Thanksgiving is a season when our thoughts often turn to the disadvantaged, with some of us volunteering at shelters to feed the homeless.
But tell me — that guy with the sign on the interstate off-ramp. Do you give him money? I used to, but learned most of them use the money for various addictions. Even saw a story about one guy making around $65,000 a year doing that.
I think most of us are in the same boat. We want to help, but aren’t sure what to do. But Stephen Colbert recently gave an easy solution on Comedy Central:
“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”
So was Jesus a liberal? If Colbert is right, we should support spending on more government programs for the poor out of obedience to Christ. And if we don’t, we’re hypocrites.
This is why I hate mixing Christianity with politics — for both conservatives and liberals, it presumes that government is the real answer, not God. The worst part is it keeps us from doing anything about the problem ourselves. And when all the rhetoric is done, most people who bark the loudest about the poor actually do the least.
Look at your favorite politician’s tax return and see what they give to charity — the percentage is usually in the single digits! By contrast, religious people are 25 percent more likely to give to charities and 23 percent more likely to volunteer (http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review/article/6577).
Most world relief efforts are run by religious organizations. They’re also the most efficient, since their workers often stay with the very people they’re trying to help. Quite a difference from the Hollywood celebrity who pontificates about the poor from his Malibu bungalow.
What Jesus advocated was voluntary acts of charity directly to the poor, who in His day were “widows, orphans, and the infirm,” not looking to government. He certainly was not expecting Caesar to render unto the poor what the people “rendered unto Caesar.”
You see, it is one thing to give of my own free will to causes I believe help the poor. It’s quite another for you to take my money against my will and use it in ways that make the average Department of Motor Vehicles appear a model of efficiency.
Many of the things the government inefficiently tries to fix could be accomplished better by local churches and organizations. One recent story illustrates this perfectly: a local Naples lady in her 20s decided to raise three teenagers who were going to be separated by the foster system. After several of months holding down three jobs she gets injured, is out of work, and then doesn’t have enough money now to pay the bills.
She checked with several government agencies — nothing. Then a Christian friend (who just happens to go to my church — represent!) sends out a message asking Facebook friends to give whatever they can. Then the newspaper hears about the story. Then someone sets up a website for donations. And just a week later, this fledgling family has over $25,000 to use for the kids’ needs. Voilà!
No one is saying get rid of government safety nets, but understand those nets come equipped with some massive holes. And I suspect some holes are there intentionally, since those “nets” were created by — wait for it — politicians. No surprise, it worked that way in Jesus’ time as well.
Judas once criticized a prostitute for pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet, saying it should have been sold to benefit the poor (that Judas, what a compassionate guy!). Truth was Judas was stealing ministry funds, and would have personally benefitted from selling the perfume. So Jesus shut him down — seems He understood some people use the poor merely as bait to “butter their own bread.”
Hmm. I guess things never really change, do they?
So let’s cut through the bull — or the turkey. The most effective way to help the needy is if everyone — conservatives and liberals — stop talking and actually do something.
WWJD? I think that’s exactly what He’d do.