Conservatives, in particular, conservative Christians get a bad rap from our “progressive” brethren about either being inconsistent regarding ministry to the poor or sometimes we are bluntly accused of not caring for the poor.

I believe both are false and accusations like this are not helpful.  While there may be individuals on the right who feel this way, by and large it is not representative of our entire constituency.  In many regards liberals, albeit not necessarily religious ones, have been shown to care in rhetoric only.

I would say that Christians from both conservative and progressive stripes (and others in between) do care about the poor, want to help those who are in poverty, and want to put and end to hunger, etc.  We agree on the end.  What we don’t agree on are the means.  Chris Brooks gives several reasons why increasing governmental social welfare or having income redistribution doesn’t jive with what the Bible teaches regarding helping those who are poor.  He says that the Bible’s model for the helping the poor is “one that encourages and enables self-reliance and one that is mostly dependent on individual givers.”

I agree.  Looking at both the Old Testament and the New we see in God’s commands responsibility given to individuals, not the State.  Care for the poor is a mandate for the Church, not governments.  I also believe that you have seen a decrease of the influence of the Church as their role has been diminished in the social welfare arena.  Before the Great Depression hospitals, schools, orphanages, etc. were largely run by churches or denominations.  Not the case any more.  The prophet Isaiah promises God’s people what will happen when they do the work on behalf of the poor that He desires:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in,” (Isaiah 58:6-12, ESV).

God through the prophet Isaiah was telling his chosen people that they had chosen the wrong fast.  They were neglecting the poor, the homeless, and the hungry.  When they return to that work then in verse 8 we see, “then shall your light break forth like the dawn and your healing shall spring up speedily,” and God promises blessing and influence in other ways.  We can see a parallel with the Church as well. 

People, like Jim Wallis, read the prophets and see what they say about the poor, and assume that God is directing the government of the Nation of Israel to do something.  Sometimes God’s message was given directly to the leaders, but by and large were given to the people of Israel individually as well.

I would also like to point out that organized contributions for the poor came from a person’s tithe, not tax.  In Deuteronomy  we see:

At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do, (Deuteronomy 14:28-19, ESV).

In Acts when you see the poor taken care of collectively it was through individuals being led to sell their possessions and give to the poor, (Acts 4:32-37).  In Acts 6 you see that it was the Church who took care of widows.  James tells us that caring for orphans and widows in their distress is pure religion, (James 1:27).  In Matthew 25 Jesus says, to individuals, those who help the least, the last and the lost are doing that unto Him as well.

So the responsibility ultimately is the Church’s.  No where in scripture do you find people being forced to be charitable.  We who follow Christ should give and work with “the least of these” because Christ’s love compels us.

34 comments
  1. Shane:

    Great post! I was saw a poster on line that I couldn’t post because of some objectionable language, but its tag line was:

    It’s Not Fascism When We Do It: Liberalism
    Or a corollary I give:
    Tolerance: I’m All For It As Long As You Agree With Me

    Conservatives often get blamed for behavior that others also freely indulge in, like a higher standard should be in place.
    I like you ending. Our actions for others should come down to doing things because of Christ’s love for us, that should be instilled in us to hold out to others. Not because we are commanded to, but because we want to.
    And disagreeing on the means and not accepting another approach often is about tolerance. A my way or the highway attitude is going to hurt most those who need the help most.

  2. Shane:

    Great post! I was saw a poster on line that I couldn’t post because of some objectionable language, but its tag line was:

    It’s Not Fascism When We Do It: Liberalism
    Or a corollary I give:
    Tolerance: I’m All For It As Long As You Agree With Me

    Conservatives often get blamed for behavior that others also freely indulge in, like a higher standard should be in place.
    I like you ending. Our actions for others should come down to doing things because of Christ’s love for us, that should be instilled in us to hold out to others. Not because we are commanded to, but because we want to.
    And disagreeing on the means and not accepting another approach often is about tolerance. A my way or the highway attitude is going to hurt most those who need the help most.

  3. “Conservatives often get blamed for behavior that others also freely indulge in, like a higher standard should be in place.”

    People should follow their own advice. Hateful conservatives and religious zealots get into trouble when their hypocrisy becomes obvious. Sounds like a bible story!

  4. “Conservatives often get blamed for behavior that others also freely indulge in, like a higher standard should be in place.”

