Many on the Left, some on the Right, and numerous Christian voices have challenged me regarding caring for the poor and needy. They believe that it is the responsibility of government to care for the poor through entitlement and welfare programs and, in their words, “to do less is Un-Christian and Un-Caring.” I contend that assigning this to the government as a federal responsibility is to abdicate personal responsibility and empowers the government to become ALL POWERFUL. I also contend that neither the Constitution nor the Bible mandates that the government provide for the poor and needy. That is not to say we should not be concerned about those individuals, for we most assuredly should and turning a blind eye to their need is both Un-Christian and Un-Caring.
In Deuteronomy 15:11 we read, “For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore, I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.’” That was echoed by the apostle Paul in Galatians 2:10 – “…remember the poor…” I am 100% in harmony with the need to care for the poor and needy both as a Christian and as a citizen of a civilized society. But the question must arise, “Whose Responsibility is it to Care for the Poor and Needy?” I believe we have abdicated too many of our personal responsibilities to the government and in so doing we have continued to grow the government and empower it in ways the Framers and Founders warned against.
If you will allow me to address this from a biblical perspective first, I suggest that the overwhelming evidence is that the Bible lays the heaviest burden on the individual in caring for the poor and needy. I will not quote them in full but refer to scriptures I suggest you read; Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 10-11; Isaiah 58:6-10; Matthew 25:34-40 to name a few. The emphasis in both the Old and New Testaments was individual responsibility for caring for the poor, not the government. Additionally, it is the responsibility of the local church to care for the poor and needy. In the Old Testament, if the poor were unable to meet their obligations, the priests were charged with the examination of that person’s situation to determine the extent of their need. He was to determine what portion the poor person could pay and then grant them proportional relief as is seen in Leviticus 27:8. In the New Testament this was addressed in Acts 4:34-35 and there was not a needy person among them BECAUSE the “church distributed to each as any had need.” This was not a true communal socialist community as some suggest but a continuation of the Levitical prescription and “as they had need.” It was proportional, temporary and not designed to be continual or perpetual. In Proverbs 19:17 we find God’s attitude toward caring for the poor and read, “One who is gracious to the poor man lends to the LORD…” The poor and needy, not the slothful and lazy are to be cared for and helped get back on their feet so they can not only provide for themselves but care for those less fortunate than themselves.
Thomas Jefferson’s view of caring for the poor is found in his declaration: “I deem it the duty of every man to devote a certain portion of his income for charitable purposes, and that it is his further duty to see it so applied as to do the most good of which it is capable. This I believe to be best ensured by keeping within the circle of his own inquiry and information the subjects of distress to whose relief his contributions shall be applied.” The Bible informs us, that generally, acts of charity should also be anonymous. George Washington expressed concern for the poor and needy saying, “Let the hospitality of the house with respect to the poor be kept up. Let no one go hungry away. If any of this kind of people should be in want of corn, supply their necessities (provided it does not encourage them in idleness); and I have no objection to your giving my money in charity… What I mean by having no objection is, that it is my desire that it should be done.” Personal responsibility and a desire to ensure the condition is not encouraged or perpetuated.
Our Founders believed the government had a role in helping the poor but limited that to children, disabled, and the widows who could not work. However, they believed that any aid should include work-requirements for the able-bodied and did not envision it being a perpetual handout. Benjamin Franklin believed that aid to the poor or needy should be done so as to assist them in OVERCOMING POVERTY as expediently as possible, he did not believe it should be a generational lifestyle. He said, “I am for doing good to the poor…I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty but leading or driving them out of it.” WHAT A CONCEPT! In today’s World of Entitlements, we not only make it easy for them to remain in that condition we make it almost impossible to get out. The Founders sought to provide aid in a way that would help the deserving poor but minimize incentives for recipients to act irresponsibly. They wanted to protect the rights of working citizens by preventing corruption and abuse in welfare aid. James Madison said, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” They sought to help but not perpetuate the situation or condition unlike what we have today was the overriding sentiment of our Founders and Framers.
Since the middle of the twentieth-century welfare has become less stigmatized and more acceptable as a lifestyle thus perpetuating the problem. We have experienced an almost endless expansion of Welfare and Entitlement Programs and the poverty rate has escalated rather than reduced. Until the mid-1960’s, free markets, secure property rights, strong families, and minimal taxation advanced a culture with a strong work ethic and an entrepreneurial spirit. The rise of liberalism and the progressive movement has reversed that course and plunged more and more people into an impoverished state. The work of the post-1965 welfare push has been to dismantle the family unit and made welfare wages higher than working wages creating an environment where unmotivated people would opt for the dole rather than the earned paycheck. Single motherhood has been encouraged because the more babies you can produce the more income you will have. We need to return to the principles and vision of our Founders and as we help the truly needy we should encourage them to leave their state of poverty as quickly as possible.
However, I contend it is not the sole responsibility of government to care for the poor it is individuals, families, churches, and communities. The principle expressed by the apostle Paul should be applied to any able-bodied individual, “If he will not work, he should not eat.” Our present entitlement system is enslaving more people, causing individuals to shirk their personal responsibility, and empowering the federal government to the point it controls every dimension of our lives. THAT CANNOT BE GOOD and is foreign to our Founding Principles and the Bible.
God bless you and God bless America is my prayer and desire!