Tag Archives: charity

Better Charity will not Cure Poverty

We are bombarded daily by political speeches that declare that our country must improve its help for poor people. We must do more to provide food, clothing, shelter, medicine, cars, phones and internet access for poor people. It sounds quite loving, and people look askance at anyone who questions the ever-increasing outlays for these purposes. There is only one problem: we are losing the war against poverty. The more money we throw at it, the more people fall into poverty.

How can this be?

For answers, we look at the humble aspirin tablet.

When I was a child, my mother told me about the miracle of the common aspirin. She told me about the days before there were aspirin tablets, and she told me that the availability of aspirin had made life much better for a lot of people. When I got headaches or fever, my mother gave me aspirin, and soon I felt better. Pain was reduced or eliminated. Fever went down. I felt better for a while—until the aspirin wore off. Then I needed more aspirin.

Why did I continue to need aspirin?

Because aspirin reduced the symptoms, but it did not address the cause.

The same thing is true when we give a hungry man a meal or pay for the ER charges for an injured child. We reduce or even remove the symptoms of the problem, but we do nothing to address the cause of the problem. The hungry, the sick, the homeless, and those with a variety of problems can be made to feel better about things if we reduce or remove the symptoms of their problems, but unless we solve the problem that made people hungry, sick or homeless, they only feel better as long as we continue to chase away the symptoms.

Once upon a time in my childhood, my family lived next door to a family with a new baby. The new baby arrived shortly after his youngest sibling’s eleventh birthday. Both his siblings were girls, and they thought the new baby brother had been provided for their delight. They loved taking care of him, and they hated to hear him cry. Therefore, whenever he cried, they ran to comfort him. If he wanted to stand up, they picked him up and set him on his feet. When he tried to learn to walk, they held his hand. As a consequence, he could never get up by himself when they were not around. His sisters saw to it that their baby brother wanted for nothing and had no reason to learn to pick himself up. Then school started. Suddenly, the baby boy who had been the center of attention all day every day was all by himself. When he lost his balance in the middle of the living room floor, he fell and did not know how to get up again. He cried, even screamed, because he did not know what to do.

The mother of the baby was wiser than the two big sisters. She let the baby cry for a while in frustration. Then she let him crawl over to the sofa where he figured out how to pull himself up. Later, when he fell again, she let him figure out how to stand up without the sofa the baby was walking, run. Soon the baby was running, climbing and standing himself up without help, all because his mother allowed him to learn rather than helping him to do what he could much better do for himself.

The US culture has become like those two overly helpful big sisters. The US culture focuses on alleviating symptoms of poverty, hunger, homelessness and disease without doing anything to reduce or remove the causes of these problems. Sadly, one really big reason that there is so much poverty, hunger, homelessness and disease is that many healthy and intelligent human beings have been made to feel helpless. It is a crime against humanity that so many people have been led to believe that they live in grimy, deteriorating, crime-ridden neighborhoods because they are incapable of changing their lives. Instead of being led to mature in perseverance and self-discipline, instead of being taught how to find and keep a job, they have been told over and over that what they need is more help.

They need help to buy food, and they don’t need to learn how to earn money to buy their own food.

They need help to find jobs and they should be paid as much as they think they need.

They need help to get housing, and they should have housing as nice as the housing people buy with money they earned.

They need help to get their kids educated, and they should trust the government to know what their kids need to learn.

The poor, the hungry, the homeless and the sick do not need more help from the culture nearly as much as they need to know that they can and should take care of themselves.

Return to the image of the baby screaming in the middle of the floor. That baby looked helpless, and he felt helpless, too. Up to that moment, every time he whimpered someone came to lift him up on his feet. That baby had no idea that he could simply get up on his feet by himself. The most important thing he needed to learn was that he could do it himself.

Likewise, most of the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the sick need to know that they can and should take care of themselves, and they need to know that the more they take care of themselves, the more freedom they will have. Human beings are born with a lust for freedom, and nothing hampers freedom more than being needy. Nothing makes a person needy like the feeling that he cannot take care of himself. The poor, the hungry, the homeless and the sick need to be inspired to start taking care of themselves.

