The latest salvo against Christians who are politically conservative is to charge in the most morally superior of tones that failure to continually expand welfare programs is in direct defiance of biblical teachings.
This is true, of course, as long as you don’t actually read the Bible.
But the lack of truth rarely slows a political assailment, particularly against Christians who are politically conservative.
So this quickly became an attack line against the healthcare reform program Republicans proposed in Congress last week. It wasn’t the substance of the need to stem the bleeding of Obamacare; it wasn’t the skyrocketing insurance costs the program incurred; it wasn’t the all-important personal freedoms at stake that we spelled out previously.
It was this, best represented in a couple of tweets from CNN political analyst and USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers retweeting one of her followers. Her follower tweeted: “We do not require religious writings to know that it is right for gov to have compassion for the poor.” To which Powers added: “This is true. And it’s sad that so many people demanding scripture citations have such antipathy toward the poor.”
They are probably demanding those citations in relationship to the role of government. And in that, there are none to be found.
Personal experience with this
This is not a new line of attack.
Many years ago, I was at a luncheon function sitting at a large table with others from the newspaper where I worked. As the speaker was walking up to the podium, the editorial page editor — an older, liberal atheist man who knew I was both Christian and politically conservative — turned and said, “Based on Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount, I don’t understand why all Christians aren’t liberals.” He then turned away toward the speaker as the program began, allowing no time for a response.
That was purposely timed. I wrote him an extensive explanation. But he never responded, nor could I get him to engage when I saw him, because he did not want a discussion or a better understanding. He wanted to take a cheap shot, feel smugly self-satisfied and move on.
That is a lot of what we are seeing here today. Many of the people saying that any opposition to government-funded or government-run healthcare insurance is un-Christian are themselves not even Christians. (Powers, to be noted, is a Christian.)
It’s a dual purpose political attack line to score points for big-government welfare programs among the uninformed while also taking a whack at RWRN (social media slang for Right Wing Religious Nuts.)
But they have an empty case on multiple levels, and they should be and can be knocked down vigorously.
Christianity and government healthcare
Let’s take the Sermon on the Mount, as this is a favorite for those who skim the Bible, or hear it paraphrased from others who have skimmed it.
The problem with the editorial page editor’s cheap shot is that it suffered from a fatal fallacy. Jesus teaches for three full chapters in Matthew on the deeper Christian life of joy, suffering and generosity toward others. In one portion of one chapter, Jesus says:
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4)
Jesus not only is speaking directly to his followers — that is, those who are now called Christians — but he is also telling them to not be generous in ways that call attention to ourselves. Do it quietly, even secretly when possible. In the very passage he is talking about giving to the needy, he exhorts his followers to do it tacitly, humbly.
No place in these three chapters does he mention a role for government in his teachings. This is consistent throughout Scripture. Some argue that just because Jesus did not overtly say this should be done by government does not mean he opposed it.
That is true, but that is not what defenders of big government welfare programs are asserting. They are saying Christians are compelled to support helping the poor through government programs because they are Christians. But Christianity is based on the Bible, and it is clear that is not what the Bible says at all.
Further, Jesus had plenty of opportunities to spell out a Christianized government role when talking to soldiers, centurions, Roman leaders, Pontius Pilate and so on. And he stayed mum.
Given his teachings that were always aimed at the responsibilities of the individual believer and not the government, and his choice to stay mute when given the open opportunity to spell out the role of government, it seems more than likely that he was disinterested in government doing what individual Christians should be doing.
The error of compassionate government
Compassionate government is an impossible combination.
An entity such as a government cannot have compassion. People can have compassion because it is a uniquely human trait. Anthropomorphizing government is a grave error leading to terrible policies — exactly what we’ve seen for decades.
Government as an institution has a critical role, but it has nothing to do with compassion or love or anger or any other human emotions or traits. The American government’s primary role was meant to be the protection of individual human rights. That’s why the very Declaration separating us from a distant tyrant launches with:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
Government is meant to secure the rights of the individual, and protect them from intrusion by other individuals and by the government itself. Hence we have a system of checks and balances within the government so as to keep itself in check because by nature it is not compassionate. It was a machine designed to protect us from itself.
Endowing government with human attributes such as compassion and placing upon it the burden of caring for individuals is a doomed proposition. We see it fail again and again and again.
Opposition to government healthcare is not hatred
Kind of an absurd point to have to make, but alas, here we are. Powers used the word “antipathy.”
An American, whether Christian or not, can believe that X should be done and also think that it is wrong for government to do X. We can believe in helping the poor individually, through churches and synagogues and other charitable organizations and oppose the government doing the same. It is not an either/or proposition.
What we’ve seen is that when government fills this space, it displaces charities that would otherwise be doing the work. And it does it inefficiently while creating an entitlement mentality among those receiving it. Instead of gratefulness to an individual or a church or an organization, recipients see the gifts bestowed from government as a virtual right. And if the gifts are not sufficiently large, they are angered and will protest for more.
That alone is a bad sign for the soul.
So we spend about $1.3 trillion every year on various safety net programs and in return we get deep familial dysfunction, enablement of bad behavior, more debt that eventually we will be unable to pay off and, maybe as much as anything, we lock the poor into generational poverty and ingratitude.
Opposing the system doing this is not hatred. In fact, it may actually be more loving and therefor more Christian. But politicians cannot take credit for that system. Only when ladled by their generous hand can they take the credit and secure future votes — accomplished by forcibly taking money from others. There is no love in any of that.
There is nothing virtuous about giving other people’s money to the poor. In fact, if you want to go to Scripture, Jesus has a few harsh things to say about such grandstanding.
We cannot outsource moral obligations
Shifting responsibility to the government is a pathway for us to feel relieved of any personal duty to help those in need. For many, merely advocating for more money to go to the poor proves our compassion and moral superiority.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Conservatives tend to want a system where there is minimal welfare, just enough to help people get back on their feet. The institutional variety we have now breeds ever more welfare and robs people of their self-worth, making them comfortable living in poverty on handouts.
That is not loving and it certainly is not Christian.
So any Biblical case for Christians being required to support government healthcare and other welfare programs is DOA — if we actually read the Scriptures.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in The Revolutionary Act.