• Tag Archives charity
  • Helping the Needy: What’s the Christian Thing to Do?

    Readers of these pages know of my keen interest—as an economist, as a historian, and as a Christian—in what Jesus and the New Testament have to say about things like helping the poor. My essay, “Was Jesus a Socialist?” partially dealt with this issue, as did my more recent Prager University video (see below) of the same title.

    Here I would like to explore the matter a little further and share with readers my favorite relevant New Testament passages. [Note to my non-Christian friends: No need to blow a gasket here. I’m not preaching, pontificating, or proselytizing— merely presenting facts as I see them.]

    Imagine a person who, acting entirely on his own initiative and exclusively from a desire to help the needy, decides to take from the rich and give every penny to the poor. Would that find approval from Jesus, his apostles, or anyone of authority in the early Church? If you’ve read the New Testament with even the least depth and discernment, you know the answer can’t possibly be yes.

    Well, may I ask, why not? Keep in mind that this imagined Robin Hood is redistributing without a middleman—no bureaucracy, no paperwork, no vote-buying, no deficits or debt, no cynical demagoguery.

    He is likely giving the money to the poor who are close at hand, so he probably has a better sense of their actual needs than do distant government agents. No funds are diverted for any other purpose but poverty relief. The poor get it all, which means they get more this way than if the original sum was filtered through the government.

    Of “progressives,” in particular, I ask: If the rich or their riches are inherently bad and the poor are naturally entitled to some portion of their wealth, wouldn’t deputizing do-gooders to get the job done directly be the most just and efficient method? Is there some virtue in laundering money first through the IRS and other agencies?

    So back to the main question. Would Jesus, his apostles, or anyone of authority in the early Church approve of our Robin Hood? I say an emphatic NO! Here’s why:

    • His actions spring from theft, which is not blessed by either his intentions or the purposes to which he puts the loot. Theft is categorically and unconditionally condemned by the Eighth Commandment and never once endorsed, condoned, or excused by Jesus on any grounds.
    • The poor are poor for many and varied reasons. Their destitution, whether short-term or long-lasting, may be due to accidental harm, natural calamity, personal handicap, bad life decisions, lousy character, or foolish policies of government. So giving money to the poor just because they’re poor, without regard to the source of their poverty, could in some cases be wasteful and counterproductive. It could even prolong the problem.
    • There are far better ways to reduce poverty than plunder, legal or illegal. Free markets, private property, rule of law, entrepreneurship, wealth creation, personal responsibility, and voluntary charity come to mind—all of which are undermined or even crowded out when force enters the picture.

    The New Testament includes dozens of references to helping the poor and those who suffer from misfortune, oppression, or sickness. Jesus himself more than recommends it; he declares that what one (especially a Christian) does to assist the deserving needy is an outward sign of the love for others that resides in one’s heart.

    The misguided may cry, “Jesus was an altruist, and altruism is evil because it requires that one sacrifice his own values!” I don’t see Jesus as an altruist at all, and I think Christians who argue that you should “give because it hurts” have naively misinterpreted Scripture.

    “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want,” says Jesus in Matthew 26:11 and Mark 14:7. The key words there are “you can help” and “want” to help. He didn’t say, “We’re going to make you help whether you like it or not.”

    Jesus clearly holds that compassion is a wholesome value to possess, but I know of no passage anywhere in the New Testament that suggests it’s a value he would impose at gunpoint. What the thief in our story does, or what a government may do to achieve the same end, are not remotely associated with the compassion Jesus sought to encourage. As I wrote in a 1997 essay:

    True compassion is a bulwark of strong families and communities, of liberty and self-reliance, while false compassion [that employs compulsion] is fraught with great danger and dubious results. True compassion is people helping people out of a genuine sense of caring and brotherhood. It is not asking your legislator or congressman to do it for you. True compassion comes from your heart, not from the state or federal treasury. True compassion is a deeply personal thing, not a check from a distant bureaucracy.

    Don’t take my word for it. Consider what the apostle Paul says in II Corinthians 9:7.

    Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

    Throughout his extensive journeys, Paul was more than a preacher. He was a doer. He was a fundraiser. He practiced what he preached, pitching in to assist the deserving needy. He never endorsed compulsory redistribution as a legitimate means to that end. He drew a contrast between those who personally help and those who give charity false lip service or try to impose it. His words in II Corinthians 8:8 are plain and simple.

