There is no question that Christians have a Biblical mandate to help the needy.
However, because our United States government has progressively increased welfare spending over the last 50 years [all “entitlements”, including pensions, health and welfare have risen from 28% of all federal spending ($28 billion) in 1962 to 56% ($2.02 trillion) for 2010], Christians have gradually abrogated our responsibilities and rationalized our non involvement by saying, “the government is taking care of it. Why should I?”
Government Spending Breakdown
This post is not written to point fingers at our current government welfare programs; it is to ask the rhetorical question, “If all government welfare funding suddenly stopped, and Christians actually stepped up and fulfilled their responsibilities, what would happen and what would be different? This is, of course, speculative, so, as you read my thoughts, I encourage you to disagree, agree or add new thoughts. Here are my thoughts:
Total expenses would decrease
The current per capita annual cost of health and welfare is $5,567. If we assume that 2/3 of our nation is Christian, and the average family unit is three people, the required giving per family unit would be $25,052. Assuming an average family income of $45,000 and if every family tithed, the most one could reasonably expect Christians to give would be $4,500 per household. Of course most of this would be used for church operating expenses, mission work, etc. It is safe to say that the total money used for health and welfare would decrease dramatically.
Federal budget would balance.
Our 2010 budget includes a per capita deficit of $4,073. Without health and welfare in the budget, we would have a per capita surplus of $1,494.
More discretionary money available to Christians (maybe).
Yes, the government would be spending $5,567 less per capita, but would any of this make its way back to the taxpayers? As mentioned in the previous point, we would have a budget per capita surplus of $1,494 ($448 billion total). But, at worst, politicians would find new ways to spend this money; at best it would go toward reducing our national debt of about $15 trillion. Either way, little of it would go back into the pockets of the tax payers.
The truly needy would be served.
Because funds are limited and because of Biblical guidelines for giving, only the truly needy would be served. Who are the truly needy?
(1) The poor—those who are unable to meet the most basic needs (Proverbs 19:17 and Deut 15:7-8)
(2) Widows—a qualified widow is defined as a woman 60 years old or older whose only husband has died ( 1 Timothy 5:3-10)
(4) Those who need immediate care (see James 2:15-16) . It does not qualify them as “poor” or “widows” but only as “lacking of the daily food” as a result of illness, imprisonment, or unemployment.
Those who are needy and able bodied would be required to work.
The Old Testament welfare system required those who harvested their crops to leave the crops around the perimeter of the field and to not go over the field a second time. ( Lev 19:9-10). Why? So the poor could glean and thus find sustenance. This was the practice in the book of Ruth, where Ruth gleaned in the fields of Boaz. The practice of gleaning gave dignity to those who benefited in this way.
The able bodied needy who refuse to work would not receive help.
The New Testament gives clear instructions that those who refuse to work should not eat. ( 2 Th 3:10-13) Of course this would require much discernment from those who would be deciding who gets help, but the biblical criteria would disqualify help to anyone deemed lazy.
Some who are needy would slip through the cracks.
There will be needy people who will not let their needs be known. They may not feel comfortable asking for help or they simply might not know help is available, but reality is that some will not get the help they need.
Those who receive help would appreciate it.
When people receive from friends and neighbors, they realize that others have sacrificed for their behalf, and they appreciate it. My hunch is that very few who receive government help appreciate it in the same way because “government” is deemed as an institution, not people.
Those who give will be blessed.
People feel good about giving voluntarily. And although Jesus admonished us to give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s (pay our taxes), most of us don’t get warm fuzzys about giving money that we have no choice about.
The Christians would have a clear motive to give.
If Christians knew clearly that those in need were not receiving help from the government, they would be much more motivated to give.
We would give internationally.
As we in America are giving generously to those in Haiti, we have responsibilities to the needy throughout the world. I admit that I don’t know how this would play out, but when Paul was challenging the church in Corinth to give to the needy in Jerusalem, he admonished them thusly, “For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.” The principle seems to be that those with abundance should bless those with needs, and, according to global rich list, you are in the top 2% of the richest people in world if you have an income of $45,000. We in America have lots of abundance.
If our government paid health and welfare were to stop cold turkey, millions who depend on those benefits would suffer greatly. Whether the church would or could step up to meet those needs is questionable. The challenge, for Christians in America, is to regain sensitivity to the needy because, even with government run programs, we still have the hungry and homeless among us. My church has a “benevolence ministry” to meet specific needs we know about. We cooperate with other churches in our community to operate a food pantry and we offer free financial counseling to our members who are struggling to make ends meet. We also have volunteers who will do local mission work, working on people’s houses or simply cleaning snow from sidewalks.
Could we do more? Sure. But who knows? If we Christians became more pro-active in fulfilling our God given responsibilities to the needy among us, we would see families become self sufficient, gaining dignity and purging themselves from government rolls.
The best part is that these families would give credit to Christ, something that is not likely to happen with government welfare.