    People should follow their own advice. Hateful conservatives and religious zealots get into trouble when their hypocrisy becomes obvious. Sounds like a bible story!

  5. Erich,

    I do follow my own advice. Not only do I give to people in need, I work with high-risk kids full-time. Pretty hateful isn’t it?

    If you want to read hateful check out the comments section on the Huffington Post or Daily Kos – then you’ll understand the true meaning of the word.

    I also assume that a religious “zealot” is one who actually lets their faith impact not only their private life, but their public life as well.

  6. Erich,

    I do follow my own advice. Not only do I give to people in need, I work with high-risk kids full-time. Pretty hateful isn’t it?

    If you want to read hateful check out the comments section on the Huffington Post or Daily Kos – then you’ll understand the true meaning of the word.

    I also assume that a religious “zealot” is one who actually lets their faith impact not only their private life, but their public life as well.

  7. Mr. Riesenberg-
    So, all the lefties that are being hateful towards minorities (Dr. Rice & Judge Thomas being “not really black”, Gov. Palin being “not a woman”) are in trouble?

    Shocking to hear……

  8. Mr. Riesenberg-
    So, all the lefties that are being hateful towards minorities (Dr. Rice & Judge Thomas being “not really black”, Gov. Palin being “not a woman”) are in trouble?

    Shocking to hear……

  9. For my part, even though I primarily vote Democrat and lean slightly to the left, I don’t tend to blame CHRISTIAN conservatives or point fingers when it comes to the poor.

    My rancor is generally aimed at the politicians.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not in lockstep with Democrats either. I don’t expect the state to take care of everything with the poor but at the same time, I think the state has taken too much of a hands-off approach on things like mental health, homelessness and healthcare.

    I am very leery of measures that seek to advance our economy by lining the pockets of the rich. The middle class in this country is in terrible shape right now, and not solely because of their own mistakes (though that plays a large role as well).

    We’ve based our economy on a heavy consumerist mentality and we burn through energy and resources far out of proportion to our population size. And if that wasn’t bad enough, now nations like India and China are looking to be just like us in that regard.

    I think the Dems and liberals are too quick to give handouts and I thing the GOP and conservatives are still too in love with “trickle down” economic theories that just don’t pan out.

    As a side note to other commenters, I too am dismayed when left-wing folks are hypocrotical about the tolerance thing. Really pisses me off, quite frankly, because the far left and far right are BOTH full of too much hateful rhetoric these days.

  10. For my part, even though I primarily vote Democrat and lean slightly to the left, I don’t tend to blame CHRISTIAN conservatives or point fingers when it comes to the poor.

    My rancor is generally aimed at the politicians.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not in lockstep with Democrats either. I don’t expect the state to take care of everything with the poor but at the same time, I think the state has taken too much of a hands-off approach on things like mental health, homelessness and healthcare.

    I am very leery of measures that seek to advance our economy by lining the pockets of the rich. The middle class in this country is in terrible shape right now, and not solely because of their own mistakes (though that plays a large role as well).

    We’ve based our economy on a heavy consumerist mentality and we burn through energy and resources far out of proportion to our population size. And if that wasn’t bad enough, now nations like India and China are looking to be just like us in that regard.

    I think the Dems and liberals are too quick to give handouts and I thing the GOP and conservatives are still too in love with “trickle down” economic theories that just don’t pan out.

    As a side note to other commenters, I too am dismayed when left-wing folks are hypocrotical about the tolerance thing. Really pisses me off, quite frankly, because the far left and far right are BOTH full of too much hateful rhetoric these days.

  11. By in large I agree with the heart of your post Shane. One thing that does bother me though is how many of our American churches (liberal and conservative) seem to live lavishly.. building ornate structures and paying exorbatant salaries.

  12. By in large I agree with the heart of your post Shane. One thing that does bother me though is how many of our American churches (liberal and conservative) seem to live lavishly.. building ornate structures and paying exorbatant salaries.

  13. There is nothing in the Bible that says a government can’t assist the poor. As people want to frequently point out that our country was founded on Christian principles (generally when talking about ‘under God’ in the Pledge, or posting the 10 commandments in a courthouse)… isn’t it a Christian principle to help those in need?

    Aside from that, the government has followed the laws in place and legally established various programs supported by tax payers. Jesus said “render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar’s, render unto God that which is God’s.” I believe this was said referencing taxes.

