My title question will probably light the fires of those who believe it is the responsibility of the government to provide for the poor and needy. I want to approach this from a couple of directions and hopefully present my position in such a manner as to cause people to think. I believe if people are inspired to ‘think’ they will also be inspired to ‘act’ and when that transpires things change and get done. Ideas alone offer no solution. It is only when ideas are translated into action and implementation that progress is made. God gave us the ability to think and expect us to use that gift for the good of the Kingdom and the world.
I have frequently questioned how much the American people know about the provisions of the Constitution and how much they embrace that document. I wish I could say that the majority both understand, appreciate, and embrace the Constitution and its provisions, protections, prohibitions, and guarantees. I wish I could, but after four decades of brainwashing in our public educational system, I do not believe that is a reality.
The issue of caring for the poor, widows, orphans, and needy always arises in any political discussion. Both political parties, in today’s America, contend that they are the party that cares about the needs of the needy. Sadly, both sides of the political aisle frequently miss the mark biblically and constitutionally. The usage of benevolent funding and entitlements for political purposes is not only distasteful for a Constitutionalist but is also dangerous to the continuation of the republic as the Free Constitutional Republic established by the signing of the Constitution by 39 American statesmen.
When I refer to the Bible, the history of the nation of Israel, as well as the birth of the Church in the New Testament I discover there are some important realizations to be acknowledged. In the Book of Numbers Chapter Thirteen, we find the joyous declaration by the twelve spies who surveyed the Land of Canaan that it was truly what God had said, “a land flowing with milk and honey” or abundance. They brought back clusters of grapes that required two men to carry. That is a picture of incredible abundance and fruitfulness.
With that kind of fruitfulness, one would wonder, how could there be anyone poor in that land? Moses was always forward-looking as he led the nation and discovered the heart, mind, and ways of God, not just His acts. He said in Numbers 15:11, “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 the needy and poor in your land.” I love that spirit and heart for it reveals the heart of God.
If we fast forward fifteen hundred years, we find the apostle Paul in the Book of Galatians admonishing the Church to “remember the poor.” (2:10). I do not believe there has ever been a time nor will there ever be a time when God is not concerned about the poor. There are numerous passages in the Bible about giving to the poor is viewed by God as lending to Him.
Biblically and Constitutionally, I believe that caring for the poor is primarily an individual responsibility, not a governmental one. The Israelites were instructed to look around, take note of the poor and needy, and help care for them. (Leviticus 25:25,35, 39). They were not told to perpetually take care of those in need but to help them get back on their feet and become productive. They were instructed to never turn a blind eye to need and allow a lack of charity to grip their hearts. Their generosity would receive God’s attention and He would bless them so they could continue to bless others. (Deuteronomy 15:7-8,10-11). Jesus echoed that view in Matthew 25:34-40 and it is a message woven into the fabric of Christianity.
There can be, and often are, times when individuals are not capable of meeting the need alone and it transitions into a congregational or community responsibility. I won’t attempt to list all the directives in the New Testament regarding the Church’s responsibility and privilege of caring for the poor. I suggest you consider passages such as Acts 4:34-35, Galatians 2:10, Romans 15:26-27, and a myriad of others.
Is it the responsibility of the government to provide benevolence to the poor? Are entitlements biblical or constitutional? I believe that it is mandatory that the civil authorities follow the guidelines of scripture and the constitution. Every person, rich or poor must be afforded equal justice under the law.
The American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) in an effort to help donors maximize the effect of their charitable giving rated various charities calculating the percentage of donated funds that actually reached the targeted person or persons. They determined that the minimum acceptability ratio was 60 percent. That brings up an interesting analysis of the government’s collection of funds designated for the poor and needy. What percentage of the U.S. Government’s collections actually reach the poor? Are you ready? It is a paltry 30 percent! That would make the federal government either the most inefficient charity or benevolent institution or incredibly corrupt.
Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and a host of other founders believed that it was the responsibility of the individual, churches, and local communities to care for the poor and needy not the federal government. Jefferson said, “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 whose relief his contributions shall be applied.” That is powerful. We are to give but not just give and forget but to evaluate the success of the distribution of the funds. Hello, Bill & Hillary, and your Haiti funds that you reportedly kept the lion’s share of.
I would be remiss if I failed to consider the views of the man accredited with being the Father of the American Constitution, James Madison. In 1794 Congress appropriated $15,000 for relief for French refugees who fled from insurrection in San Domingo (now Haiti) to Baltimore and Philadelphia. He 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.” Will somebody remind today’s politicians of that truth? Today Congress spends at least two-thirds of the $2.5 Trillion federal budget on “objects of benevolence.”
Later there was a move to provide a relief measure for fire victims in the United States. Madison again contended that it was neither the purpose or the right of Congress to “attend to what generosity and humanity require, but to what the Constitution and their duty require.” We have allowed the federal government to assume the role that both the Bible and the Constitution place on individuals, churches, and communities. In so doing, we have become subservient to the government and abdicated our duties and voided the blessings of God on us. God desires to bless people and one of the avenues of that blessing is through caring for the poor, needy, widows, and orphans.
The ‘general welfare’ clause does not justify the actions of Congress in their unstainable benevolent spending. James Madison rightly said, “If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions.” Jefferson echoed that sentiment in a letter to Pennsylvania Representative Albert Gallatin saying, “Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.”
Therefore, due to Constitutional ignorance, misinterpretation, or greed, we have allowed politicians to demonstrate incredible contempt for the Constitution and our personal and community responsibilities. The Government is not our provider, God is! We are responsible for our own betterment. It is through the charitableness of individuals, families, communities, and churches that we can all progress and prosper. Allowing the Government to dictate and determine how much and to whom our money goes is to abandon both the directives of Scripture and the Constitution.
God bless you and God bless America!