    I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.

    Later, in II Corinthians 8:24, Paul implores his audience to give freely because that’s the way others will know that you really mean it—that it comes from the heart.

    Show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it.

    Cato Institute Senior Fellow Doug Bandow, author of the 1988 book Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics, commented on the significance of Paul’s words with this question:

    If Paul was not willing to command believers in a church that he had founded to help their less fortunate Christian brethren, would he have advocated that the civil authorities tax unbelievers for the same purpose?

    Of course, nothing anywhere in the New Testament suggests that Paul either called for or would support compulsory welfare state measures. This is the same Paul, by the way, who said the needy who are able-bodied owe something to their charitable brothers. In II Thessalonians 3, he writes:

    We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you…We gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

    As I see it, what Jesus, Paul, and other early Christian leaders were calling for was an inner renaissance of character, one individual at a time, from the heart and not by force. Good character embodies many traits and virtues, one of them being empathy for the less fortunate, a desire to see them flourish.

    The great majority of people who favor the welfare state are, without a doubt, well-intentioned. They really do want to help the needy, and many of them mistakenly believe the welfare state comports with Christian principles. They likely would oppose the freelance poverty-fighter of my hypothetical story on the grounds that government doing the job makes it more “orderly” and “democratic.” It also seems “final” in that it offers assurance that the job will be done, whereas leaving the issue to “market forces” or “private charity” or “individual responsibility” seems so risky and uncertain.

    But if we’ve learned anything about the welfare state, it surely is that it doesn’t resolve the problem of poverty even as it creates new ones of its own. The poor are still with us. Meanwhile, the welfare state empowers greedy, myopic politicians. It breeds corruption. It fosters dependency. It breaks families apart. It undermines the work ethic. It crowds out more effective private initiatives. It mortgages the future, economically and spiritually.

    Historically, it would appear that few things are riskier than a welfare state. It’s put more than a few countries out of business or off the map. But no nation ever died because of an overabundance of character.

    Almost everybody wants to help those who truly and deservedly need help. How we do it is replete with massive implications. At the very least in this ongoing debate, let’s not make the mistake of arguing that to use force, plunder, and dependency is somehow “the Christian thing to do.”

    Lawrence W. Reed

    Lawrence W. Reed is President Emeritus, Humphreys Family Senior Fellow, and Ron Manners Ambassador for Global Liberty at the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also author of Real Heroes: Incredible True Stories of Courage, Character, and Conviction and Excuse Me, Professor: Challenging the Myths of ProgressivismFollow on Twitter and Like on Facebook.

    This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

  • New State Regulations Force a California Charity for the Homeless to Close Shop


    For the past four years, Deliverance San Diego has been delivering hot meals to the city’s homeless population every Friday, averaging 200 donated meals on any given evening. Now, due to new guidelines passed by the State Legislature of California, the non-profit is ceasing operations and will dissolve by the end of the month.

    Through their existing model, hot meals were prepared in volunteer homes and distributed on the streets.

    “Volunteers from various churches gather at 17th and Commercial downtown to load four food wagons with chili, soup, cornbread, water, and other snacks,” the group’s web site explains. “We offer prayer and spiritual support, but one of the easiest things we do is get someone’s name and remember it.”

    Through the new requirements, set forth by the San Diego Department of Environmental Health, Deliverance would need to use licensed, state-approved kitchens, implement hand-washing stations, and meet a variety of other requirements.

    With a yearly budget of less than $7,000, according to the non-profit’s treasurer, Deliverance determined it can no longer sustain operations without extensive and expensive organizational changes. “We’re on a shoestring budget,” explains volunteer Gary Marttila, “so working out all those logistics became too big of an obstacle to overcome.”

    ABC 10 News in San Diego tells more of their story:

    As the San Diego Union-Tribune explains, several of the law’s backers have expressed surprise at the closure of Deliverance. According to Heather Buonomo, a program coordinator with the Department of Environmental Health, some sort of workaround may have been available or achievable. “We’re happy to work with them to find a solution that works for their charitable organization,” she said. According to Monique Limón, one of the bill’s authors, “The law would encourage more charities to provide food for the needy while also creating a level of oversight to ensure they follow proper health guidelines.”

