Catholic professors, reports Fox News, have blasted Speaker of the House John Boehner for his proposed budget cuts. Those cuts may affect the elderly and poor in our midst, and these professors want to shame Boehner, a Catholic.
“Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the church’s most ancient moral teachings,” they wrote. “From the apostles to the present, the magisterium of the church has insisted that those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor. Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress” (from Foxnews.com, 5/12/11).
This is a misapplication of scripture. Never once do the scriptures say that the government should step in. As a matter of fact, those apostles to whom the professors refer took steps to appoint people within the church to oversee the distribution of food and contributions to the poor, the orphans, and the widows. It was not the government, but the church.
Is it the job of the government to provide for the most vulnerable in our society? Or is it the church’s job? Perhaps as we watch the debate over our government’s budget, it might be good to remind ourselves of the role of government.
The primary purpose of government is to protect the rights of its citizens, rights inherent to humans by virtue of the one who created them. We could list and discuss those rights, and that might be the aim of another blog. I don’t want to digress too far. However, when the government begins to see itself as a provider of charity toward the weak and vulnerable, it has overstepped its bounds. Once it goes there, it begins to see itself in the position of taking from one and giving to another.
When that happens–forcing “charitable” contributions upon its citizens–the government begins to infringe upon the role of the church.
Historically an enormous source of charitable giving has come from the Christian Church. Christians around the world have begun hospitals, schools, orphanages, relief organizations, and more. And that is one of the proper roles of the church. Many times in the Bible, God directs his people to provide for the poor, the widow, and the orphan, to defend them in their distress. No one can argue that the Christian church has historically been in the position to do much good for those in need. They have not always done this perfectly, and other secular groups have also stepped in and done as much too.
Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted some forms of governmental care of the poor and needy during a very painful time in our history, the Great Depression. While his plans did help, his programs became part of the fabric of the way our government does business, and needs became entitlements. Entitlements grow to demands, and demands take from the more well-to-do in order to provide for more demands. Pretty soon people begin to talk about getting their “fair share,” which really means redistribution of wealth on a grand, government-sponsored scale.
When government begins to step in to provide for the poor and needy, we perceive that needs are being met. Then, because we are sinful people, prone to greed and self-gratification, we fold up our money and put it back into our pockets. We stop giving so much. The need grows, the government increases its relief to the poor, and the church steps back more. The cycle continues, and soon we have what we see today: a bloated government in the worst debt we have ever experienced, and a church that does nothing. Or perhaps, as we see from these Catholic professors, churches actually teach that it is the government’s job to support the poor.
Those Catholic professors have it completely wrong. It is not the government’s job to increase its giving to the poor. It is the church’s job to step in and help more. Just as our elected officials are complicit in the obscene state of this country’s budget, so is the church guilty for having forsaken its role in relieving the poor and suffering of this country.
The government, bloated and strangled by red tape, will never be able to relieve suffering like the church can. Christians respond to pleas for assistance out of their love for their Lord and gratitude for his unmerited grace. When such an outpour abounds, joy follows.
I have seen this firsthand. After Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, some of the first to rush in were Christians. Some of the longest to stay around have been Christians. While clearing out a house, the walls of which had been covered in mold from sitting in filthy water for two weeks, the owner wept to us. “Why are you doing this?” We answered that we are so grateful to our Lord that we just couldn’t stay away.
He could not understand why the church was doing something he thought the government should do. Yet in its unweildy bulk, the government CAN’T touch individual lives like this. God directed his people to do this themselves.
Before you accuse me of hard-heartedness, know that I understand calamity and poverty, death and destruction. It happens, and people come to the aid of one another every day, as they are currently doing in the wake of Midwestern floods and Southern tornadoes, and a Japanese tsunami. But when the government begins to see itself as the kindly father who meets the needs of the poor and suffering, then the government has taken over an improper role, and the church has abandoned one of its roles.