    Try to get charity treatment if you are unemployed and uninsured by going to Methodist, Luther or Mercy hospitals. If church based organizations can’t provide care who can?

  14. There is nothing in the Bible that says a government can’t assist the poor. As people want to frequently point out that our country was founded on Christian principles (generally when talking about ‘under God’ in the Pledge, or posting the 10 commandments in a courthouse)… isn’t it a Christian principle to help those in need?

    Aside from that, the government has followed the laws in place and legally established various programs supported by tax payers. Jesus said “render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar’s, render unto God that which is God’s.” I believe this was said referencing taxes.

    Try to get charity treatment if you are unemployed and uninsured by going to Methodist, Luther or Mercy hospitals. If church based organizations can’t provide care who can?

  15. Mike S.’s post reminded me of something else I meant to write.

    This may be my progessive bias leaking through, but in my observations, it DOES seem that one legit criticism of conservative Christians vis-a-vis the role of the state is that they too often expect govt. to enact laws based on Christians principles.

    This is, I think, a dangerous and inappropriate stance given that we have a multicultural nation and a secular govt.

  16. Mike S.’s post reminded me of something else I meant to write.

    This may be my progessive bias leaking through, but in my observations, it DOES seem that one legit criticism of conservative Christians vis-a-vis the role of the state is that they too often expect govt. to enact laws based on Christians principles.

    This is, I think, a dangerous and inappropriate stance given that we have a multicultural nation and a secular govt.

  17. @MikeS – yes it is – obviously I’m not stating yank all state aid away from those in need and dump it all on the Church. That would be overwhelming for all concerned. I just wanted to point out that for much of our history the State did not take on this role, it was the Church’s. The State will likely always have some role in this (unless we elect a libertarian President and Congress into office), but I don’t feel it should be expanded. If you want to do anything – look at community & faith-based initiatives as a potential solution.

    @DeaconBlue – aren’t all laws based on moral values?

  18. @MikeS – yes it is – obviously I’m not stating yank all state aid away from those in need and dump it all on the Church. That would be overwhelming for all concerned. I just wanted to point out that for much of our history the State did not take on this role, it was the Church’s. The State will likely always have some role in this (unless we elect a libertarian President and Congress into office), but I don’t feel it should be expanded. If you want to do anything – look at community & faith-based initiatives as a potential solution.

    @DeaconBlue – aren’t all laws based on moral values?

  19. Yes, they are, Shane, but do all religions (or even all denominations or sects of a religion) agree on all moral matters?

    No.

    I have seen too many people argue that this law or that law should be enacted because the Bible tells us so.

    While the Bible is the guidebook for us Christians, it is not (and should not) be the template of the laws of the land.

    Nor should we tailor our treatment of the poor at the government level on the actions of the early church.

  20. Yes, they are, Shane, but do all religions (or even all denominations or sects of a religion) agree on all moral matters?

    No.

    I have seen too many people argue that this law or that law should be enacted because the Bible tells us so.

    While the Bible is the guidebook for us Christians, it is not (and should not) be the template of the laws of the land.

    Nor should we tailor our treatment of the poor at the government level on the actions of the early church.

  21. Deacon – much of our legal system is based upon Mosaic code/OT law. Not the only influence, but it was a major influence.

    Taking the Bible out of the discussion, if we dare to do that. On a practical level – whose is more effective in showing charity? The Church or State?

    Also, looking at Government action regarding the treatment of the poor – what template do we use? If we use the Constitution (like we should) what does it say about the role of the Federal government in social welfare?

    It doesn’t.

    I think a better argument for social welfare programs could be had on the local & state level than the federal government.

    Anyway when you answered yes – you made my initial point – somebody’s moral values are modeling our laws so Christians have the duty and right – to share and advocate for a biblical worldview in the marketplace of ideas.

  22. Deacon – much of our legal system is based upon Mosaic code/OT law. Not the only influence, but it was a major influence.

    Taking the Bible out of the discussion, if we dare to do that. On a practical level – whose is more effective in showing charity? The Church or State?

    Also, looking at Government action regarding the treatment of the poor – what template do we use? If we use the Constitution (like we should) what does it say about the role of the Federal government in social welfare?

    It doesn’t.

    I think a better argument for social welfare programs could be had on the local & state level than the federal government.