    Yet it’s unclear what exactly would or could have been done if Deliverance had tried to negotiate with the state and find “a solution that works.” And the fact that it didn’t even try or think it could try says something about the pressure that these policies put on small and vulnerable charities and institutions who don’t feel they have political sway.

    Likewise, one can make any number of arguments about food safety, as Limón does, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which more burdens, more requirements, and tighter regulations will somehow “encourage more charities to provide food for the needy.”

    The reality is that the state’s dream of regulated soup and sandwiches is taking precedence over the bottom-up activity of neighbors who are passionate about loving their neighbors. Is that really an acceptable trade-off, particularly in an area that so desperately needs an intimate and personalized approach?

    “We’ve sought to provide comfort to those who are going through an incredibly difficult time,” says Deliverance’s press release on the closure. “In many situations, they are without a home due to no fault of their own. This action by the state creates significant barriers to those organizations like ours who simply want to show God’s love through a hot meal and some conversation.”

    Given the good—and thus far, safe—work of organizations like Deliverance, such regulations represent a prime example of the “unseen costs” of government action.

    In some cases, well-intended government policies lead to trade imbalances or economic surpluses or corporate cronyism or community inequities—all of which yield their own forms of social corrosion. But in cases such as these, we see the ill effects of these policies on charitable activity, resulting in real and tangible barriers to human love and relationship.

    Is it really worth it?

    This article was reprinted with permission from the Acton Institute.

    Joseph Sunde

    Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, Intellectual Takeout, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

    This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

  • Americans Are More Charitable than “Socially Conscious” Europeans

    Americans Are More Charitable than “Socially Conscious” Europeans

    When I’m in Europe giving speeches and participating in conferences, it’s quite common that folks on the left will attempt to discredit my views by asserting that Americans are selfish and greedy.

    Since I’m generally sympathetic to Ayn Rand’s writings, I don’t see anything wrong with people striving to make themselves better off. Moreover, Adam Smith noted back in 1776 that the desire to earn more money leads other people to make our lives better. One of his most famous observations is that, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

    But, for the sake of argument, let’s accept the premise of my statist friends in Europe and simply look at whether their assertion is correct. Are Americans more selfish and greedy that their counterparts across the ocean?

    The most obvious way of testing this proposition is to compare rates and levels of voluntary charity. Selfish and greedy people presumably will cling to their money while compassionate and socially conscious people will share their blessings with others.

    So how does the United State compare to other nations? Well, I’m not a big fan of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but the bureaucrats in Paris are quite good at collecting statistics from member nations and producing apples-to-apples comparisons.

    And if you look at rates of “voluntary private social expenditure” among nations, it turns out that Americans are easily the most generous people in the developed world.

    Wow, people in the United States are so generous that their voluntary giving amounts to 10.2 percent of gross domestic product. The only other nations that even crack 5 percent of GDP are the Netherlands, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

    Most of the supposedly compassionate welfare states have dismal levels of charitable giving. Voluntary social expenditure in major European nations such as France, Germany, Italy, and Spain averages less than 2 percent of GDP.

    It’s also worth noting that these numbers actually understate the charity gap between Americans and folks from other nations. Economic output in the United States is about 30 percent higher than it is in the rest of the developed world, so charitable giving by Americans actually represents a much bigger slice of a much bigger pie.

    Statists might respond by asserting that Europeans express their generosity through the public sector. I reject that comparison since – as I explained when criticizing a Michael Gerson column – it’s wrong to equate government coercion with private charity.

    But even if you have the European mindset that government should be a vehicle for redistribution, the OECD numbers show that there’s not much difference between the United States and other developed nations. According to the OECD data, government redistributes 20 percent of GDP in America compared to an average of 21.9 percent of GDP for all OECD nations. And since there’s strong evidence that government redistribution undermines progress in the fight against poverty, I actually wish there was a big gap between America and other nations!

    And don’t forget, by the way, that 20 percent of U.S. GDP is a lot more money than 21.9 percent of GDP in other nations, so government in the United States spends more on redistribution, on average, than other OECD governments. Indeed, I’ve already shared healthcare numbers making that same point.

    P.S. It’s also worth sharing the data showing that proponents of small government in the United States are far more generous than those who favor a big welfare state.

    Republished from International Liberty.

    Daniel J. Mitchell

    Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review.

    This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.