June 26, 2012

I Was Hungry and You … Called Your Congressman

Poverty and hunger is a deeply personal and local matter that the Church must address. (Photo credit: US Daily Review)

There is no debate that Christians are called to care for the poor and hungry. When Jesus said “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me … whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,” he made it clear that caring for those in need is not optional. How we do so, however, is a more contentious issue. For some, obeying this command means forming a “Circle of Protection” around federal government entitlement programs.

Since the federal budget debate began to heat up in the spring and summer of 2011, a group of religious activists formed a “Circle of Protection” with the purpose of lobbying President Obama and Congress to avoid cutting funding for welfare programs. Recently, Bread for the World president David Beckmann spoke to a group of “emergent Christians” about “changing the politics of hunger.” On June 20, at small gathering of Washington, D.C. based “emergent Christians,” he discussed how Christians can end world hunger by influencing “the most powerful institution in the world:” the United States government.

Beckmann explained his view that Christians ought to care for the needy in their community, but also they should make sure the government is “leading” the effort to solve poverty and hunger. To accomplish this, he stressed the importance of contacting representatives in Congress and telling them to protect entitlement programs. It is not enough, he claimed, for churches and local institutions to address these needs. He cited statistics that found if Congress made the proposed cuts to the SNAP program (food stamps), every church in the US would have to provide $50,000 each year to “fill the gap.” Beckmann stated: “it’s just not possible.”

There is evidence, however, that the growth of government programs crowds out private charitable giving. Thus pruning back some of the 70 or so federal assistance programs would yield more private giving. As taxes increase to cover spending, tax credits for charitable giving decrease, and government money flows to non-profit organizations, private giving shrinks. A Cato Institute report states:

Charitable giving declined dramatically during the 1970s, as the Great Society programs of the 1960s were expanding. The decline in giving leveled out in the 1980s as welfare spending began to level out and the public was deluged with news stories about supposed cutbacks in federal programs. Then, after the passage of welfare reform in 1996, there was a large spike in private giving.

Beckmann lamented that “very little progress has been made against poverty and hunger” in the US over the past few decades. This, he explained, is because ”we haven’t had a president who’s made the effort” to address hunger since President Lyndon Johnson launched the “war on poverty” in the 1960s. Unfortunately, he said, every administration since Johnson has prioritized other issues ahead of solving poverty and hunger. Beckmann admitted: “The federal government can’t solve all the problems,” but it can “provide a framework” for others to follow. Further, he said “the states cannot do it [address poverty] without the federal government. The federal government has real power and authority and we have to use that.”

Another major concern with public assistance programs is the risk of dependency. When asked about how to provide a safety net that adequately helps people in dire situations, yet requires them to seek self-reliance as a long-term solution, Beckmann said: “The dependency issue is a real concern.” With only anecdotal evidence, he claimed: “No one who’s on food stamps wants to stay on food stamps. There are probably some exceptions, but we could ere more on the side of handing out more help.”

Too often, however, faceless federal programs do engender dependence resulting in negative social consequences, and they rarely (if ever) solve poverty. Without providing the accountability and tailored assistance that local community charities can offer, one-size-fits-all federal programs are both a consequence and cause of many of the social problems they attempt to address. For example, it is commonly noted that certain welfare eligibility requirements discourage marriage, thus increasing the number of single parent (most often single mother) homes. Looking at this side of poverty, it is clear that the real issue is not a mere lack of material goods, but a deep social and spiritual breakdown.

Even still, Beckmann told the group: “As Christians, we should do what we can to make sure the government is doing what it should” to solve poverty and hunger. But no matter how effectively Christians encircle and “protect” government programs, the federal government is not capable address the deeply personal and spiritual needs of the poor, and ultimately, solving poverty.


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  • http://4simpsons.wordpress.com/ eMatters

    The government does crowd out giving, and takes the discernment out of it. If your neighbor breaks his leg, people will help until he is well. But once he is well they’ll stop helping. If he decides he likes everyone doing things for him, people will not help. But the government doesn’t do that. They’ll keep funding him.

    Even worse, the government policies discourage marriage and cause more poverty than they cure.

    If Progressives want to debate the right level for a safety net that would be fine. But they actually think it is in line with Jesus’ teachings to ask Caesar to take from neighbor A by force to “give” to neighbor B. They actually consider themselves generous for doing that! Regardless of the effectiveness of their public policy positions, whatever they are doing cannot be called charity on their part.

    • Kenton

      “But the government doesn’t do that. They’ll keep funding him.”

      BINGO!

      And woe be the politician who suggests “cuts” to the guy. The soundbite that the poor victim who had his leg broke is having his needs cut makes the news while the reality that his leg is better gets drowned out.

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  • mike flynn

    did charitable giving, especially food and shelter increase after the bush tax cuts? how much?

  • Don

    I agree that the government does crowd out giving.
    One other thought I had is that Christ wanted us to be personally charitable…when tax dollars are used for welfare services it is mandated government controlled “charity” but neither the giver nor the receiver enjoy the blessings that come from a free will charitable offering given in humble and sincere moments. We are here to help one another…we don’t need a faceless government program to compel us to do so, be a middle man, or decide which causes our money should fund.

  • http://gravatar.com/duckboy08 duckboy08

    One of my favorite quotes on this topic comes from Howard W. Hunter, former President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

    What is the real cause of this trend toward the welfare state, toward more socialism? In the last analysis, in my judgment, it is personal unrighteousness. When people do not use their freedoms responsibly and righteously, they will gradually lose these freedoms.

