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Monday, February 07, 2005

A Christian response to poverty

I had an interesting discussion with a friend yesterday. My friend is quite the historian and remarked that for all the criticism on the right about Social Security, Welfare, etc, those programs did do much to alleviate suffering. His comments made me think about how Christians should approach the issue of poverty and helping those in need.

While I am very much a proponent of capitalism, my first (and in comparison, only) loyalty is to God. My distaste for government's role in helping those in need has been primarily pragmatic as opposed to philisophical. That is, I don't really have any philisophical problem with the government taking certain roles in our society. I'm sure some of my friends on the right will cringe at such a statement. Too bad.

My problem with government taking a primary role in charity has been the lack of efficacy. Rarely have I seen the government actually make much of an impact. The "War on Poverty" in the '60s is a prime example. Thomas Sowell has written much (including this) about the complete failure of the "War on Poverty". In my mind, many social welfare programs have been created and perpetuated for the benefit of the keepers of these programs rather than the intended beneficiaries. I'm sure that there are some exceptions to this, but they are few and far between.

All that being said, I'm concerned that the typical conservative response, often from evangelical Christians, is that the government shouldn't be involved in social welfare programs, and that private organizations should be the ones to help those in need. This begs the question, what will happen to those in need if private organizations such as churches don't pick up the slack?

Let me propose a better approach to this issue. What if those on the right, instead of constantly attacking government programs aimed at helping those in need, started helping those in need so much so that people just stopped using government programs? We as Christians should put our money, time, etc where our mouth is. We should show love to "the least of these" so much that there is nothing left for the government to do. Imagine how that would change the discussion.

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