There certainly are people who are incapable of caring for themselves. People who truly cannot care for themselves need help. They actually need help with all sorts of issues. It is right and proper that the culture should care for them and protect them. There are very few people this needy.

To say this is not uncharitable; to say this is to recognize the gifts with which God blesses each person he creates. It is certainly true that people become poor, hungry, homeless and sick under circumstances that may temporarily prevent them from taking care of themselves. During times like that, friends and family have the obligation of love to care for those in need. However, the US culture is building a social prison that gradually closes all the doors to self-sufficiency for those who become ensnared in it. How does someone become ensnared?

Here is an example. Recently a blog post advocating reform in social services described a case that the writer thought justified reform. A woman who had a part-time job and food stamps, which amounted to a total of $15,000 per year, married a man who had an income of $15, 000 per year from his work. After the wedding, the woman lost the food stamp benefit because the man’s earnings increased the household income to $30,000. The social reform advocate said that it was wrong for the woman to lose the food stamp benefit. This blogger felt that the food stamps were a benefit given to the woman because of her own income. In the blogger’s mind, the woman had a right to the food stamps as long as her income was only $15,000 annually. The concept of a family living on a family income was apparently unknown to this blogger. In the blogger’s mind, the government stole the food stamp benefit from that woman when she married.

Normal people, people who think for themselves and take care of themselves see the situation quite differently. They see that the woman’s family increased its income dramatically when the woman married the man. Normal people see immediately that the food stamp benefit is not needed any longer when the man’s income becomes part of the family income. Ending the food stamp benefit for this woman is not taking anything away from her; it is an acknowledgment that she no longer needs this benefit. When this benefit is not being paid to her, it can be made available to another woman who just lost her job. When people who do not need food stamps anymore are ruled ineligible, the money they were receiving can be used to help someone else. In other words, the food stamp benefit should be understood by recipients to be temporary—something to help them get by till they can take care of themselves.

Some readers of this post will be outraged at the very idea of telling a food stamp recipient, “Remember. This is a temporary benefit. You need to find a job and start taking care of yourself so we can help other people with temporary problems.” Some readers will even suggest that I hate poor people and children. Some will say that it would be rude to suggest to food stamp recipients, “You need to find a job.” It is not rude. It is a compliment to the dignity of the human spirit to recognize that no human being thrives when he is mooching off other people. Human beings thrive when they accomplish things and do what is hard. Human beings grow strong by doing things they think they cannot do. They achieve a sense of their own worth and dignity by surprising the people around them by their accomplishments. To find a new way to obtain money and/or services from the government does not make people feel good about themselves. People do not have any sense of accomplishment unless they accomplish things. When people do accomplish hard things such as obtaining paid employment, paying off a car or a house, learning a new skill or getting a promotion, they rightly celebrate the fact that they have done great things. When people accomplish things, they stop feeling needy and start feeling valuable.

Think about my aspirin story. When I get a headache and take an aspirin for it, I bring the pain of the headache under control. If I discover that every time the aspirin wears off, the headache returns, I will eventually realize that the aspirin simply masks a symptom of a real problem—endless headache. The best thing I could do is get rid of the headache. I need to find out how to prevent my persistent headache instead of continuing to take medicine to hide the pain.

Government charity—welfare for children, food stamps, subsidized housing, free doctor visits—only hides the fact that someone is not taking care of himself. If a person continues to take charity year after year, that person never accomplishes anything useful, and that person will start to feel worthless. A person who never accomplishes anything, never takes care of himself, never stands on his own two feet will be like the baby crying in the middle of the living room floor. The best thing the culture and the government can do for that person is to guide him or her to learn how to provide for himself.

The US does not need more money for more charity. The US needs to rediscover the spirit that tamed the western frontier. For more than a hundred years after the Revolutionary War, the US had a western frontier where there was little or no support to help people in trouble. People who went west beyond the boundaries of the states that were part of the union had to be prepared to care for themselves under adverse circumstances that make inner-city ghettoes look like heaven. Even if someone had carried food stamps west, there was no place to buy food. People had to catch, kill, or grow their own. Nobody handed out rent subsidies; people had to build their own shelters. Good Will had no stores with cheap clothes; people made their own clothes, and they had to wash and mend them, too, because it wasn’t easy to obtain even the raw materials. When they broke their arms or came down with flu, there was no ER. They were on their own. Some actually died, because the conditions were harsh, yet the reward for succeeding in that hard life was so great that fact that many others from headed west with courage and determination to succeed like those who blazed the first trails.