    If man will not recognize the inequalities around him and voluntarily, through the gospel plan, come to the aid of his brother, he will find that through “a democratic process” he will be forced to come to the aid of his brother. The government will take from the “haves” and give to the “have nots.” Both have lost their freedom. Those who “have,” lost their freedom to give voluntarily of their own free will and in the way they desire. Those who “have not,” lost their freedom because they did not earn what they received. They got “something for nothing,” and they will neither appreciate the gift nor the giver of the gift.

    Under this climate, people gradually become blind to what has happened and to the vital freedoms which they have lost.

    (Howard W. Hunter, The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 169.)

    So the responsibility rests with all of us. For the “haves” among us, there is the responsibility to be true followers of Christ and help those in our midst. For the “have nots” among us, there is the responsibility to be as self-reliant as possible. We can and must stop looking to government as the solution to everything, no matter how noble we think the cause. We do not revere the Good Samaritan for his skill in shaking down the neighborhood via the strong arm of government to ensure that the man who fell among theives was helped. The parable teaches us that it is the individual, acting of his own free will, which brings to pass righteousness.

    • http://paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

      The government will take from the “haves” and give to the “have nots.” Both have lost their freedom. Those who “have,” lost their freedom to give voluntarily of their own free will and in the way they desire.

      My question about this argument is, in a democracy (or a democratic republic such as ours), the gov’t is not “taking” money from anyone. By living here, we agree to a social contract that we will contribute a portion of our resources to common needs. You can’t opt out of paying for a police officer or a fire dep’t or a military tank or a school house or assistance programs simply because you don’t like that or don’t agree with that approach to dealing with those problems. By living here, I am agreeing that, yes, WE, the people will vote for expenditures that I don’t fully agree with and I can accept that or leave, but it is an agreement on my part to pay for it, if I live here. Therefore, it is not rightly called “taking” or “theft,” that only muddies the water, it seems to me.

      Conversely, if we look at it that way, this is all “the gov’t” does is take from we who pay into it and give to those who need it (soldiers, homeless, elderly, teachers, students, police officers, trash collectors…) and do we begrudge those other recipients of gov’t largesse?

      I have another open question along these lines (IF you think it is on topic – it seems to be to me, as it gets to the roots of how we decide to spend money as a collective People):

      Suppose there were an educational program for convicted inmates and that program had a proven record of reducing recidivism (return to jail) by 50%. The costs of this gov’t educational program were, let’s say, $1 billion.The savings from this gov’t educational program were, let’s say, $2 billion. In short, the program paid for itself and then some.

      Do you think this is a wise use of gov’t dollars or would you say the gov’t has no role in educating prisoners, EVEN IF spending $1 saved $2? That you would rather pay more (ie, have a larger gov’t expenditure) and keep gov’t out of it than to save the money (have a smaller gov’t expenditure) AND help those in need?

      • http://www.natejohnsongallery.com Nate Johnson

        Fully agreed. I was shocked (if I remember correctly) that the evangelical ‘Truth Project’ put out by Focus on the Family implied (I think actually stated) that taxation was theft. The awareness of wealth is part of the new generation of Evangelicals and we should warmly invite their insights and opinions. In principle, whenever those in power support the structures that benefit them – especially when the gap of the the rich and poor is so pronounced and moving further in that direction), that alone should provide ocassion for a re-examination. Wealth and sinful hearts need a constant watchful eye.

  • http://paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

    A few thoughts, if I may. Where you say…

    For some, obeying this command means forming a “Circle of Protection” around federal government entitlement programs.

    As you rightly note, good human folk – Christians included – are obliged to help the least of these. It’s morally and rationally the right thing to do (out of self-interest, as well as out of generosity and concerns for justice).

    As you rightly hint at, we may reasonably disagree on how best to do this. The point is twofold, it seems to me: 1. to help others, and 2. to work for justice.

    Now, some might see more of a gov’t role in doing one or both of these and some might find more of a private role, and some a mix of both. I think that it’s okay to admit that we might have different approaches to working on this ideal of helping the least of these.

    Does that seem reasonable thus far?

    For those who defend gov’t’s role in assistance and justice issues, they might reasonably call for protecting those gov’t justice programs (and for those of us on this side, it’s not “entitlements” we’re defending, it’s justice and charity. The word “entitlement” itself can be a needlessly divisive word that is vague enough not to be of much help, it seems to me…)

    This doesn’t mean that we think gov’t must be the main/primary mean of working for charity and justice. As part of a progressive Christian network, everyone I know – to a person – would support private initiatives entirely replacing gov’t assistance, IF it were effective and sufficient.

    That is, I would LOVE to see non-profits put the gov’t out of the “welfare” business. If churches et al stepped up tomorrow and effectively ended the problems associated with poverty, no one would complain that the gov’t had no more role.

    Can you see that as likely?

    You also noted…

    Beckmann admitted: “The federal government can’t solve all the problems,” but it can “provide a framework” for others to follow.

    While I don’t think we can entirely replicate ancient biblical models, I do think that there is a great biblical witness to what Beckman appears to be speaking to here. Israel had rules at the national level about how to deal with certain problems associated with poverty. There were national rules in place that required private citizens to set aside some of their farm’s goods to be gleaned by the poor and foreigners and otherwise marginalized (included in the Sabbath laws), for instance. There were national rules in place about fair treatment of employees, slaves and customers, for instance.

