if an average worker makes 50,000, the CEO makes 10.6 million. I think I know what Jesus would say. He’d be with the protesters.

    Peace.

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