This is the attitude that needs to become our national mantra. Instead, the mantra seems to be “a phone for everyone, and everyone with a phone.” Our country came into being, because people with courage and perseverance endured hardship and deprivation for high purposes. It is actually the most basic truth about human nature—we love challenges, because we love to beat the challenges. To instill determination, perseverance and endurance into the culture again will not put an end to charity. Human beings love to help others, too. It will simply put charity in the right perspective, temporary assistance that includes guidance and constraints that discourage the feeling of neediness and encourage the determination to be self-sufficient again.

Those big sisters that “helped” the baby by standing him on his feet before he could do it himself loved helping the baby, but they were not doing the best thing for him. He needed his mother’s wise love that allowed him to cry till he started thinking for himself. Our culture needs to learn how to give people the opportunity to think for themselves and do for themselves. It is time to start addressing the problem and stop fooling ourselves by simply hiding the symptoms of needy people. The greatest need of needy people is to learn how to fulfill their needs themselves.

A person ensnared by lifelong charity loses his or her fundamental sense of self-worth, trading it for security. That is what happened to cats and dogs and other animals whose only reason for being today is to be petted. It should be a crime to ensnare God’s precious creation, a human being for whom Christ died, in perpetual neediness.

 

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A Verse for Meditation

Torah ScrollBrothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
2 Thessalonians 3:13

Read the text that precedes this verse:

When we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.

(2 Thessalonians 3:10-12)

  • These verses have been guidelines in many Christian communities. What is the harm in being idle?
  • In contemporary culture, there are many idle people. They have no jobs, and they receive help from government and charities. What is the harm in this situation? Shouldn’t we help poor, hungry people?
  • What is the difference between being busy and being useful? Is being busy the same thing as doing what is right?
  • We usually rear children to understand that adults earn money to pay for the costs of living – food, clothing and shelter – and to pay for whatever other things they might want. As long as someone has the money needed for paying the bills and a little for the wants, what difference does it make how the money is acquired? Read the text above and ask how it may apply in society in general.
  • The first thought that comes to most people who read verse 13 is that “what is right” is “good deeds.” What other things might be included in the meaning of “what is right” when it is considered in context?

Read the text that follows verse 13:

If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.  (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15)

  • What was Paul’s opinion of someone who did not exert himself (or herself) to do what was right and good? When Christians contemplate a culture where millions have no jobs and depend on government for food, clothing and shelter, what does this text offer to guide them? Where else do you find guidance on this subject?
  • How does the passage as a whole shape your understanding of the key verse, verse 13? How is it related to other texts that mandate or guide charitable kindness to people with problems of various kinds?

Is Human Charity Service to Humans, or is Human Charity Service to Christ?

Every Christian knows that Christ taught people to be generous. Even people who are not Christians know that Christ taught his followers to feed the hungry and heal the sick. Secular thinkers who completely reject any form of religion recognize that charitable action is a characteristic of most Christians. It isn’t charity performed by Christians that secular thinkers reject; it is the testimony.

Here is an example. In Illinois, until 2010, Catholic Charities provided adoption services to about 2500 children each year. Today all those agencies are closed. In 2010, Illinois passed the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. This law established a process for the civil union of same-sex couples and authorized parties to such unions to receive all the rights and benefits of a “spouse.” Religious groups were supposed to be given the freedom to perform or refuse to perform ceremonies for same-sex couples in the language of the law: “Any religious body, Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group is free to choose whether or not to solemnize or officiate a civil union.” This statement was publicly lauded as a protection of religious freedom, but the law’s full language was subsequently interpreted to reject the claim of Catholic agencies that their right of religious freedom allowed them to deny adoption to same-sex couples; the foundation of the interpretation is the fact that a party to a civil union is classified legally as a “spouse.” Advocates for LGBT rights interpret Catholic commitment to a definition of marriage taught by the Catholic Church as an excuse to discriminate, not as a testimony to their faith.