    Anyway when you answered yes – you made my initial point – somebody’s moral values are modeling our laws so Christians have the duty and right – to share and advocate for a biblical worldview in the marketplace of ideas.

  23. Shane, thanks for the links; I’m glad you found those pieces useful.

    MikeS, can I suggest you read the posts Shane linked to? It’s certainly not unbiblical for the government to help the poor, but OUR government tends to do it in the wrong way (according to the Bible’s model). Plus, Christians are bound to obey the law, and our top law is the Constitution which does not permit federal charity.

  24. Shane, thanks for the links; I’m glad you found those pieces useful.

    MikeS, can I suggest you read the posts Shane linked to? It’s certainly not unbiblical for the government to help the poor, but OUR government tends to do it in the wrong way (according to the Bible’s model). Plus, Christians are bound to obey the law, and our top law is the Constitution which does not permit federal charity.

  25. Shane, Chris B…

    …the constitution cannot possibly encompass all situations. It is a framework. Unless it specifically FORBIDS the feds from doing something, that doesn’t mean the feds can’t (or perhaps shouldn’t) do it.

    There are plenty of things the feds do that aren’t mentioned in the constitution…and they aren’t just liberal things, either.

    Chris B…I admit I haven’t been in a civics class, but where in the Constitution is the federal government forbidden from engaging in charitable efforts?

    Shane, as for offering our Christian views on moral in the marketplace of ideas…sure. But let’s remember: Marketplace. Supply/demand. Seller/buyer. Choices. We don’t hold a monopology and government isn’t there to cater solely to Christians.

  26. Shane, Chris B…

    …the constitution cannot possibly encompass all situations. It is a framework. Unless it specifically FORBIDS the feds from doing something, that doesn’t mean the feds can’t (or perhaps shouldn’t) do it.

    There are plenty of things the feds do that aren’t mentioned in the constitution…and they aren’t just liberal things, either.

    Chris B…I admit I haven’t been in a civics class, but where in the Constitution is the federal government forbidden from engaging in charitable efforts?

    Shane, as for offering our Christian views on moral in the marketplace of ideas…sure. But let’s remember: Marketplace. Supply/demand. Seller/buyer. Choices. We don’t hold a monopology and government isn’t there to cater solely to Christians.

  27. Deacon Blue said: Unless it specifically FORBIDS the feds from doing something, that doesn’t mean the feds can’t… do it.

    Actually, the Constitution spells it out as “these are the things Congress can do.” If it’s not on the list, they’re not supposed to do it. Everything else is supposed to be left to the states. It helps to remember historically where this thing comes from — they wanted a weak central government. The previous version (confederacy) was too weak, so they gave the federal system a little more power, but not much.

    Yes, both parties call for the feds to do too much all the time; that doesn’t make it right.

    On your other comment: We do live in a pluralistic society, but in a democracy we still get to try to convince our neighbors that our system/values is the best.

  28. Deacon Blue said: Unless it specifically FORBIDS the feds from doing something, that doesn’t mean the feds can’t… do it.

    Actually, the Constitution spells it out as “these are the things Congress can do.” If it’s not on the list, they’re not supposed to do it. Everything else is supposed to be left to the states. It helps to remember historically where this thing comes from — they wanted a weak central government. The previous version (confederacy) was too weak, so they gave the federal system a little more power, but not much.

    Yes, both parties call for the feds to do too much all the time; that doesn’t make it right.

    On your other comment: We do live in a pluralistic society, but in a democracy we still get to try to convince our neighbors that our system/values is the best.

  29. @ ChrisB – great reminder as to the purpose of the Constitution. The states do have the ability to do things that the Federal government shouldn’t do.

    Also regarding values – my point exactly.

    Thanks!

  30. @ ChrisB – great reminder as to the purpose of the Constitution. The states do have the ability to do things that the Federal government shouldn’t do.

    Also regarding values – my point exactly.

    Thanks!

  31. Well, your points are taken on the constitution, but let’s face it: There a huge difference between 13 colonies and what we have in modern times. Do you really imagine that with a weak central govt. and states doing all pretty much their own things on most matters that we’d still be a union?

  32. Well, your points are taken on the constitution, but let’s face it: There a huge difference between 13 colonies and what we have in modern times. Do you really imagine that with a weak central govt. and states doing all pretty much their own things on most matters that we’d still be a union?

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