Monday, October 04, 2010

Conservative Evangelicals Are In Large Part Responsible For Big Government

How did Evangelical Christians, so proud of our political conservatism, get to the point of effectively abdicating the care of the poor to the political left and surrendering the cause of mercy to the government that we then rail against for trying to do what we should be doing?

We have turned over care of the fatherless to the child welfare system. Widows are relegated to being cared for the Federal government for income, health care and food. The homeless, the drug users, the prostitutes are all problems for the police to handle. Keep them out of our way and more importantly keep them out of our sight. The last thing we want our kids to see on our way to church wearing our Sunday best is some bum or a hooker. We need to focus on worshipping Jesus, not on the downtrodden that probably deserve to be on the streets anyway.

Where did we lose our way?

This is by no means a call for larger government. Quite the opposite. The net result of the Federal government’s “war on poverty” has been generationalized poverty and an enormous welfare state that has done nothing to alleviate poverty. Disincentivizing work and achievement and subsidizing poverty has led to an entitlement nation. Bigger government doesn’t lead to more income equity, it just leads to more misery equity for everyone.

Conversely, free markets are clearly the better choice for the greatest number of people. Creating incentive to work hard, to save and invest leads to greater prosperity for more people. As an economic policy, I see no contradiction whatsoever between Christianity and free market capitalism. The other option, a social welfare state, replaces the church with Caesar in the care of the poor and downtrodden and is inherently inefficient and proven to worsen poverty over the long term, not help it.

But being in favor of free markets is not enough. Voting Republican does not get us off the hook. There will always be those who are not able to thrive or even survive in a free market environment and saying "tough luck" to them is not an option. In trading away the mutual misery of a welfare state, free markets inherently will have people falling through the cracks. In a competitive marketplace, some people win, some people lose. Some catch all the breaks or make breaks for themselves but some people don’t. I am the most conservative person I know, a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of guy but I fully recognize that a child born to a single teenage mother in the inner city of Detroit is going to have a much harder time being successful than the child born to an intact upper class family. How much more so for the orphan in the Sudan or the child sold into prostitution in Thailand. What to do about those that are unable to succeed is the elephant in the room for evangelicals.

While we are smug about our superior political position and cast aspersions on political liberals, conservative Christians have effectively abdicated our responsibility to the poor, widows and orphans to the very government we love to hate and complain about (thanks to Jason Anspach for this insight). Why are we surprised and outraged that the inherently inefficient government is inefficient at caring for the poor and orphans that we are not caring for? More importantly, why have the redeemed people of Christ left this important task by and large up to the very government we despise? At least liberals in their misguided way and with their solutions that make things worse are at least concerned about the poor. Granted, many churches do a lot for the poor as do many individual Christians but I think by and large if you look at where the focus of the Christian church is, it is more often than not on sustaining church organizations, whether that is local churches (programs, staff, buildings, etc.) or parachurch ministries.

When Paul was commended to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, he was encouraged to remember the poor: “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. (Galatians 2:10). The distribution of care to the widows in the church was such a big deal that when it became contentious, the church called seven men with good reputations who were “full of the Spirit and of wisdom” to care for the widows (Acts 6:3), including Stephen “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). This was not the creation of the “office” of deacon, it was reflective of how important this whole topic is, caring for those who are most in need and most vulnerable. The focus of the early church was on the proclaiming of the Gospel to the lost and the care for the needy. The focus of the church today is the church.

Some may reply (as I would have) that we show mercy by preaching the Gospel to the lost. I say amen to that but there is far more to the justice and mercy ministry of the church than people who already Christians are listening to the Word and being content with that. Polls consistently show that many, if not most, people who claim to be evangelical Christians rarely or never share their faith with others. So if you are not preaching the Word and you are not caring for the poor, explain to me how exactly you are following Jesus? By dressing up and going to church? By listening to sermons? By grudgingly putting a couple of bucks in the plate when it is handed to you? I will be the first to admit that I haven’t been terribly faithful here. I used to content myself with teaching in the church and homeschooling our kids and thinking that was being a faithful servant of Jesus but now when I see the pictures of children without much hope around the world and look at what I have done to help them, it is like a punch in the stomach. I can no longer hide behind God’s sovereignty as a cover for my inaction.

The words of James are a searing indictment of the church and the general apathy of many of us who claim the name of Christ but reject any claim He has on our lives.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1: 22-27)

Anyone who thinks he has the promise of life everlasting in the future and no calling to be a follower of Christ in deed as well as word in the present doesn’t really understand what the Bible is saying to us in the first place. “Hey thanks for heaven Jesus, I will check back in with you when I die” is not the mantra of a faithful, born-again follower of Jesus. Take up your cross daily does not equate to show up at church once a week.

I have been guilty of storing up treasure on earth for too long and I am fixing to do something about it, not because I think it will make me more righteous but because the One who is righteous, the One who paid for my sin and redeemed me from an eternal hell and imputed His righteousness to me has commanded me to store up treasure in heaven. Jesus didn’t spend His time hanging around in the religious establishments talking about theology and planning out budgets, He was out among those that society rejected: the lepers, the poor, the lost. We who claim to follow Him ought to be doing the same instead of hiding in our sanitary church buildings.

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