The other day I wrote a piece in which I outlined 3 ways Christians could reasonably disagree on what to do about helping the poor politically. It was essentially an explication of how someone could look at all of those Bible verses about helping the poor, believe them, want to put them into practice, and yet still find themselves voting against politicians and policies that attempt to enact long-term redistribution and aid to the poor via governmental programs. It was a plea for mutual understanding between economically left-leaning and right-leaning Christians, especially for the former not to assume bad-faith motives such as greed or heartlessness on the part of the latter in their voting patterns. Again, often-times these patterns are rooted in legitimate concern for the poor and a genuine difference of opinion on what is actually helpful to them.
Unfortunately, these good-faith reasons aren’t the only ones that people, even Christians, use to justify their voting, or even their giving patterns. Often-times there is a deeply un-Christian sensibility that informs our attitudes towards aid to the poor, rooted more in American, middle-class self-righteousness than in the Gospel or sound political theology. It’s easily spotted when the subject of taxes or charity comes up–certain platitudes and memes are tossed about having to do with “rights” and having “earned” our way of life, so on and so forth, implying that the poor simply deserve their lot and not our help. To a certain extent, I get it. There’s biblical warrant for connecting work with wages, property rights, etc. Still, these truths often get used to justify callousness and are turned into opportunities for spiritual-economic pride that just cut plainly against the grain of Scripture.
Now, I originally planned to write a more substantial post in which I dealt with a number of these attitudes myself, but I ran across a brilliant quote by Robert Murray M’Cheyne that about sums it up:
Now, dear Christians, some of you pray night and day to be branches of the true Vine; you pray to be made all over in the image of Christ. If so, you must be like him in giving…”Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor”
Objection 1 – “My money is my own.”
Answer: Christ might have said, “My blood is my own, my life is my own”…then where should we have been?
Objection 2 – “The poor are undeserving”
Answer: Christ might have said, “The are wicked rebels…shall I lay down my life for these? I will give to the good angels.” But no, he left the ninety-nine, and came after the lost. He gave his blood for the undeserving.
Objection 3 –“The poor may abuse it.”
Answer: Christ might have said the same; yea, with far greater truth. Christ knew that thousands would trample his blood under their feet; that most would despise it; that many would make it an excuse for sinning more; yet he gave his own blood.
Oh Dear Christians! If you would be like Christ, give much, give often, give freely, to the vile and poor, the thankless and the undeserving. Christ is glorious and happy and so will you be. It is not your money I want, but your happiness. Remember his own word, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
-quoted in Generous Justice, Timothy Keller, pg. 108
Note, you may still hold that governmental redistribution of economic goods is unwise, stretches beyond the government’s actual scope of authority, and is actually unhelpful for the poor–that’s fine. But God forbid that ever bleeds into an overall attitude of disregard for the poor. Objections like these should never be at the heart of any Christian who has received and understood the Gospel. The Gospel is about a God who saves by sheer grace, giving freely of himself to the undeserving. That needs to sink down deep into our minds, our souls, and reshape the way we approach even our own heart-motives for taking the economic positions we do.
If you don’t think the government should be the main source of aid, then make sure you are giving yourself, either directly, or through a church body. If you’re arguing for what you deem to be a wiser fiscal policy, beware that any of these creeping self-righteous attitudes infect your logic and your rhetoric, especially if you’re going to talk about your Christian ethics in other areas of political concern. The bottom-line with everything is: when it comes to the poor, don’t forget the Gospel.
Soli Deo Gloria