By Matt Hamilton
With the U.S. presidential election looming, America is abuzz with the whimsical spirit of politics and debating all manner of domestic issues, Barack Obama’s record in office, Mitt Romney’s credentials, and Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. Throwing his views into the political fray is Jim Wallis, the famously liberal founder and CEO of Sojourners, an organization that publishes the most influential magazine of the Christian Left that goes by the same name.
Wallis recently released a video titled “Standing Up For a Moral Budget,” in which he laid out his philosophical and theological views of the federal budget. His first assertion was: “A budget shows who’s important, who’s not, what’s important, what’s not.” Wallis argues that what the government spends money on determines what the nation and politicians consider to be important. Therefore he argues to cut welfare shows that the government and politicians don’t care about the poor. At face value, this assertion may ring with the sound of truth, but it is very subtly deceptive.
The government spends money on the military because we value security, the government spends money on preserving national parks because we value pristine natural resources, etc. etc. etc. However, the responsibility of the government is limited and therefore there are things that are important to us not included in government budgets. For example, the government does not fund religious institutions like churches, mosques, or synagogues. That does not mean that religion is not important to Americans, it simply means that it is not the government’s responsibility to be funding religious institutions.
A defining flaw for the Religious Left when it comes to welfare is that they believe welfare is synonymous with charity. But welfare can never be charity because anything that the government does is backed with coercion and force. Charity, by definition, is voluntary. The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:7: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
The government cannot run welfare programs without compulsion. Paying taxes does not make the Religious Left charitable because they are required to pay money to the government under threat of penalty. The only way to be charitable is to give from your own pocket or from your own time to help the poor. Sending a check to the IRS to go through the maze of government bureaucracies is not following Jesus’ commands to be charitable. But, how much easier it is to simply pay your taxes and feel pride in believing yourself a charitable Christian rather than actually tithing to the church and working to provide for the poor and needy yourself!
So often the Religious Left quotes Jesus’ commands to take care of the poor, the widows, and the orphans to support their idea that it is the government’s primary responsibility to take care of them. But Jesus never once spoke to any government entity about such a responsibility. Jesus spoke these commands to his followers, to the church. And unless I am mistaken, Jesus did say “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
Jesus gave the church the responsibility to take care of the poor, the widow, and the orphan, not the government. To prioritize the government’s coercive role in welfare is ultimately to support the government’s usurpation of a God-given responsibility to the church. If for no other reason why this distinction of roles exists, it is because only one being can be glorified when the poor and the needy are taken care of. Either that being will be God, or that being will be the government. If it is the latter, it can only lead to idolatry.
Jim Wallis said, “I want pastors to stand up and say, ‘You know what you’re going to do to these people if you cut these nutrition programs in an economic time like this?’” He sees pastors as lobbyists and activists.
In contrast, here’s what I want pastors to say: “I will take the responsibility to lead my congregation in providing for the poor, the widows, and the orphans, rather than shirk that responsibility by passing it on to the impersonal idol of Big Government.” That would be following Jesus’ commands.