Religious groups in general believed that the language of the law meant they were free to treat parties to a civil union as unmarried if that view was part of their fundamental teachings. They failed to take account of the full scope of a law that gave spousal benefits to parties to a civil union. Catholic charities routinely do not place children with unmarried parents, and in Catholic teaching, two people of the same gender may not be married. After Illinois authorized civil unions and spousal benefits in this act, Catholic Charities discovered that their state contracts for adoption services were at risk. Religion New Service reported that “Circuit Judge John Schmidt ruled Thursday (Aug. 18, 2011) that state officials can cancel contracts with Catholic Charities after church officials said they could not comply with a new civil unions law that could require them to place children with same-sex couples.” Catholic leadership protested, but to no avail. Unable to continue operating without state funding, Catholic adoption services in Illinois came to an end. The law did not compel Catholics to perform and bless weddings of same-gender couples, but it was interpreted to require Catholics to provide spousal benefits to parties to civil unions, even though the law did not require Catholics to officiate at civil unions.

Catholics no longer provide adoption services in Illinois. Agencies formerly associated with Catholic Charities who have severed that relationship continue to provide adoptions, and they place children with same-gender couples. Secular thinkers, whose ideas have taken solid form in Illinois law, did not set out to reduce the number of agencies engaged in the charitable action of adoption. Their agenda was to suppress Christian testimony expressed in a refusal to place adoptees with same-sex couples. The language and interpretation of Illinois law link two secular ideas: 1) that the definitions of marriage and family can evolve within human society, and 2) that religion and religious views are irrelevant and need not be accommodated by the society due to their reliance on evidence that science cannot measure. The result is that secular culture demanded a law whose consequence is suppression of the freedom to live by a religious conviction.

The argument is poisoned by the money issue. Social services are expensive, and religious agencies cannot help as many people if their only source of funding is private donations. They argue for their right to participate in the distribution of taxes right along with any other not-for-profit group, and they argue for their Constitutional right to express their religious principles in their operations. There is a biblical model for exactly this sort of confrontation between faithful living and the legitimate expectations of government.

Daniel and his three friends were exiles in Babylon. They were among a large group of young men selected by King Nebuchadnezzar and trained for leadership in his administration. They were Jews. They believed in only one God, and they believed that they owed obedience to God in word and deed. Their commitment to live their faith was tested over and over. During their leadership training program, they had to prove that they could do the work and still live their faith. When the king later demanded that people pray only to him, Daniel had to pay the price for praying to God by spending the night in a den of lions. When a later king demanded that everybody worship his golden statue, Daniel’s three friends were all thrown into a furnace. Refusing for the last time to worship that statue, they all agreed, “Maybe God will rescue us if you throw us in, but even if he won’t, we will worship only him.” (See Daniel 3:16-18) Daniel and his three friends were vindicated in each of their confrontations, and each time, the king accommodated their beliefs, but the real lesson of their experience lies in their complete willingness to lose the battle. The statement that “even if he won’t [rescue us]” they would persist in faithful behavior is the point Christians must absorb.

If we twenty-first century Christians want to be faithful to Christ in word and deed, we have to be willing to pay the price. If the government will not permit us to take its money and use that money according to our own principles, then we must be willing to do without that money. The Catholic Charities of Illinois need to raise funds from devout Catholics and other people who support their principles and re-open their agencies. The court said that they can’t take government money and refuse to place adoptees with same-sex couples, but nothing says thy must take government money. The same is true for any Christian group that is restricted in its testimony by rules for the use of government money. If Christians cannot be true to their testimony while using government money, then don’t use government money. All those first-century Christians who refused to worship the emperor are looking down at us from heaven and wondering what we are fussing about. Giving up government money is not like being thrown to the lions or crucified or beheaded.

(This is not to say that the secular culture will allow Christians to live their faith unimpeded if the Christian behavior offends secular sensibilities. Currently, Illinois law is not trying to universally suppress Catholic agencies from refusing to place children with same-gender couples. Currently the law only forbids them to received state funding to do so. There are other cases in other locations that suggest there is a bigger move under way that threatens any behavior that expresses religious convictions contrary to secular cultural standards. This is a topic for other posts.)