    I think what some of us would acknowledge is that there are some rules that need to be implemented at a national level – at a gov’t level. There are other ways of helping that involve personal and institutional efforts. Do you agree that some efforts, to be most effective, really need to happen at least at a community level, if not at larger levels?

    Discrimination laws, fair housing laws, equal opportunity laws, for instance? Laws that protect land and water, for instance?

    I think that most of us can agree that SOME approaches to dealing with poverty can be done at a smaller level and some approaches need to be more systemic and people of good faith can disagree on where that line is rightly drawn.

    Do you agree?

  • http://paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

    As to this…

    The parable teaches us that it is the individual, acting of his own free will, which brings to pass righteousness.

    …do you think it can be equally taught that the Laws of the Nation of Israel as found in the OT which dictated how they were to treat the poor, that these federal-level laws were ALSO a way to bring to pass righteousness, as well as justice?

    • http://www.natejohnsongallery.com Nate Johnson

      I’ve never understood the evangelical revulsion at corporate compassion, i.e., government, when, as you’ve pointed out Dan, was beautifully present in the OT. The DOA of government compassion must have its roots in our movement away from England and the Puritan experience of various forms of oppression. Our moral justification of ‘no taxation without representation’ has been seared upon our consciousness, but we should not allow the presence of past experience to define our future course. A Christian approach is checks and balances, not a Libertarian individualism.

  • duckboy08

    Lost in this discussion of virtue is the loss of personal freedom. Maybe some people are content to surrender their freedoms to a benevolent overseer in Washington DC. But once you do that, you can’t pick and choose the extent to which they decide you will aid their chosen causes. Nevertheless, you and your posterity will wear the shackles which their legacy of profligate spending leaves in the wake of your good intentions.

    • http://paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

      Lost in this discussion of virtue is the loss of personal freedom.

      There is indeed that possibility, and one that reasonable people can agree to watch out for.

      But there are a good number of different rules and circumstances at play here, it seems to me.

      Suppose, for instance, we’re speaking of a program that aids homeless veterans. Some of these men and women have had their psyche’s shattered and souls crushed by their experiences at war. As a result, they are not fully capable (to varying degrees) or operating successfully in the normal world. They have already lost their homes, their families and a good degree of personal freedom in the process.

      If there is a program that provides a temporary home and, once that is in place, help with job skills and mental health counseling and obtaining a job and, eventually, getting their own place to live, then for that person, they have gained back some personal freedom, not lost it.

      If the program was ill-designed or improperly funded and that person couldn’t successfully get through all the stages, then yes, perhaps that veteran would have (still) lost freedoms, but that would be a problem with the program being unsuccessful, not with the idea of the program, don’t you think?

      I am a friend of many social workers and mental health workers and have some good experience with these sorts of programs. As often as not, the programs – which seek to restore people to a more functional, more free role in society – are not at fault, it’s the lack or shortage of funding that causes it to “fail.”

      One man’s experience.

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  • http://gravatar.com/duckboy08 Tom Walker

    Helping our veterans is a legitimate concern of a federal government which has an obligation toward those who have risked their lives to perpetuate our freedom.

    But at the end of the day, as good as the intentions of any number of government programs may be, good intentions often have consequences that aren’t so good. And people need to reconsider the mindset that government is the appropriate mechanism to tackle things which are deemed noble.

    People need to look to themselves, their families, their churches, and their local communities as the primary mechanism to meet needs. With local control and familiarity comes greater control and accountability which are completely lost in higher levels of government.

    • http://paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

      I was using the vet programs just as an example. But what is true for them is true for other groups, as well. I think we tend to think of “those danged freeloaders” when we’re talking about welfare recipients in general, but when we start looking at individual cases, well, it becomes a more complex picture.

      As to the local control, I agree completely! The more local, generally, the better the results, in my experience.

      The thing is, even when it’s federal dollars (as in the aforementioned Vet Assistance program), it’s administed at a local level, usually. Oftentimes by a non-profit (as in the Christian non-profit org that I was speaking of that assists the homeless vets) who apply for federal (and other) grants to do the important work they do.

      Tom, if it were shown that by having Program X spend $1 million to assist Z number of homeless veterans, that they end up saving $2 million in tax dollars, do you think that is a reasonable use of gov’t dollars? Responsible, even?

      Can you understand that some Christians (and others) might consider cutting such programs not only uncompassionate, but also long-term foolish?

      My bottom line on all these questions is this: I am 100% ready for any Christian groups to step up and put the gov’t out of business in the welfare arena. There is not a single law or ordinance to stop them from doing so.

      But until such time as that happens, I think a responsible gov’t has a duty to do something, if for no other reason than for reducing the size of gov’t (ie, spending $2 billion to NOT educate prisoners is Bigger Gov’t than spending $1 billion to educate them and keep them from repeat offenses).

  • duckboy08

    I don’t believe there are many things that government can do that isn’t done better at the local level by people employing their own means and time. No dollar makes a trip to Washington and back without a giant cut coming out of it. Smart people, when donating to charities, investigate what percentage actually goes to beneficiaries rather than overhead and salaries. For some stupid reason, people often fail to consider the cost of vast federal bureaucracies when arguing that they are better suited to address the needs of the people rather than our respective neighbors.

