’Churches simply have not put in their budgets the kind of funding that would be required to feed nine to 10 million people[.] … So it’s dishonest for politicians to shift the responsibility away from the government to the church.’Or so says Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville, TN. In part, he is correct: churches certainly can’t fund that much of a debt. But if it’s ‘dishonest for politicians to shift the responsibility away from the government to the church’, equally dishonest is the fact of the church having foisted its God-mandated responsibility to the poor onto the government in the first place.
The more I hear from so-called ‘Christian’ mouthpieces – in this case, social-justice Christians – the more I believe I’ve been reading an entirely different Bible than they’ve got. In the Old Testament found in my Bible, God repeatedly reminds His chosen people of their responsibilities to the poor, the widow and orphan and the oppressed. The theocratic government He established beginning with Saul was to follow His commandments, including those regarding the unfortunate as specified in the Mosaic Law – but He never absolved the individual of their responsibility to their fellow man.
The prophets stridently accused Judah and Israel – governments and people alike – for failing in their God-mandated responsibility for the unfortunates and, in fact, making those peoples’ lives even worse. The end result of this and their other God-displeasing actions was destruction of their kingdoms, death and exile.
In the New Testament, Jesus berates the religious leadership for continuing the abuse of the unfortunates through their legislative hedging around of the Law, which for all intents and purposes eliminated God’s original intent in giving these Laws to Moses. After Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, his apostles organized the church’s charitable arm in the shadow of a government which provided little more than free corn as ‘public assistance’.
During its 2000+-year history, the church began turning over its responsibility for charity to governments, either outright or through governmental infiltration through regulation, funding and the like. The result is that charity – temporarily assisting those who were experiencing a ‘bad patch’ – morphed into welfare – ‘assistance’ which no longer carried the concept of being ‘only temporary’, and federal and state governments now stand in the place of the major players in the game of ‘charitable assistance’.
Social justice Christians like Mr. Parham, who feel it’s dishonest for the government to give back the God-mandated responsibility for the unfortunate to the church are either ignorant of Scripture or are more ‘social justice’-minded than Christian. The Bible – the word of God – is explicit in where the responsibility for charity lies: with the individual believer and the church, not with the government.
And why is charity a specific responsibility for the church and not the government? God demands of believers that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and through that love we give of ourselves to help the unfortunates – not just money, clothing, food and material goods but help pulling themselves back up and getting back on the right track. The government is not in the business of loving or caring about its people beyond what the people provide for the government – income. The government neither knows you by name – you are simply a number – or cares about you, unless you fail to file your taxes. Without love, there can be no caring, and it is the height of folly to become dependent on someone or something which neither knows, loves or cares about you. How prescient the prophet Samuel was when he warned the Israelites what would happen to them once they had a king.
Would things be different now had the church not abandoned its God-mandated charitable responsibility? I cannot be certain. The apostles had to create a bureaucracy to handle their charitable arm, and any bureaucracy can be plagues by fraud and abuse; in fact, the bigger the bureaucracy, the greater chance problems can occur. If individual churches, however, had maintained their charitable ‘arms’ and offered temporary help to their members and others in the local community, perhaps the bureaucracies could have been more limited and more easily be held accountable for their actions; additionally, the temporary charity might have lessened the ‘need’ for long-term welfare.