Anne Hathaway supposedly cares so much for animals that she required vegan footwear in all her scenes in Les Miserables. She garnered vast public praise for her stand. Yet when Catholic employers say that they care so much for God that they won’t participate in behavior that is disobedient to their commitment to him, they are not praised at all. Rather, they are reviled, by the very same people who fawn at the mention of Anne Hathaway’s name. Without any animosity toward Anne Hathaway for doing what she believes in, I simply ask: why isn’t the same respect and regard granted to Christians for doing what they believe in? The answer is obvious: Anne Hathaway believes that humans can save the world, but Christians believe that it is God who redeems humankind and all creation. Anne Hathaway believes that she is helping to save animals of the world by wearing vegan footwear. Catholic charities believe they are serving God by protecting God’s standards for a family, standards they believe are part of God’s work on earth. The culture respects and regards those who think it is all up to humans while it rejects a commitment to a religious principle.

There has always been a secular element in our culture. There have always been people who believe that any and all religions are myths. Today is really not all that different from any other era. The question for us has always been whether Christ really is first, or not. The issue of religious freedom always hinges on one thing: do we live our testimony, or not? Secular forces will admire, even encourage, our charitable work, as long as we leave Christ Jesus out of it.

 

 

Taxing Citizens to Feed the Poor is not Christ’s Way

Source: Joshua Sherurcij
Source: Joshua Sherurcij (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I promised to explain why taxing the nation heavily in order for the government to provide social services is not a good idea. I have already explained that it is not what Jesus taught. I observe that many churches and religious leaders try to edit Biblical teachings to make them say that God wants the government to do this sort of thing, but when I read the Bible and look for the plain meaning of the words, that is not the message I find.There is a very important reason that government is a poor choice to hand out social services. The reason is overhead. If people compared the accountability for good stewardship of government money to the way charitable foundations use their money, nobody would want to give the government any money at all. Every government project is top-heavy with administrative costs. I have always admired charities like the Heifer Project and Lutheran World Relief, because more than 90% of the money these charities receive actually goes to the services they provide. The people who run these charities do not receive lavish paychecks and benefits. They don’t spend fortunes on buildings and grounds. They believe that when somebody gives them a dollar, the donor wants to help feed the hungry and heal the sick. These charities demonstrate that it is possible to pay administrators and house the offices while still funneling the lion’s share of their revenues to people in need.

The government feels no such compunction. Civil service employees are paid on a scale most private citizens would envy, and their benefits are equally impressive. The pay and benefits are distributed according to paygrades that are consistent across the spectrum of all civil service work, which isn’t a bad thing by itself, but it does mean that the mantra that government work should pay better than private work is enforced even in charitable endeavors. It is not my purpose to argue about how much a government employee should be paid. My purpose is to point out that when you give a dollar to a private charity, people who need the charitable services receive a lot more of that dollar than they receive when you give a tax dollar to the government.

A need to regulate further complicates and hampers charitable work. If I give money to a homeless person who solicits me outside the grocery store, I risk my money on a bet that the person is genuinely homeless and in need. I do it because Jesus taught me to take that risk. However, the government cannot and must not do that, due to the nature of government. If the government simply gives money to every person who shows up to ask for it, then we all are rightly outraged, because there are too many people who will ask for that money when they don’t need it. If I lose twenty dollars by giving it to a charlatan at the grocery store, that is no tragedy, and God can sort that problem out at his own perfect time. If the government loses thousands by paying unemployment benefits to a lottery winner, we all think that both parties to that transaction need to be punished, and there ought to be a law to prevent this from ever happening again.

The solution is for Congress to pass a law. We all know that few laws are ever about just one thing, and this means weeks and months of wrangling and negotiations in order to word the law or attach the amendment to some other law or attach amendment to this perfect law, and so forth. Having passed the law, the government program administrators must then write regulations to define how the law will be administered. Every form used by the program must be reviewed in order to assure that they collect the information required in a manner compliant with a lot of other laws and regulations about confidential information. Every employee must be retrained to interview, evaluate, report and approve or deny clients based on the new regulations. The new law may even direct the program to appoint a new officer, who will need new staff, which must be housed in new offices which need new furniture, and so it goes.