    Recently I remember seeing a celebrity interviewed about his taxes, and he said he was more than happy to pay more taxes in order for the government to be able to do more things for people. But upon being asked whether he felt that he could do a better job with a certain amount of money (I think it was a million dollars) than if the money went first to the federal government, he absolutely agreed that he could stretch it much further if he controlled where it was going.

    With regard to educating prisoners, why establish a costly government program to do something which charities and community volunteers can do for little or no money? Rather than championing government largesse, how about championing efforts to encourage churches, community organizations, and retirees to volunteer?

    • http://www.paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

      I don’t believe there are many things that government can do that isn’t done better at the local level by people employing their own means and time.

      And that is why I said I’d be very glad to see churches and local entities step up and do something. I fully support local initiatives to end these sorts of problems. My ideal for dealing with any of these sorts of problems is, as a rule…

      family
      extended family
      church/neighborhood
      community
      city
      state
      federal

      I support local initiatives.

      With regard to educating prisoners, why establish a costly government program to do something which charities and community volunteers can do for little or no money?

      As I stated, I’d be more than glad to see churches and local entities put federal efforts out of business. BUT, until they do, I want to see something done. I’d rather have a less effective solution for as many as possible, than small effective efforts for a small portion and nothing done for the rest.

      Does that seem reasonable?

      Rather than championing government largesse, how about championing efforts to encourage churches, community organizations, and retirees to volunteer?

      Again, I fully support local groups resolving these problems. Until they do, I also fully support gov’t doing something.

      Just as with Israel’s gov’t creating some top down laws. The important thing is that the problems get resolved. I’m open to multiple approaches. From local to federal, as long as the job gets done. I’m interested in results.

  • InformedAndFree

    Amen. Amen. I am a member of SVDP and more often than not our home visits to deliver emergency food is “families” with no husband or father in the house. We in the private charity can and MUST promote values and behaviors that keep peoria out f poverty in the first place. The government cannot do it because they must be politically correct or at worst amoral when it come to handing out money. When we as a Christians decide to spend just as much money teaching people how to lead a good life, there will be less and less need for giant assistance programs that get bigger and bigger every year.

  • http://www.paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

    I like Mike’s earlier question and find it relevant to some of the points made here…

    did charitable giving, especially food and shelter increase after the bush tax cuts? how much?

    If I’m not mistaken, we’re paying less in taxes now than we have since 1950 or so. Has this lower taxation resulted in the private sector jumping in and effectively dealing with issues of poverty?

    It does not appear so to me.

    Any answers to this question?

    • Kenton

      Dan-

      It’s easy to make stats say anything you want them to say. When you say “less in taxes” that’s probably an income tax rate. Top marginal rates have historically been very high. But only the top < 1% or so paid them. In essence they were a cap on how much one could make. The rates in the income margin just below the top rate were small by comparison.

      When you include SS, Medicare, gas taxes, payroll taxes, cap gains, estate taxes – in other words, taxes that are relatively new and which continue to be raised by the government, then there is no way that we are paying less taxes now that we have since 1950.

      Did charitable giving increase? I don't know, and again, it's probably easy to make stats say anything you want them to. What we can know is that when people are allowed to keep more of their own money, they can pay off debts (which tend to accrue when taxes are high), they can invest (in companies that hire workers so that instead of helping the poor through charity, they are helped through the empowerment of employment), they can hire work out that would otherwise do themselves (which empowers those employed), they can spend it in the exchange of commerce (which flows to those employed by the providers of goods and services), and yes, they can give it charity.

      If we give these tax cuts time, we would see ALL of those increase. But right now, we don't know if the govt is going to allow the tax cuts to expire, we don't know how the ACAPPA is going to affect the economy, and unemployment is high. We don't know if there will be four more years of the status quobama if there is hope for a change. All of that adds up to a fear of what will happen next that is hanging over the economy. In times of fear, people hold their money tighter. Ultimately THAT is what hurts the poor.

      • http://paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

        Thanks for the thoughts, Kenton.

        While it’s true that statistics can be toyed with, when it comes to public policy, I think it most rational to base our decisions on facts, not wishful thinking. Some folk might GUESS that “if only” we were taxed at a lower rate, THEN we could start giving more to the poor, but if history does not support this view, if the data does not support this hunch, then can we agree that it might be a bit naive to say, “Because people are so pure and good, IF ONLY they were taxed less, THEN they’d give more to the poor…”?

        My point remains, if at any time churches and private groups want to get the gov’t out of the “welfare” business, all they have to do is put some serious efforts into solving/easing the problems. And I, for one, FULLY SUPPORT them doing so.

        Until such time as they do so, I don’t find it reasonable to conclude that lower taxes will lead to better care for the least of these.

        From a rational point of view, it defies observable history.

        From a traditional Christian point of view, it supposes a higher decency in human behavior than we might expect.

        Does that sound reasonable to you?

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  • Kenton

    Dan-

    Absolutely not.

    Who exactly is engaging in wishful thinking here? We’ve been throwing government money at the poor now, since LBJ’s War on Poverty. What has it gotten us? We have the same percentage people in poverty but now we have a higher national deficit that requires more resources from the wealthy and the middle class to pay the interest on the debt. THAT is observable history.

    With those resources now going to service debt instead of into better uses, the poor continue to be the ones caught up in the middle.

    And are you’re actually suggesting there is “higher decency” with government solutiions??? Puh-leeze! Fast and Furious, Solyndra, Sub-prime loan scandals… Hello! McFly! Government doesn’t solve problems, it creates them; power corrupts. The notion that the poor are better off with “government solutions” than they are without them would be laughable were it not so sad.

