In the run-up to the recent budget compromise, an assemblage of liberal Christians calling themselves the Circle of Protection huddled with President Obama to express concern for the poor. The group implored Congress to resist cutting social spending lest struggling Americans be burned by the fiery budget debates.
That particular round has ended, but the debate over biblical injunctions for the size and scope of government persists.
These modern manifestations of the social gospel incorporate elements of socialism and an unwarranted adoration of government programs. The Religious Left and likeminded liberals promote compulsory government wealth redistribution as an outpouring of Christian faith, but there is little compassionate in coerced charity. The poor need protection from this well-intentioned foolishness.
As commentators on the First Epistle of John have highlighted, there are three hallmarks of Christian life: truth, love and righteousness. Truth reflects the character and will of God. Righteousness denotes living accordingly.
Love is how that should look. Living rightly, or justly, reflects individual morality, not collective egalitarianism.
Sadly, many liberal churches seldom discuss truth or require righteousness. Abundant research suggests too that conservatives more willingly volunteer charity than do liberals, who instead redefine love into "social justice."
But biblically, justice connotes conformance with God's statutes, not slipping into the shifting sands of partisan politics.
Christians are personally accountable as stewards of God's blessings. Charity embodies an essential element of stewardship, but to count spiritually, gifts must be voluntary and sacrificial. To succeed, charity must carry moral prerequisites.
Social gospellers appear more concerned with man's material deprivation than with spiritual depravity, yet Christ never accommodated sin. Love doesn't entail making sinners comfortable on their way to Hell.
The Religious Left basks in spiritual themes emitting the veneer of scriptural authority, but voting to spend another's wealth isn't benevolent. Christ came to die on a cross to remit man's sins, not to ease our worldly burdens through secular poverty programs.
Efforts to spread the gospel through charity ought to be applauded, but federal programs disallow the gospel. Truth is banned by bureaucratic decree. Liberal Christians work side-by-side with state agencies doing more to feed government Leviathan than save perishing souls.
These well-meaning Christians may be motivated by love, but the programs they tout inevitably fail without the other pinnacles of faith. Federal welfare abets unrighteousness by encouraging slothfulness.
The Devil delights in idle hands. With truth under a bushel, he has little to fear.
Means-tested welfare programs reward those who shun work, neglect financial responsibility, and bear illegitimate children. But as Proverbs rightly trumpets, toil, savings, and marriage are the keys to prosperity. Welfare impoverishes "the least of these" because men become superfluous when women wed the public weal. Biblical benevolence focuses on assisting widows and orphans, not creating fatherless children by rewarding single motherhood.
Clear correlations connect marriage with success but link illegitimacy with crime, drugs, unemployment, and poor academic performance. The primary tempers inhibiting our base passions are families, church, and community. These wilt when godless social programs leave our most vulnerable enslaved to destructive habits.
Biblical charity seeks to restore broken lives and reconcile lost souls. It bonds families. Public charity creates government dependents and destroys families. Paul instructs not to provide relief to unworthy widows or those whose relatives should fulfill their familial duties (1 Timothy 5).
Would Paul write this regarding church benevolence yet lobby Caesar to expand secular programs promoting the opposite?
Paul admonishes to labor diligently and mind our own affairs. Christians must never needlessly burden others. If someone refuses to work, neither should he eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). This still fits as menial laborers easily accumulate greater material abundance than the rich young ruler enjoyed in Christ's day. In America, even non-workers fare better.
Washington wastes much that it dispenses. Safety nets don't prevent foolishness; they sponsor irresponsibility as others cover the cost. Government sinecures administering largesse like feudal patrons are the primary beneficiaries of state programs. The poor are mere pawns being exploited politically.
Where the original social gospellers thought churches should concoct Utopia to remain relevant, today's adherents surrender their obligations to the state. Ironically, welfare expands the need for charity by ruining the communities purportedly helped, while simultaneously undermining a powerful evangelism tool.
Would the prodigal son have returned if welfare softened his plight?
Today we have more prodigals, but less impetus to return. Family bonds break, and communities suffer when people become entangled in webs of government dependency. Relief was historically administered locally and primarily privately. Churches, not politicians, were instrumental to its success.
Markets have overcome more poverty than welfare ever will. We're now wealthier, healthier and have better opportunities. More resources are available for charity, and were it administered sensibly there'd be less need. Unfortunately, federal poverty initiatives often generate counterproductive ends.
If one succumbs to false hopes of welfare or adheres to socialist philosophies that is their prerogative, but don't invoke Holy Scriptures to legitimize misguided policies or spend others' money to assuage your guilt.
Instead, find Christ and offer real charity.