To tell the truth, nothing government does is ever done efficiently by the standards of common sense. Most citizens claim to want the government to use some common sense, but if the government did not write voluminous regulations and create voluminous forms, the government would not begin to be as acccountable as we all wish it were. Sadly, even with all the laws and regulations and forms and audits, government is still a high maintenance entity.

The other big reason government is not a good administrator of social services is that government is not kind. Government operates according to the law. When we think about the fact that none of us can live up to God’s law, and when we think of what the Pharisees did in an attempt to make it possible for people to do it, then we begin to see why government cannot be charitable. Government is more like the Pharisees than it is like Jesus. Government laws used to give a “dole” to families in need. When it became apparent that many families included a healthy man who refused to work, government responded by saying no “dole” would be given if a husband/father lived in the home. The men targeted by this law were supposed to be motivated to get busy and get a job and take care of their families. The law, however, did nothing to provide that motivation. Laws do not motivate; laws regulate and irritate. No law can ever be a loving solution to problems inherent in human nature. The outcome of the law was not a rush to gainful employment by the targeted husbands and fathers. Instead, husbands/fathers abandoned families in order to make them eligible for a charitable “dole.” Federal Pharisees initiated the breakup of families, not the death of poverty. Poverty continued to thrive.

Government must have laws and regulations and policies, and it must administer in compliance with all those laws and regulations and policies. Government cannot operate on the standards of common sense, and it absolutely cannot be charitable. Every applicant for government services must be demonstrated to be eligible, and there can be no fudging over a penny too much or a man who can’t find work or any other little thing that charitable hearts could deal with.

Charity in the name of Jesus is certainly admonished to be wise as a serpent, but charity in the name of Jesus can also be harmless and actually charitable. Common sense, grace and love drive charity in the name of Jesus, not regulations, policies, and a hierarchy of administration from here to next year. We who claim the name of Christ commit to follow him and be like him. Christ is the one who healed ten lepers without asking them any questions or filling out any forms. Only one ever thanked him. Over and over as Christ healed crowds of people, he showed us that we are to serve and love our neighbors without creating administrative barriers that demean them. We are called by Christ to serve and love our neighbors and to build up our neighbors. Government simply cannot do that. If we are serious about helping people in poverty, we must be willing to risk helping a charlatan now and then. Never forget that Jesus loves people who are behaving badly just as much as he loves the innocent victims of poverty. In the name of Christ we can and must accept the risk of helping an unworthy person as an act of love and service. The government cannot do that, because that is not the mission of government. The government will never be the visible kingdom of God on earth.

What is so Wrong About Being Rich?

The latest brouhaha in the world of taxation is a big push called the “Buffet Rule.” It is only one of many assaults on people who have been successful in building wealth. It is part of a mindset that I find extremely offensive. I am not a wealthy person myself, and I have never been wealthy, but I have never been able to dredge up the pseudo-moral outrage that is expressed publicly against people who have become wealthy.

This kind of attitude is in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus. Jesus never said that it was okay to hate rich people or steal their wealth. If you think I am wrong about this, please point me to the teaching you have in mind. I can think of two times Jesus spoke about the difficulty rich people have with spiritual growth, but I am not aware of even one place where Jesus said that anybody should steal from the rich and give to the poor.

 (1-A rich man came to him to ask how to have eternal life. Jesus told him to be perfect ((keep the Law)) but the man said he was already perfect. Jesus told him to sell everything and give it to the poor. Notice that he said nothing about the man’s riches until the man alleged to be perfect. It was the man’s failure to put God first, not his possession of wealth, that was the problem. 2-Jesus said it was as hard for a rich man to get into heaven as for a camel to go through a needle’s eye. This doesn’t mean that Jesus thought wealthy people were wickeder than others. He simply observed that it was hard for them to put God first. Notice that he doesn’t say poor people get in easily. He just says that riches can make it hard for people to put God first.)

When I was a child I really liked the Robin Hood story, because I thought of Robin Hood in the same way I thought of Superman and Mighty Mouse. These were magical and mythical characters who fixed what was broken at the snap of a finger. They thumbed their noses at those who doubted them. I still like a good story that smacks of David’s victory over Goliath. We all do. However, in the real world, the idea of anything or anyone forcibly appropriating things that do not belong to them is repugnant.

