I live in a city of about 21,000 people in Alabama. There are, easily, 60 or more evangelical churches in my city. We have one of the highest churches per capita ratios in the country. Of those churches, only our church and one other will give money towards helping those in need. I know because I have looked into it for myself! There used to be a couple of others, but when I contacted them for help, most churches had quit doing this type of benevolence because of “budget issues,” or because it was too “time consuming.” Unfortunately, many of my inquiries as to why they had stopped giving boiled down to the fact that people took advantage of the church’s kindness. But I couldn’t help but wonder: Isn’t the very nature of a gracious act to give anyway?
Our church is rather small, and we can only afford to help out $50 per family; they have to decide if they want us to put it towards groceries, power, or rent. What’s readily apparent to me is that if the government didn’t get involved in welfare, we’d have far, far more people out on the streets, and many more children in desperate situations without proper food, shelter, and clothing. I thank God for WIC (“Women, Infants, and Children”); I would be an emotional wreck if it didn’t exist. During the time of my writing this article, I’ve helped a grandmother who is taking care of three children, one of whom is severely handicapped. I don’t know what would become of this woman and her grandchildren if it weren’t for food stamps. I’d have trouble sleeping.
Sometimes, I hear the objection that the government ought to stay out of the “welfare business.” The worry is that government welfare creates dependence and causes citizens to be lazy, and it is true that the apostle Paul taught that if a person does not work, then neither should he eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). I agree with the Apostle Paul; the problem is that he is not addressing destitute widows, abandoned mothers, or men and women with severe injuries who cannot work. He is talking about lazy church members who were busy bodies. It is folly to take the apostle’s admonition and apply it across the board to every person on welfare. Furthermore, it underestimates the difficulty of living as a single parent with three children in a small repurposed FEMA trailer without reliable transportation, money for rent, and childcare even if one could get a job. When someone gets a job here, the best he or she could do would be about $8 an hour, and maybe after three months of employment, he or she would qualify for health benefits. What would people in this situation do with their children in the meantime? How will they pay rent until the check comes? (Sometimes employers take up to a month to get the first check out.)
The objection to the government being in the welfare business is often followed by the thought that such benevolence ought to be the jurisdiction of the church. But is that plausible? Could the church do it alone?
Food for thought.