The Politics of Providing for the Poor
I have never considered myself an expert in political science or economics – because clearly, I am not. I do, however, feel the need to address an important issue that I’ve noticed in the past and have continued to observe during the most recent US presidential election.
If I were to grossly simplify the economic policies of right wing vs. left wing governments it may look something like this: economically right wing governments support less government re-distribution of wealth and economically left wing governments support more government re-distribution of wealth.
Consistently, I will hear the claim that the economically left wing government is more ethical as it seeks to provide for the poor through wealth re-distribution. Christians, especially in the US, tend to vote for more right wing governments and I commonly hear the charge that we are being hypocrites if we do so.
Is that true? Would it be more Christ-like to vote for a left-wing government? After all, Jesus tells the rich young ruler in Luke 18 to sell all he has and distribute to the poor. He also said in Luke 16 that you cannot serve God and money. These themes abound throughout the Bible.
I completely accept the need for the rich to provide for the poor. That being said, in our society, I prefer an economically right-wing government.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think a right wing government is somehow more Christian than a left wing. I believe that Christianity can function in a wide range of economic policies. The problem is less with the policy and more with the people who work and live under that policy (laziness, greed, general immorality, etc.).
So why would I prefer less government wealth re-distribution? It’s because I live in a secular society and some of my tax money will be going towards many things that I simply do not morally agree with. When I have more control over my money, I can choose where I want it to go.
If one takes the same view as I have and prefers a right-wing economy, it is important to recognize an important thing. With less government re-distribution, the individual has more responsibility. We must follow the teachings of the Bible by providing for those in need, being generous, staying away from the love of money, etc. This is not an easy task. By voting economically right wing, you are saying that you are willing to take more of the responsibility of providing for the poor upon yourself.
The rich young ruler of Luke 18 wasn’t willing to part with his money. When Jesus saw this, He said
How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
Of course, it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of the needle. The people who heard recognized this impossibility and wondered at who could possibly be saved if this was the case. Jesus responded
What is impossible with man is possible with God.
With more wealth comes greater temptation to depend and cling onto that wealth instead of God. As Christians, we must rely daily on God to change our hearts and create in us an attitude of generosity and a willingness to leave all things behind – including money – to follow and obey Him.
All this comes down to being a good steward of what we have. This is what I think Jesus was getting at in one of His more confusing parables:
He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
The dishonest manager was shrewd in that he used what he had to prepare for his future. Likewise, we must use the gifts we have been given to prepare ourselves for eternal life after this world. For Jesus tells us:
Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.
This is true no matter what economic policy we find ourselves living under. However, if we find ourselves voting for a right-wing economy, let’s not forget the added temptation and responsibility that comes with it.