I got asked by a friend the other day: “How should a Christian view the Welfare System?” Tough question. Loaded question. There are a lot of hidden assumptions and persuasions within such a question- humanitarian, political, economic, social, spiritual, religious… I took some time to put to think it over, pray about it, read up on it, and I came up with this.
How Should a Christian View the Welfare System?
The real issue on the table when discussing welfare is helping the poor. It doesn’t take more than a casual glance at the Bible to realize that God’s people are called to help the poor (Prov. 29:7 or 1 John 3:17-18, for example). From Genesis to Revelation the poor have a special place in the Lord’s heart. We, as God’s people following His word, must help the poor. With that in mind, I give you the following thoughts on the welfare system in America. (The following is more a list of some thoughts and convictions than an official stance or position.)
1. The first thing that concerns me about welfare is what it reveals about our current culture. It shows that in modern America, the government, not the church, has become the primary care-taker of the poor and needy. This is to our shame. If Christians and the church alike gave as much care and attention to the poor as the Word of God calls us to, there would be no need of welfare–or at least nothing like what we face today. First and foremost, the very need for welfare shows that we, the church, must step up to be the example in today’s world of meeting the needs of those in poverty. (Whether or not the government should get involved in such matters is a political debate I dare not to enter. We will keep it simple- the amount of poverty in America simultaneously co-existing with the levels of wealth in the church should challenge us all just a little.)
2. The previous point made mention of all the political undertones facing the welfare argument. I fear that the political issues regarding the system often causes Christians to neglect the needs of the poor or resent the meeting of their needs through a social system. Sadly, many Christians do not even attempt to give to the poor and needy because they believe that social programs are already meeting all of society’s needs. This is not the calling of scripture. Christ calls our hearts to meet the poor in their places of need, not expect someone else to. All in all, the political, philosophical, social, economic, and spiritual dynamics of the welfare argument often take our eyes off of the real issue- helping the poor.
3. Continuing along the lines of the political debate (noticing a trend here?), welfare turns caring for the poor and needy from a spiritual compassion to a social agenda. The Bible calls us to be compassionate and generous, finding joy in meeting the needs of our less fortunate brothers and sisters. Welfare as a social program negates the spiritual dynamics of supporting the needy. Over the long-term, this is not healthy for the giver or the recipient.
4. Biblical giving will always help the needy not hinder them. I worked full time with teenagers in poverty for two years. In my personal opinion, there is no visible restoration in welfare. Actually, it seems to have quite the opposite effect. With rare exception, the current system of welfare does not help its recipients in the long term- it cripples them. Why it does this is a whole different issue. The reality is that Biblical giving will lead to restoration of the individual, not merely meeting his temporary physical needs.
5. Socially funded welfare makes giving to the poor required not voluntary (taxes). New Testament giving is to be willing, from the heart and generous. It is nearly impossible to help a person understand the spiritual gains and joys of generosity when contributions are mandatory.
6. The Bible strongly criticizes those who are able to work but choose not to: “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.” (2 Thes. 3:10-12) It is the argument of scripture that those who are able to work to provide for their household must do so. Welfare too often allows perfectly capable individuals choose not to work.
7. Lastly, most Christians frustrations with welfare don’t come from an anger that its recipients aren’t genuinely being helped, but instead a bemoaning of the tax burden it creates. This brings us back full circle. If we would rise up to the high calling of God to bless the poor with redemptive, restorational generosity then a situation like the one we currently face would not exist.
In conclusion, the best strategy for the Christian who is not a fan of the welfare system is to get himself and those he can influence in the business of redeeming and restoring the poor out of their poverty. This will bear much greater fruit in this life and the next than writing letters, voting one way or the other, or signing petitions. “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them.” (Mark 14:7)
(Some of the ideas above were lifted from an article by Larry Burkett located in Using Your Money Wisely.)