So What's This All About?

In case you didn't know, I'm in the multi-year-long process of posting a Christian devotional at the TAWG Blog. The TAWG Blog is, and always will be, mostly apolitical. For the most part, Bible-believing Christians will find little to disagree with there. But I also firmly believe that God's word can--and should--inform everything in life, and this should include politics and popular culture. How should we vote? How should we respond to hot topics such as abortion, capital punishment, taxes, and other issues? Which party, if either, is closer to the Biblical ideal? Tony Campolo and Ron Sider, Evangelicals whose political leanings are on the Left, have made the case in several of their writings that God wants his followers to vote politically on the Left more than on the Right. At times, some of them have gone so far as to equate voting on the Left with obedience to Christ, either subtly or not-so-subtly contending that the converse is true as well: If you vote Republican, you're sinning against the Savior.
I don't agree. I think that to the degree they actually resort to the Bible, they're misinterpreting it. With a whole bunch of caveats, I think politically conservative positions are a lot more compatible with the Scriptures than the Leftist positions.
Just to clarify, I would never accuse people who disagree with me--especially siblings in Christ--of what they accuse me of. I don't judge my own heart, much less anyone else's, and I don't equate political disagreement with theological fidelity to God. I have no reason to doubt their love for the Lord and "for the least of these," but I believe that they're sincerely wrong.
So there are two main purposes for this blog. One is to make a case for my political beliefs based on Scripture. The other is a bit more vague, basically to work out my political beliefs and figure out what's based on Scripture and what's based on my own biases. I certainly don't have all the answers. Some of this stuff I'm still figuring out. And I'm certainly open to correction. As long as you make your case civilly and based on Scripture, feel free to make a comment, and I promise I'll post it and consider your arguments thoughtfully and prayerfully. Who knows? Maybe we'll learn a little something from each other.
May God bless our common striving together towards both the "little t" truth and "Big T" Truth. Our watchword here is a line from C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle: "Further up and further in!"

P.S. -- Below on the left is "Topics I've Covered" which lists everything I've posted topically. It's come to my attention that some people would like to see everything just listed for them. If that's you, you can get it here. Thanks to my friend Stephen Young for the tip!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Wealth And Poverty: Objections answered

           As you might have guessed, on this blog my pattern is to state my case from the Bible, address objections, and then wrap up with some final thoughts. Today’s “address objections” day.
            I’m going to handle this as fairly as I can, and I’m going to start by looking for possible exceptions to the (probably) controversial statement: “To my knowledge, the pattern of just giving a handout to an individual in need is never smiled upon in Scripture.” Really?
            How’s about Deut.14:28-29? “At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.” Well, OK, first off you bring your tithes which could include money, but in the context of vss. 22-27, are mostly farm products, such as grain, new wine, olive oil, firstborn from your flocks, etc. If you had to travel a long way to Jerusalem, you could exchange the product for money to take with you to the Temple. But every third year you were supposed to bring the tithe (which is assumed to be mostly food, not money) to put in a localized storage facility, the rough equivalent of a food bank, so that. . . just anyone could just come up and ask for a free meal or a handout? Um, no. It’s specifically there for the “Levites. . . . [and] foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied.” The Lord says that the reason why Levites were included in this food program was because they didn’t have a tribal land inheritance of their own. The others listed would commonly be those with the least “voice” and most easily taken advantage of.
            If someone would like to make the case that a physically disabled person like a blind person (whose job prospects were virtually nil) could qualify for this local food program, I’d probably agree with him. The Lord specifically warns against taking advantage of them in other passages, such as these, so he had special concern for them.  
            But what I don’t see here is the Lord advocating handing money to someone, especially if they’re on the street and you don’t know their situation. A person in charge of a food bank can distinguish between someone coming forward who’s truly needy versus someone who has a dysfunctional behavioral pattern, such as drunkenness. They can keep records. They know the people in their town. And most of the stuff in their storage is going to be food, not money.
            The other references I find in the Torah are in reference to someone loaning something to someone. Granted, you’re supposed to be generous to someone in need and treat them with dignity, and this affects how you collect the repayment. And of course Jesus commanded us to go out of our way to loan without expecting to be paid back and to invite people over for supper who could never repay our generosity.
            But just handing money to someone, especially on a regular basis? Especially if you don’t know why they’re poor? I don’t see that advocated in Scripture, particularly in light of 2 Thes. 3:10.
            As we discussed before, Solomon gives lots of reasons why people are poor: Bad spending habits or other bad financial decisions, bad work ethic, or other personally dysfunctional behaviors such as addictions, etc. And if you hand over money to someone who falls into one of these categories, you are not showing them love at all. You’re doing the equivalent of handing booze to an alcoholic.
           I’ve seen this in my last church. I remember one case in particular. We were a small struggling church of about 20-30 members. A family came to us for financial assistance, a common occurrence.  They were about to have their lights turned off. One of our elders, who’s done financial counseling, sat down with them and made out a budget. We had an extra car which was donated by another member which we basically gave to them. And we gave them some financial assistance. . .  .and six months later they came to us again. After confirming consensus among the elders, the one who’d helped them went back to them and asked them if they’d followed the budget he’d laid out for them. They said no. And that was our answer to their request for assistance: No.
            Anyone who’s worked for any length of time with the poor can tell you this is a pattern they see over and over and over and over. Someone comes to them for assistance, they help them, only to see them exhibiting the same behaviors which made them poor in the first place.
            Solomon does address this, if only indirectly. For example, he says that “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.” He’s extolling hard work, providing the general principle that if you work hard, you’ll tend to be wealthier than if you’re lazy. If you’re lazy and thus poor, quite frankly, you deserve to be. Get off your backside and get to work.
            This is implied in every verse where he extols good financial habits and discourages bad ones, along with their attendant promises/threats. Again, my TAWG Blog discussed this here.
In Prov. 19:19 he lays out another principle I believe we need to apply to this issue: “A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty; rescue them, and you will have to do it again.” Yes, it’s talking about a hot-tempered man instead of someone with financially dysfunctional habits. But the underlying principle is still the same: If you rescue them without addressing the underlying issues, the “root causes,” so to speak, you’re only enabling (and thus perpetuating) self-destructive behavior.
            Are there people out there in America, who through absolutely no fault of either their own or their parents’, are perpetually poor, such as those physically disabled? Or maybe held back by racism? Or maybe undereducated in an underperforming school so they’re completely unprepared for the outside world? Of course there are.
            And we definitely need to help them. Sacrificially. And in fact, we need to offer help—real help—even to those whose behavior is self-destructive, who are poor because of bad choices they’ve made. But we do that by offering them a heart-change via the Good News of Jesus, which will affect their lives from the inside-out. If they don’t show any interest in that, and if their behavior is self-destructive, then we do them no favors by enabling it.
            If we’re going to be really following the example of our Savior, then we need to consider this: The Good News of Christ is completely free, but if our Message has no expression of heart-change which culminates in a changed life, it’s not the message of Paul or the apostles or Jesus himself. And that will eventually filter out into the way we conduct our finances.
            We’ll spend more time on positive ideas on how to help the poor on the next posting.

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