    The message of the gospel (and this post), isn’t “Those of you have no coat, compel the government to take one from the one who has two.” That corrupts those with power in the government, exploits those with no coat and embitters those with two.

    The way of Jesus is so much better than that.

    Grace, Dan.

    • http://paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

      I apologize, Kenton, if you felt the “wishful thinking” point was directed at you. That was not my intention. I’m just saying we should have our policies based on observable facts, not guesses as to what might happen if we stop helping the poor.

      IF there were some evidence that if gov’t moneys spent on programs that help the poor would be replaced by better, local, private ones, then I’d be all for it. IF there were some evidence to support that opinion.

      But I’m not willing to cut the safety net down with no plan for something to take its place, doesn’t that seem reasonable? As to this…

      And are you’re actually suggesting there is “higher decency” with government solutiions?

      I’ve tried to be very clear that I VERY MUCH support local, non-profit efforts to alleviate poverty’s problems. I very much am dubious of gov’t intervention and fully recognize the problems that come when you have ANY human agency (including the church, unfortunately) involved. My point has been that UNTIL such time as the private non-profit world has a safety net in place to replace the gov’t assisted safety net, I am dubious of calls to end assistance based on a hunch that maybe things will get better.

      Again, this just seems rational to me. Where am I mistaken?

      My other point has to do with this kind of thinking…

      The way of Jesus is so much better than that.

      When one side or the other makes the claims that “Our way and ONLY our way is the way of Jesus…” I fear that partisan, cultural thinking has taken the place of good faith and rational efforts to work together as brothers and sisters to alleviate suffering.

      There are people of good faith – Christians of good faith – on all sides of our approaches to how best to deal with injustice and poverty. I would never make the claim that my more conservative brothers and sisters are ignoring Jesus’ Way, simply because they disagree with my opinions on how to do it right.

      Unfortunately, Jesus left us no template on “How to RIGHTLY aid the poor in a 21st Century World.” We need to embrace grace, indeed, in our joint efforts to follow the teachings of Jesus and do the right thing for and with the impoverished.

      Amen?

  • http://paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

    I tell you what, Kenton (and anyone else), here’s where we might find a reasonable common ground: For those who would cut the gov’t safety net, I (and my kind, I bet) will FULLY SUPPORT you, as soon as you (we) develop a plan to have in place and to fade out the one support (gov’t) and have it replaced by the other support (private enterprise).

    As soon as someone develops that plan, I will begin to rally the troops to your side.

    But only if the plan is something more specific than “I THINK if we cut taxes, then MAYBE people will give more and MAYBE there will be enough to meet all current needs and more…”

    The needs out there are too great and the human suffering would be too intense for anything less.

    Rational? Supportable?

  • Kenton

    Dan-

    Look at that picture on the most recent post of your blog. The safety net doesn’t produce the results you want. Let me repeat that: the status quo safety net does not produce the results you (“we”) want. It leaves too many people in need and it causes too great a suffering – in its current form! To continue to support it is irrational. Why would I or anyone else want to support it? Insanity is trying the same things over and over and expecting different results. If it was working then *I* would fully support it.

    The remedy to poverty is giving people an honorable way out. Incentives… Jobs… Let’s give tax breaks to those who hire. Let’s give tax breaks to companies that move into inner city communities and revitalize neighborhoods. Let’s have people on welfare volunteer for non-profits while they’re on the dole so they can muster some self-esteem and be motivated to find work quicker. THOSE are things we can agree on, not the idea that we let government sustain this broken system until we can plan a private system that can raise as much money. Indeed if we did those things, we wouldn’t HAVE to raise as much money privately.

    Sorry if my “way of Jesus” comment offended. I hear a lot of people who think JTB’s comment about coats and take it to mean, “take a coat from the one who has two.” The problem with thinking about it that way is that – to borrow from Margaret Thatcher – eventually you run out of other people’s coats. That’s why the verb JTB uses isn’t “take”, it’s “give.” Giving doesn’t induce resentment for the person with two coats. When Jesus compelled the tax collector to give back to the poor it was an act of giving. You can say Jesus did not teach us how to rightly aid the poor in the 21st century, but I would say that the things he taught in the 1st century hold up pretty well today.

    • http://paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

      Kenton…

      Look at that picture on the most recent post of your blog [of a homeless man]. The safety net doesn’t produce the results you want.

      1. People suffer from poverty and mental health issues right now.
      2. Therfore what we are doing right now doesn’t work.

      Is that the argument you’re going to make? I’m sure it isn’t. You see the problem with that argument…

      1. People suffered from poverty and mental health issues before our current systems were in place.
      2. Therefore, what we did then didn’t work.

      I’m sure we can agree that the mere existence of homeless or mentally ill people is not an indictment on all efforts to help, right?

      Again, I’m most interested in results and what the evidence has to show us.

      Consider…

      Official poverty estimates for the United States at the turn of the
      20th century are not available, but unofficial measures suggest that
      poverty was substantially higher than today. In the late 1800s, 30 to
      50 percent of families were in poverty. In 1950 the poverty rate was
      about 30 percent – or twice the current level. The century-long trend in
      poverty shows clear improvement.

      Again, I’m not defending everything that is done now. I’m not saying we have a perfect solution. I’m saying that until such time as someone has stepped up with a better plan, I’m opposed to eliminating current assistance.

