Politics and the Church – Extrication from the Shoal Waters [Part 22]

This week we will continue on a subject that could have dire consequences for our nation if it is not brought under control…’welfare’.  Currently, 80% of Americans believe that work is the best solution for poverty, and 83% favor some type of work requirement as a condition for receiving welfare [Federal Safety Net, “Welfare Opinion”].   It might surprise many Americans that a work requirement is no longer a precondition for receiving welfare benefits.  By way of background, in 1960 two-thirds of  low-income households were headed by persons who worked, but by 1991 that number had been cut in half, with only 11% working full time [Peter Ferrara, “Liberating the Poor From Poverty”, National Center for Policy Analysis, April 17, 2014].  To reverse this trend of giving benefits without work, in 1996 a major welfare-reform bill became law, reinstituting a work requirement as a condition for receiving welfare payments.  But when President Obama was elected he unilaterally suspended that requirement [Klein, “CRS Report: Number of Able-Bodied Adults on Food Stamps Doubled After Obama Suspended Work Requirement”].  Welfare spending is now the largest single-ticket item in the federal budget…Larger than Social Security, Medicare, and even national defense [Daniel Halper, “Over $60,000 in Welfare Spent Per Household in Poverty”].

Since President Johnson announced the War of Poverty in 1964, by 2004 roughly $9 trillion had been spent to defeat the ‘enemy’ [Jenifer Zeigler, “War on Poverty Needs New Strategy”, FoxNews.com, September 1, 2004]; and it has now grown to nearly $1 trillion a year on the government’s nearly eighty poverty programs…an increase of 32% just since 2008 [Halper].  Despite that infusion of massive amounts of monetary resources, the poverty level has remained relatively unchanged [Carmen DeNavas-Walt, Bernadette D. Proctor, Jessica C. Smith, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011”, US Census Bureau, September 2012].

This is because, as the Scriptures affirm, government is not the proper delivery system for this aid…a fact affirmed by the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP), also known as Charity Watch.  AIP rates various organizations by calculating the percentage of donated income that actually makes it to the ‘intended target’.  According to AIP, a charity’s effectiveness is “satisfactory” if 60% of what it collects reaches the intended mission [American Institute of Philanthropy, “Charity Watch: Criteria”].  Donors should avoid contributing to organizations where less than 60% of contributed funds reach the ‘designated target’.  What percentage of every dollar collected by the government for the benefit of the poor actually reaches them?  A dismal 30% [Testimony of Michael D. Tanner before the Finance Committee of the US Senate on welfare reform, March 9, 1995, transcript provided by CATO Institute].  The US government is quite possibly the nation’s most inefficient mechanism for meeting the needs of the poor.  Who wants to see 70% of their donation wasted?  The most efficient means of taking care of the poor is through individuals, churches, and charities…not government.

Just as the word “love” is one of the most misunderstood words in the English language, so too is the word “poverty’.  Government officials often talk about the importance of fighting poverty in order to justify their own efforts to spend more, but they fail to define what constitutes ‘poverty’.  There is a distinct difference between what most citizens think of as “poor” and what the government considers it to be.

According to federal data, “The typical ‘poor’ American” :

  •    Receives medical care whenever needed, has an ample diet and wasn’t hungry for even a single day in the previous year [Robert Rector, “Poverty Like We’ve Never Seen It”, The Heritage Foundation, November 27, 2012].
  •    About 80% of poor families have air conditioning, nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV,  half have a computer, and a third have a wide-screen LCD or plasma TV [Ibid].
  •    Three-fourths have a car or truck, more than half have Xbox or PlayStation, nearly half own their homes, and just under half have Internet access [Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, “Understanding Poverty in the United States: Surprising Facts About America’s Poor”, The Heritage Foundation, September 13, 2011].
  •    The living space of the average American poor family is greater than that of the typical middle class in England, France, Sweden, Germany, and elsewhere across Europe [Ibid].

This is not to say that real hardship and genuine poverty does not exist among some individuals in America; it does.  However, when the group collectively known as “America’s poor” struggles to make ends meet, those struggles generally include paying for cable television, air conditioning, and a car, not just obtaining food  [Rector and Sheffield, “Understanding Poverty in the United States’].  While common health problems for the poor across the world include malnutrition, thinness, and physical underdevelopment,  America’s most frequent health problem for the poor is obesity [Susan Blumenthal, “Poverty and Obesity: Breaking the Link”, Huffington Post, April 11, 2012].

President Reagan having witnessed the inefficiency of the government in this area, insightfully quipped, “My friends, some years ago, the Federal Government declared war on poverty, and poverty won” [Ronald Reagan, State of the Union Address, January 25, 1988].  Government simply was not designed by God to take care of the poor.  To use it for that purpose is a disservice not only to the genuinely poor but also to the citizens who are taxed at high rates in order to pay for these ineffectual programs.  What will happen to the place of the church in society when it is replaced by the government?  This is a problem that has been in the works for many, many years.  It’s going to take lots of prayer, lots of action, and lots of taking a stand against secular government policies.  We should all agree on the goal of helping the poor, but we have the freedom to differ on the best means to reach that goal…government welfare, job training programs, tax policies, private charities, incentives for businesses, etc.  people may disagree on this issue, not because they disagree on the result we may seek, but because they disagree over the relevant facts.  The mere fact that something is controversial does not excuse pastors from the responsibility to preach about it and the responsibility of the church to take a stand on it.  The apostle Paul did not think it enough to preach on easy topics and avoid the controversial.  He was accountable before God to preach on everything the Bible teaches.  Paul’s comments to the elders of the church at Ephesus was, “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27).  And remember, Jesus expressed love but did not avoid controversial subjects.

Next week we will take a look at a system that is molding our future citizens and the picture is not ‘pretty’…public school education.

– Bob Munsey

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