Recently John Mark Reynolds wrote at Scriptorium Daily, “Moral men have a duty to help their neighbors, but nobody has the right to force other people to help. … When we pass our moral duties over to the state, we lose the power to do charity ourselves, turn an act of charity into coercion, and give the state too much power.”
Someone replied, “What if that charity does not suffice? What is second best? Do you think it is better to take taxes from people and feed the poor, or should we let the poor starve?”
Reynolds’ response is worth reading, but I want to focus on something I think is behind the reader’s comment.
Though I think there may be a place for a government safety net, the Bible is clear that taking care of the poor is an individual responsibility. When people look around them and see the poor, they say, “The church isn’t taking care of the poor, so the government must.”
Those aren’t the only two options. You are supposed to take care of the poor.
Those who say “the church isn’t taking care of the poor” cry for government charity and then drive home in their relatively new cars to sit on store-bought furniture and watch one of their multiple TVs – probably with cable – in an air conditioned living room that is larger than most houses in the world.
Americans – myself included – are accustomed to a level of comfort that was unimaginable a hundred years ago. The vast majority of our wealth, however meager we may feel it to be, goes to support our lifestyles. We then ask someone else to take care of our neighbors.
You might say, “But I give lots of money to charity.” And I hope you do. A great many Christians give at least 10% of their income to their church and more still to various charities. But that still leaves us a lot of money.
To put it into perspective, if you go anywhere people gather right now you’ll hear people talk about how tough times are. Many are struggling to make ends meet. Quite a few have lost jobs. And they’ll be talking on cell phones. Probably iphones. They’ll have ipods and fast food and jewelry.
You may say that is why we’re in this mess. I’m saying that’s the point. We’re in the current economic mess in large part because we think we’re entitled to a certain lifestyle. And we don’t generally let our charity interfere with our lifestyle.
I am confident that if someone asked Jesus what to do about all the poor people around them, He would say, “Help them.”
“But, Lord, the church isn’t doing its job!”
“You help them.”
“By myself? I can’t help everyone.”
“Help as many as you can.”
“I’ve given away a quarter of my income!”
“So you’ve kept 75% of your money?”
How would you argue with that? Would He have to tell you that you could turn off the cable, sell your car, give away half of your clothes, and share your home?
The point is when people say “The church isn’t taking care of the poor, so the government must,” what they’re really saying, “Will someone please keep me from having to sacrifice for the poor?”
I’m not saying it’s wrong to use the money you earn on yourself. I am saying until you are giving ‘til it hurts you have no right to ask the government force your morality on other people.