The envy, anger and outright hatred directed against “the rich” in current political rhetoric, however, is not David versus Goliath. It is not the sheep against the goats in the final judgment. It is simple jealousy fueling gang warfare. It is mob violence. It is beneath contempt for anyone who claims the name of Christ to join in.

The rhetoric goes something like this. Look at that evil rich person. He doesn’t need all that money. He should be glad to give it away to help poor people. If he doesn’t voluntarily give it all away, we should take it away from him by force. We won’t personally steal it from him. We’ll go get our big brother, the federal government to do it for us.

As I listen to speakers, starting with our president and moving through his entire administration, all spokespersons for Democrats, some spokespersons for Republicans, numerous religious leaders, most of the media, and assorted private individuals I have encountered, I am appalled at the number who actually believe that this attitude is something Jesus would be proud of. I am also appalled at the number who believe they can define ‘the rich’ according to their annual taxable income. I am appalled at the number who seem to believe they have the right and the obligation to say what is “enough” for someone else. Even jurnalists, who of all people ought to be even-handed in their quest for truth, join in the assault. They freely label and classify everyone according to income, and they all feel qualified and authorized to cast aspersions on anyone who does not fit their approved model for income and lifestyle. They have appointed themselves to run other people’s lives. One wonders, who tells these critics what they can keep out of their personal income.

None of this is consistent with Jesus’ teaching that we are not to judge others. Jesus said, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged,”[1] Imagine that the CBS News anchor says of a hypothetical Mr. Brown that he “doesn’t need three cars and he has no right to jet off to Las Vegas every year. Why does he need two houses? One is enough for anybody.” According to Jesus, that kind of attitude calls down a similar judgment on the speaker. Such statements imply that God has authorized some people to judge what other people deserve to possess. This is not Jesus’ way.

Jesus teaches us to love everyone – even the rich. Jesus teaches us to speak well of everyone. Jesus teaches us not to envy what others have, but rather, to be content with what we have.

In case you think this rule is relaxed as long as you don’t try to take the wealth of others for yourself, think again. God does not authorize people to define fiscal classes of people and steal from one class in order to pretend to benefit another. Keep in mind that God never gives out possessions evenly. You and I might think every person ought to have exactly the same as all the others, but that is not God’s way. Even if we pass a lot of laws to grab up wealth from some people and hand it over to others, you can be sure that all people in the world will not wind up with the same amount of money. Some of the inequity will be due to human venality, and some of the inequity will be a result of failure to show stewardship of God’s gifts.

The human campaign to make sure everyone has the same amount of possessions, including money, is exactly that: human. It has nothing to do with Jesus or his teaching. Jesus did not teach that any of us has the right or the scriptural obligation to tell others what they can or cannot possess. Jesus did confront people individually about the way they used their possessions, but he never said that some of us have the right to judge or steal from the rest of us.

In simple words: Do not envy people who happen to have more possessions or wealth or whatever other advantages you care to envy. Jesus taught us to love everyone and be grateful for what God has given us. Jesus is as disturbed by envy of the rich as he is disturbed by disdain for the poor.

There is a political agenda that is fueled by hatred and aggression toward “the rich.” In that political world, everyone who achieves great power in the administration of wealth redistribution becomes personally wealthy. Everybody else winds up with nothing. The national motto of that way of life was: “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.” The nation was the former USSR. The USSR was an atheistic socialistic heaven on earth that collapsed politically under the weight of its multitude of failures to serve its population. This nation is exactly what you get when you turn away from Christ and choose to follow the economic and political philosophy of socialism.

When you follow Christ, you are individually responsible for what you do with every gift God gives you. You help poor people personally and through private charities. You don’t empower government to steal from everyone. Jesus never said that we should worship and serve the state. Jesus said we should put God ahead of everything. Our two most important laws in obedience to Christ are first, love God above all else, and second, love your neighbor (even your wealthy neighbor) as yourself. That is what Jesus taught.

I repeat here my original comment. If you think Jesus taught us to judge and steal from the rich in the name of charity to the poor, please point me to that teaching in the Bible. I welcome your comments, and I love the conversation.


[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Mt 7:1–2). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.