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!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wealth and Poverty, Part Five

            OK, we’ve talked quite a bit about how not to help the poor. Top of this list: Just handing people money with no accountability. Before we get to the main topic today, let me answer a huge objection to this.
            Doesn’t God make exceptions? Would I assert that at no time does he ever lead one of his children to just hand money over to someone in need? You see a beggar on the street, or you hear about someone in need in your church, and the Lord specifically leads you to hand them money. Does that never happen? Of course I’d never assert that. I’ve been the beneficiary of people who were led by the Lord to help me out financially. I didn’t ask them; they just said “God told me to give you this,” and they did, no questions asked.
            But on-the-spot indiscriminate giving is not the norm, nor should it be the general policy of either Christians or the Church as a whole. Paul’s basic instructions are “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Considering that both Scripture (particularly Proverbs) and life experience tell us that people in poverty are possibly (in this society, even likely) to be involved in self-destructive and dysfunctional behavior, if you hand money to someone, you’re likely not helping them and probably hurting them.
And what about emergency giving? Let’s say there’s a flood, or an earthquake, and people are homeless and starving. Do we contribute? I’d say yes, with some qualifications. We need to look at more than the immediate need. If someone builds a house on the beach, why should I subsidize his decision by paying for rebuilding it after the (perennial) hurricanes come? If a nation’s governmental or financial policies keep its citizens poor and an earthquake comes, yes, we need to take care of the immediate need, but we also need to (if possible) address the underlying issues. Why are they so perpetually poor that an earthquake which kills hundreds of thousands (or millions) there only would only kill dozens or less in America? Taking this on a case by case basis, my niggling concern is dealing with the causes of poverty rather than merely helping with the immediate need.
Unless Scripture contradicts Scripture, all the injunctions in Scripture that tell us to be generous with the poor can—and must--be understood under this basic principle. Yes, we need to be incredibly generous with those in need, especially considering how the Lord’s treated us. Give generously to the poor. Give clothing and shelter and food to them that need it. Give money through proper channels so that 2 Thes. 3:10 and other precautions can be observed. Whenever you see someone on the street, do not hand them money. You are not helping them.
            So what do we do? Look, I’m not an expert on specific programs. But let me tell you about a wonderful book I read some years back. It’s The Tragedy Of American Compassion by Marvin Olasky. In it he tells the story of how Christians have approached poverty up to the early 20th century, how they changed their attitudes and actions, and how that worked out. In it we can find some wonderful principles which I think can light our way.
            Christians in America up to the 20th century were no less compassionate towards those in need than their more modern counterparts. But, quite frankly, they were better at taking Scripture seriously. Let’s say it’s the late 19th century, and you’re a man who’s out of work. You’re hungry. You’re homeless. You’re desperate. You walk into a “house for the poor” run by Christians. You apply at the front desk, explaining your plight to the person there. The guide then would take you in and say “Absolutely, we’d love to help. Follow me.” He would take you to the back of the house where there were axes and wood to be chopped. He might take you past literacy or other job-training classes in progress on your tour. And of course he’d explain that any help would be contingent on you at least listening to the Gospel, and naturally you’d have to be as sober as a judge while they were helping. If you had even a whiff of alcohol on your breath, they’d inform you that that behavior isn’t acceptable.
            They’d offer classes on learning a marketable skill. And while you were being helped, you’d be expected to contribute to the income of the house. If you were a woman walking in, they’d lead you to the sewing rooms. You know that they wouldn’t do? Hand you money.
            But then the “Social Gospel” took over much of the American church, and the completely anti-biblical idea entered people’s heads that if we have qualifications and expectations on the poor, we’d miss a lot of people. What if someone doesn’t want to work? What if they’re addicted to alcohol or other drugs? You expect them to do without food? Are we going to just let them starve?
            And so the promoters of the Social Gospel started working hand in hand with the government to give out money and meet needs indiscriminately. If someone was in need, that’s all that qualified them for whatever they asked for. You can probably guess the results. If you were poor because you’re lazy or an alcoholic or making terrible financial decisions, and you have two sources of charity in front of you: A) A house where you’ll be presented with the Gospel and an expectation of change, and B) A place where they’ll just hand you money, which one would be more attractive to you?
            Again, I'm not claiming to be an expert in particular programs that churches have set up, but there's one particular paradigm that I'm really intrigued by and of which I've heard great things: Microloans. Let's say you have people in an area, maybe in this nation or in another one, and they're really poor. You give a small starter-up loan to (carefully screened) individuals who are entrepreneurs. They take your seed-money, start a small business, and then pay back into the program. Sounds like a great idea to me. 
            By the way, you know what the most effective poverty-elimination program out there is? Marriage. There are multiple studies on this, but here are a couple of citations. Look at the statistics of men who are married versus those who stay single: They’re healthier, longer lived, and much more prosperous.
            Let me quote from Lincoln Unbound by Rich Lowry:
            "If the head of a family graduates from high-school, works full-time, and waits until age twenty-one and marries before having children, it almost guarantees his family will avoid poverty. 
             According to Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill [Creating an Opportunity Society], only 2 percent of the families who adhered to all three of these norms were poor in 2007 (a year of low unemployment, it must be stipulated). Of the families who adhered to one or two, 26.9 percent were poor. Of the families who adhered to none, 76 percent were poor."
             So that’s where we need to start. Aside from fighting what’s wrong, we need to promote what’s right. Job-training. Sobering up. Financial classes. Getting one’s spiritual life in order (which often is the root of financial problems). But as long as the “bad” charity is out there, the “good” charity is facing an uphill climb. And it’s not helped by well-meaning but biblically clueless Christians who hurt more than help when they give or vote.

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