      You want my support (and the support of the majority of people)? Come up with a researched, reasonable plan to replace gov’t assistance.

      The church, collectively, almost certainly has the wherewithal to make a significant dent in the US problem. Step up, eliminate the need and THEN the gov’t assistance programs can go away.

      But don’t tell us, “it’ll probably be better, maybe, if we just eliminate assistance. Let’s give that a try (again) and see if it works better this time than it did the first 100 years of our national existence…”

      I don’t want to base policy on hopes and dreams and wishes. I’m sorry if you disagree, we’ll just have to disagree.

      • Kenton

        Wow. I offer up a few concrete ideas and instead of answering them you just repeat your mantra: “until you have a better plan in place that solves the problem, let’s keep the status quo.”

        Hold your hands over your ears, Dan. Keep singing “La la la la…”

        “Do you love me, Peter?”

        “Lord, you know I do.”

        “Then call congress on behalf of my sheep.”

        • http://paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

          Kenton…

          I offer up a few concrete ideas and instead of answering them you just repeat your mantra: “until you have a better plan in place

          Kenton, my brother, that IS an answer. Your “concrete” plan is to reduce taxes (giving benefits the the wealthier folk) and hope it will be better for the needy. That may or may not be fine, but there is nothing more than hope and wishes on which it is based.

          If you kill the homeless vets money coming from the Feds (again, which goes to local non-profits to implement), and give tax breaks to rich folk, you are hoping then that things might get better, am I right?

          And maybe they will. It’s a fine hope. But on what basis would we close programs known to assist in favor of hoping that maybe this other approach might help?

          Where is the rationality in that?

          As to this…

          “Then call congress on behalf of my sheep.”

          You appear to be offering this as a put-down of what I’m talking about, but of course, if there is a role for Congress in working for justice, then of course I WOULD call them.

          Why wouldn’t I?

          I fully support the notion of having jobs available. But merely having jobs available does not complete the picture, it is only ONE step along the way. If there are, for instance, computer jobs available, how does that aid the homeless vet who has mental or physical (or both) issues to overcome before they’re ready to take a job.

          I’m saying there is room for multiple approaches and those who disagree with some of my favorite approaches are not the enemy. We just disagree on how best to deal with complex issues.

          Can you say the same thing, Brother Kenton?

    • Mike Barker

      When the voting constituency which supports politicians who advocate the theft of coats from those who have coats in order to “compassionately” give to those who do not have coats gets their way, several things happen, all of them bad:
      1. Persons who have marginal coats get rid of them, in order to be the recipients of better coats stolen from their neighbors.
      2. Persons who have the means to procure coats on their own choose to reduce the number of coats they possess, because their neighbors have voted to steal them using the arm of “government” and their “compassionate” politicians.
      3. The voting bloc which supports coat economic growth by “compassionate” theft grows larger, and the number of “compassionate” politicians grows.
      4. Coats become more scarce.
      5. The quality of the basic coat decreases.

      When the “government” (read: your neighbors) subsidizes poverty, it grows more of it.
      Taxation is in fact theft. It is sometimes a good thing when the tax revenue is used for the few programs which are truly for the general welfare. It is ALWAYS, 100% of the time, a bad thing, both morally and practically, when used for some person’s practical welfare. It is always unethical theft, and it always produces negative economic results. 100% of the time.
      And, by the way, Jesus NEVER NEVER NEVER advocated a social policy where category of neighbors A votes to have the arm of government confiscate labor, wealth, and property from category of neighbors B in order to give to category of neighbors C. In the first place, Christ never commented on the best forms of social and government structure and policy. In the second, Christ cared for poor people, so if he took a notion to do so, he not have advocated social policies which created more of them.
      If you want fewer people to have coats, and have inferior coats, then vote for politicians who use the power of government to steal coats from one class of neighbors and give them to another class of neighbors. If you want to feel good and self-righteous about your support of theft and increased coat poverty, claim falsely that Jesus advocated such “compassion” with your neighbors’ coats.

      • http://paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

        Mike Barker said…

        Jesus NEVER NEVER NEVER advocated a social policy where category of neighbors A votes to have the arm of government confiscate labor, wealth

        Jesus NEVER NEVER NEVER called taxation “theft,” nor “confiscation.” On the other hand, the Bible repeatedly condemns slander and bearing false witness.

        We ought not make false chages. Those who support tax dollars for roads, or fire departments, or schools, or prisons or, yes, social assistance programs are not advocating theft or forcible taking. It is a misrepresentation to call taxation “theft.”

        Whatever you may think of the wisdom of such programs from a biblical point of view, the Bible is abundantly clear (as is basic human morality) that false witness is wrong. We can’t engage in respectful human (much less Christian) dialog if we insist on misrepresenting the other.

        Where am I mistaken?

        Mike continued…

        Christ cared for poor people, so if he took a notion to do so, he not have advocated social policies which created more of them.

        It is demonstrably false that all gov’t social policies create more poor people. IF it were true that this was happening, one might reasonably make the case you’re making. It’s not true, though.

        But using that measure Mike, tell me what you think of programs that demonstrably reduce poverty? Let’s be specific: Prisoner education program in state after state and study after study save more than they cost. Educated prisoners are less likely to return to prison (and thus, poverty) and more likely to become responsible citizens (and thus, less poverty). Do you support or oppose funding such programs?

