By Kevin Cauley
There are occasions when politicians appeal to Christianity as a reason for why they have voted for a particular bill. They might say that it is the “Christian” thing to do. I have a problem with politicians appealing to Christianity, whether Republican or Democrat, to justify some governmental action because they often fail to demonstrate how Christianity demands one sort of legislation or another. Most justifications used are taken out of context. That’s not to say that legislation can’t be either moral or immoral. However, I believe that many times when religion is called upon to support some particular piece of legislation its not the moral consequences of the legislation that are under consideration, but rather, votes for politicians.
The recent 60 billion dollar health care legislation that was passed and which President Bush vetoed is a good example of what I’m talking about. I suppose many would say that such legislation was “Christian” in that it helps poor working families. My family would be a beneficiary of that legislation were it to pass and so would several families with children in many churches. In fact, a family of four with a combined annual income of $80,000 a year could qualify for the benefits of this legislation under 2007 poverty guidelines and benefits for children would be extended to age 21. Is that a “Christian” thing?
There’s no doubt that the Bible talks about helping the poor. Paul said of the apostles in Galatians 2:10 “Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.” The apostle John in 1 John 3:17 states, “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” We read of the generosity of the early church in Acts 2:45 who “sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” We are especially to be concerned about those on the fringe of society. James wrote, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” ( James 1:27).
On the other hand, Christian support of the poor and those in need doesn’t come without condition. Paul told members of the church at Thessalonica, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” Paul’s instruction about the support of widows required family members to provide first: “But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to show piety at home, and to recompense their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God,” “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” and “If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed” ( 1 Timothy 5:4, 8, 16). The order of support is from family first and then from the church.
There aren’t any scriptures, however, where New Testament church leaders expected the government to relieve them. Such thinking is conspicuously absent from the New Testament. The role of government from a Christian perspective is simply to punish evildoers and praise those who do well ( 1 Peter 2:14). The vast majority of passages that mention the Christians’ interaction with the government speak of the Christian monetarily supporting the government, not vice versa. See Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25, Romans 13:6-7, and 1 Peter 2:17. It is extraordinarily out of context to suggest that some government entitlement program is “Christian.”
Moreover, such government programs may be contrary to Christianity. Being a Christian is about bettering one’s self. Christians are individuals who have been converted from a life of sin and pledged to a life of righteousness ( Romans 6:12-18). Such requires personal sacrifices and efforts. Christianity is about living for Christ on a daily basis ( Galatians 2:20). For the government to step in and supply what the Christian is supposed to provide for himself undermines the genius of the call of the Christian religion for personal sacrifice ( Philippians 2:17, 4:18).
Such governmental programs also supplant the benevolent arm of the church in her mission to edify the saints and evangelize the lost. If the religion-neutral government takes upon itself the task of caring for the poor, who among the poor will turn to the church for aid? That was one of the great reasons why the church grew in the first century. The poor saw the church as a place where they could receive legitimate help. Such help could also be appropriately regulated by the church. The balance is evident when properly considered. The church isn’t merely a benevolent society because there are some conditions for aid. The poor aren’t simply receiving unconditional handouts because they are exhorted to change their lives for the better so that they too can help others ( Ephesians 4:28).
Such does not mean that the Christian may not accept any help whatsoever in times of difficulty or due to economic circumstances beyond his control. However, it isn’t a God-less uncaring bureaucracy that is providing the aid. It is a loving and caring family that has the best interests of the recipient at heart.
What is the answer? It is counter productive to morality for the government to become a charitable aid society. We’ve seen this to be true in the failed welfare system of the two previous decades. At the same time, it isn’t unreasonable for government to help families who are contributing to society when their families and the church don’t have the resources to help. In that regard, Christianity doesn’t favor broadly and indiscriminately placing well-paid working families on the roles of government health care. Such families can provide for their own needs ( 1 Timothy 5:8). Failure to do so would be an act of infidelity to Christ. Christianity, would not, however, reject conditional and limited governmental help to families who are in challenging economic circumstances. Such is still not ideal because such families receive no remedial education for what got them into such circumstances to begin with (i.e. crime, immorality, neglectfulness, laziness, etc.). Only the church can provide solutions in this area.