Warning: In this post, I intend to call a spade, a spade. Which means there will be strong words that don’t normally appear on this blog. My use of these words won’t be excessive, but if you find such language offensive, it might be best to skip this piece.
There have been several reports in the news lately about states that are seeking to place further restrictions on their food stamp programs (called SNAP). The argument is that welfare recipients shouldn’t be able to buy certain items or shop in certain stores if they’re receiving government funds. Aside from the fact that these new limitations will only serve to further deprive and humiliate the poor, SNAP fraud is already the lowest of any government program, at less than 4 percent. The little bit of fraud that is committed usually occurs on the retailers’ side.
The truth is, the government has steadily been eroding our nation’s safety net over the past several years, often with the support of conservative Christians. These so-called Christians claim that helping the poor is the sole responsibility of the Church, and that the government is usurping this responsibility with its welfare programs. They say that if welfare programs were cut and taxes lowered, they could do more to combat poverty.
I’m here to say, that’s bullshit. It’s a bullshit argument cloaked in pious-sounding words to disguise a vicious disdain for the poor.
The Bible calls us to be passionate about helping the poor and defending the cause of the oppressed. When you’re passionate about a cause, you’re usually not picky about the people or entities who sign on to help support it. For instance, many conservative Christians are passionate about “blessing Israel,” since the Bible seems to indicate that’s what we should do (Genesis 12:3). Because of this belief, our government gives about $3 billion (that’s billion with a ‘B’) in aid every year to Israel, the 19th most developed country in the world. (The United States is ranked 5th.) Not one of these Christians claim that blessing Israel is the sole responsibility of the Church, or that if the government cut the aid and lowered taxes, they could do more on their own. On the contrary, conservative Christians will literally line the street in front of our nation’s capital in protest any time a senator even suggests reducing the amount of aid our government gives to Israel. All of this over just one scripture.
Or how about the fight against abortion? The Bible doesn’t even speak directly on the issue of abortion, just on murder. Yet we’ll spend hundreds of hours and millions in government funds petitioning the courts to overturn Roe v. Wade. Conservative Christians contribute millions more to pro-life groups and causes.
There are over 100 scriptures that admonish us to care for the poor. Not one. One hundred. Several of these came from the mouth of Jesus himself. Yet government assistance for the poor is somehow viewed as an abuse of taxpayer funds, an overreach of federal power, an usurping of the Church’s responsibility. We’ll clamor to be defined as a Christian nation until the issue of welfare arises. Never mind that the primary purpose of any government is to ensure the well being of its citizens.
Christians who complain about welfare don’t care about the poor. Not one iota. I know that statement is going to offend some people. I know that I’ll get emails and comments saying, “I do so care about the poor! I serve in [insert name of outreach] ministry every week!” Bullshit. If you really cared, you wouldn’t be asking the government to cut housing and food stamps for the single mom I know who is raising three kids on her own while working full-time. If you knew her and people like her, you would be lining the streets in Kansas and Missouri, shouting, “This is bullshit! Stop oppressing the poor!”
The fact of the matter is, you want control of the process. Like the Pharisees, you believe that the poor are poor because they’ve sinned in some way. And you want to personally ensure that the resources only help those YOU think are deserving. When people come through your line at [name of outreach] ministry, you’re checking to see who is shacking up with their boyfriend, who has a cell phone, who has a tattoo or a piercing, or who smells like cigarettes and booze. Showing God’s love to the least of these through abundant generosity never even tickles your mind. Damn it, you’re not here to enable anyone’s bad habits. You’re here to do the least little bit necessary so these people will be motivated to help themselves.
Shame on you. You make a mockery of Christ.
I once heard a Fox News commentator ask, “What about the verse that says if you don’t work, you shouldn’t eat?” That directive was given by Paul to the congregation at Thessalonica. The success of that group depended upon every able-bodied person to work and provide for the community. Yet some of these believers, who knew better, were freeloading off the sweat of their brethren. Because of that, the work of Christ was hindered – such as, ahem, helping the poor.
I wonder what Jesus would say to us if he showed up in today’s mega churches and took stock of the cafes, the gyms, the gaming rooms, the rec fields – all designed for our use and comfort. I wonder what he would say to the well-dressed parishioners in the upholstered pews taking in a nice sermon in premium, high-definition sound. I wonder if he would say we’re the freeloaders, as we’re so busy ensuring that the church serves our wants that we’ve neglected the needs of his people. I wonder.
And I tell you, the first time Christ came to earth, he brought a whip for the oppressors. Next time, he will come with a sword. If Christians were as passionate about the poor as Christ was and is, we would be advocating for every available resource to help them. We’d be more vocal about it than any other issue, including Israel, abortion, homosexuality, and abstinence education.
Don’t want to help the poor? Fine. But be honest about it. Quit the bullshit.