        Finally, as always, I fully support private individuals and groups investing their money in solving poverty’s problems. If you want gov’t out of the welfare business, put ‘em out of it by reducing the need for them.

  • http://paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

    To answer your question in a rational and moral manner…

    Why would I or anyone else want to support it?

    Because it is logical to do so. Because our assistance programs DO improve things, albeit imperfectly.

    Consider the aforementioned prisoner education programs. I was speaking in generalities earlier, but if you look at the research, in case after case, spending $1X amount of money results in something like $2x in savings. Prisoners who have been educated/rehabbed return to prison much less frequently.

    As a result…

    1. Money is SAVED, not lost.
    2. Society is improved.
    3. The ex-convicts are more likely to go on to be a productive citizen and, as a result, PAY TAXES, which in return goes to benefit society more.

    The research on this point is consistent and solid, from state to state and institution to instituion.

    Or consider the money my friend’s non-profit gets from the State to aid homeless veterans. Yes, there is an output of money, but the end result is fewer homeless veterans, more employed veterans, more healthy veterans (which in turn, saves the state money).

    Do either of these programs work perfectly and end up with NO homeless vets and NO recidivist inmates? No, of course not. But they work sufficiently well to save us money.

    I would repeat my earlier question: Would you be opposed to a program that spends $1 million if it was demonstrated to save $2 million?

    I think the answer for most people is obvious: No, we’d support such programs as the only loigcal – let alone, moral – thing to do. Why wouldn’t we?

    Does my support for such programs preclude my support for private, faith-based programs? Of course not! More power to them. I wish non-profits would have the resources to step up and do away with the need for gov’t moneys being spent (which someone rightly noted has its own expense built in).

    Until they do, though, I will continue to support reasonable programs as the only rational, conservative thing to do.

  • http://paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

    Finally, where you said…

    if my “way of Jesus” comment offended.

    No offense was taken, thanks. You were just mistaken. That’s my point. We ought not conflate our ideals about how best to deal with problems with God’s Way.

    We can rightly and reasonably say, I think, “In my opinion, this approach is consistent with the teachings of Jesus.” But we err, I fear, when we say, “My approach is the one and only way that Jesus approves of. To disagree with me on this point is to disagree with God.”

    When put that way, I am sure you could agree, yes?

  • Kenton

    [If your plan is to] give tax breaks break to the rich folks, you are hoping then that things might get better, am I right?

    No.

    Dan, you’re more concerned about getting your point across than you are interested in reading what others are actually saying.

    As evidenced by the fact that there are now 30 comments on this post, and half of them are yours.

    • http://www.paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

      I do apologize if I missed a point(s) you were making, Kenton. You seemed to be making the suggestion that one way of helping the poor was to give tax breaks to the rich so they’d move in to poor neighborhoods with jobs, presumably for the poor. This was following on the general suggestion found in the post that if we only spent less on gov’t assistance for the poor, then people might give to private groups to help the poor.

      That was at least one or two of your points, wasn’t it? I saw that you also mentioned having the jobless poor volunteer to give them self-esteem and, since they already do this and I have no objection to it, I didn’t mention it, but I do acknowledge and agree with the point that work is a good and healthy habit.

      Have I missed other points you would prefer I not miss?

      As to the 30 comments, “half of them mine,” is that a problem? I believe in dialog and communication between those who may disagree on some level and the way to communicate in this venue is by making comments. Am I wrong, in your opinion, to do so? Have I been rude or off topic somehow? Do you suspect the managers of this blog don’t want me to raise these questions?

      For my part, I raise questions for two reasons…

      1. To give you a chance to answer so that I could better understand your position and, sometimes…

      2. Because I think I may be raising a question that might point to a problem with the position being made, or that points to what appears to be an inconsistency.

      Both of which help us clarify our positions and better understand one another, it seems to me. I hope you don’t begrudge my curiosity and questions. I mean no offense by them.

  • Kenton

    Dialog implies listening, Dan. As in when I suggest tax breaks for the rich, you acknowledge the stipulation that they’re offered when for they actually help the poor.

    No, Dan,you’re more interested in monologue. The first reason is a ruse. It’s for the second reason you’re trolling here.

    I’m now done feeding the troll.

    • http://www.paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

      ? Wow. Where is the grace, my brother? I apologize if I have offended or come across as a “troll,” my intent was truly dialog.

      You know, as in I ask a cogent question and hope for a cogent response.

      I believe I have politely asked these questions cogent to the post…

      1. I think that most of us can agree that SOME approaches to dealing with poverty can be done at a smaller level and some approaches need to be more systemic and people of good faith can disagree on where that line is rightly drawn.

      Do you agree?

      2. Can we agree that gov’t taxation is simply how we handle our common needs and it is an agreed-upon reality that we take part in within this Social Contract?

      Therefore, it is not rightly called “taking” or “theft,” that only muddies the water, it seems to me, right?

      3. I have asked if a gov’t program costs $1 million but saved $2 million, if you think that a reasonable expenditure (or at the least, can you see how others might think so)?

      4. when we say, “My approach is the one and only way that Jesus approves of. To disagree with me on this point is to disagree with God.”

      When put that way, I am sure you could agree, yes?

      5. That asking people to change our policy – cutting off assistance to the needy – to a “plan” that relies upon hoping that maybe tax relief will result in more non-profits having more money to help the needy… that this is asking us to take a leap of faith that you are right, and can you see how people of good faith might be unwilling to take you on your hunch that things will get better?

      I think there is nothing trollish about asking these questions/raising these points and they seem like reasonable questions that arise from the positions posted here.

      Kenton, again, I’m sorry if you find my comments/questions somehow offensive. It was not my intent. I’m just saying if you can’t reasonably address these questions, you won’t likely win people to your position.

      Should anyone else care to address them, I remain interested in your opinions.

  • http://www.paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

    Fearing I’ve said too much now, I will still respond to one more point, in hopes of honestly striving to clarify. Where Neil from eMatters said…

    Regardless of the effectiveness of their public policy positions, whatever they [liberals] are doing cannot be called charity on their part.

    I can’t speak for all the more progressive folk out there, of course, but I for one would agree with Neil. We don’t call it charity. We call it justice.

    Charity is offering to help someone in a time of need with some assistance of one type or another.

    Justice is working to change systems so that the bad affects of poverty are lessened/removed.

    And so, when we advocate for, for instance, prisoner education programs or aid for homeless veterans, it’s not as a matter of charity at all that we do so. It is as a matter of justice and, in those cases at least, fiscal responsibility.

    The Bible teaches us that we are to do at least three things…

    To act justly and
    to love mercy and
    to walk humbly with your God.

    Churches historically have focused on “walking humbly with God” (our personal and collective walk with God) and, to a lesser degree, loving mercy (acts of kindness, charity) but too often, we have not offered much in the way of acting on behalf of Justice.

    We who support these assistance programs, in my circles anyway, do so out of a concern for justice moreso than charity.

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  • http://www.natejohnsongallery.com Nate Johnson

    To Dan and Kent: I found your exchange enlightening with sufficient progression to justify both of your posts. I’m sorry Kent that you opted out and began to sink into an ad hominem argument attacking Dan as a person for not listening. I think deference of motive is important between two brothers; attacking the person should be reserved as last resort, e.g., Jesus and Pharisees. Let’s not forget the hidden welfare that exists for the middle class and upper, upper class. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hidden_Welfare_State
    I think given the wide expanse of poverty, the position of ‘mostly’ local giving is not feasible. Therefore a both/and approach is the best. We need a vigilant watch-force, with the power to act, on government to curb its tendency toward inefficiency.

    • http://www.paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

      Thanks for the thoughts and support, Nate, Robert. Too bad it’s so hard to engage in productive dialog.

  • http://gravatar.com/robertfolkerts robertfolkerts

    In comparison with Western European countries, the United States is quite arguably dysfunctional. See http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/income-inequality-and-the-dysfunctionality-of-america/. I find the sorts of evidence presented in the lined article to be convincing, so I do believe the the US is becoming an increasingly unfair society. What is your evidence to the contrary? Education is increasingly needed for all who will be productive members of society. (the number of jobs that require manual labor is decreasing, and the jobs that will determine our ability to compete are increasingly intellectual).

    But since 2007, teachers and other educators have increasingly born the brunt of our attempts to save money. We do not ask for taxes from those able to pay or from the bankers that have manipulated our life savings for their own gain. We do expect teachers to supply Kleenex(TM) and Crayons(TM) for their students who cannot afford them. As a society, I find this appalling. I wish that posters would stop talking about charity, and start talking about the cost of civilization. Are we willing to pay to be part of a great civilization?

    We do seem to be willing to spend any amount to enter into wars under completely false pretenses. (No WMD, no Al Qaida) Deaths in Iraq were in the hundreds of thousands, including tens of thousands of women and children. Tens of thousands of young men and women are coming back with permanent damage, and we, as a society are short changing Veterans Benefits to ‘control government waste and abuse’. We can find over a trillion dollars for unprovoked war under false pretenses. We still are spending about 50% of global military spending so that we can respond the next time a President declare a Crusade.

    Then, we have to listen to arguments that spending tax dollars on the health and education of children in our society will undermine the role of the Church. Just why is it that the growth of income inequality and the measurable dysfunction of the US corresponded with the rise of supply side economics and Grover Norquest’s absurd pledge?

    Perhaps we can find an answer from Michael Sandel in “What Money Can’t Buy”

    ‎”At a time of rising inequality, the marketization of everything means that people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives. We live and work and shop and play in different places. Our children go to different schools. You might call it the skyboxification of American life. It’s not good for democracy, nor is it a satisfying way to live….Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy?”

    I have left the Church over these reasons. I have been appalled that God’s work became associated with right wing politics. Dan Truabe is the only one on this post that makes any sense to me, and he is demised as a Troll. So go on and play your word games without me and just pretend that you can ignore the empirical in favor of your view of Scripture.

  • http://4simpsons.wordpress.com/ eMatters

    “Wealth and sinful hearts need a constant watchful eye” and “I do believe the the US is becoming an increasingly unfair society.”

    Robert & Nate, with your railing against greed I can only assume that you both are super-duper-pro-life. After all, what could be more greedy and unfair than crushing and dismembering innocent but unwanted human beings because they might be poor or might cause someone else to be poor(er)?

    Yes, it is an unfair society. The blood of another 3,000 unwanted human beings is testimony to that again today. Yet the politics-masquerading-as-religion churches of the theological Left.

    Acts 20:35 — “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” Yet the apostate denominations support not only pro-legalized abortion but taxpayer-funded abortion — as if they think Jesus would say our real problem is that we aren’t killing enough poor people.

    The title of this post could easily have been, “I Was unwanted and You … Called Your Congressman to force others to pay to kill me.”