The Poor Will Always Be With You…Meaning What?

A malnourished and ill-clothed Congolese child“The poor you will always have with you…”  So said Jesus according to the accounts of three of the four Gospel writers (Matt. 26:11, Mark 14:7, and John 12:8).  He said it in the context of someone objecting to a woman pouring perfume on his feet, when the value could have been given to the poor.  (aside…Matthew says the disciples objected and doesn’t identify the woman; Mark identifies neither; John identifies the woman as Mary, sister of Lazarus & Martha, and the objector as Judas Iscariot).

Anyhow, I have run across this verse abused by conservative Christians, who were objecting to liberal Christians’ attempts to actually fight poverty, particularly using political means.  The argument seems to go something to the effect that if Jesus said we’d never get rid of the poor, it’s foolish for the liberals to try.  Of course that’s specious; Jesus finished that very sentence by saying “and whenever you want, you can do good for them.”

But I just discovered something that I had never noticed before.  Jesus wasn’t just making a random commentary about life when he said “the poor you will always have with you.”  I didn’t realize this, but he was quite probably referring to the Law of Moses…specifically Deut. 15:11:

For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’

Whoa, what’s that?  Because there will always be poor, God always expects his people to be generous to the poor!  Not because we can ever “cure” poverty, though the reset-buttons of the Sabbath Year and Jubilee would certainly reduce the generational effect of poverty (see Deut. 15:1 and Lev. 25).  But no, the reason we are to treat the poor with kindness is in verse 10:

You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.

Hmm…how’s that for an economic stimulus plan?

42 thoughts on “The Poor Will Always Be With You…Meaning What?”

  1. Linda

    I do not think the government forcefully taking money from a person (through taxes) and giving it to another person is considered giving “freely”.

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      Not. The. Point. If the church was holding up its end of the bargain, less would be asked of government. Interestingly I just read a historical account in “When Helping Hurts” by Corbett & Fikkert, who make the case that the church in America started pulling back from its previously-held responsibilities to help the poor, around the beginning of the 20th century…well before the New Deal and similar programs.

  2. Jules

    Love that its not just me that’s noticed this. But go back in dutoeonimy a little furthur and you will find it says “there will never be poor amount you”. This is a fun contradiction at first but really Moses first lays down a perfect law where no poor would be amoung us, but because we are fallen and won’t listen, we will always have the poor with us. So Jesus is actually being ironic when he says it. Here’s an in depth view I found:
    http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/1720.htm

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      Yeah, the point that there are poor primarily because of the disobedience of God’s creation, and those who name themselves as God’s people, is Biblical, I think. Of course it flies totally in the face of those who loudly protest that the government ought not aid the poor because charity shouldn’t be forced . . . if for no other reason than how little UNforced charity they do.

      You’ll note I referenced the Jubilee law at the end of this post. I think that obedience to Jubilee would go a long way toward ensuring that no one is stuck in poverty for generations, at least.

  3. Jules

    I think your right, the jubilee and other laws attatched is exactly why moses says ‘there will be no poor among you’, but we are fallen and wont follow it as we should. therefore ‘there will always be poor with you’. I think there is a lot of charity done but not always of the right caliber, but as you say, maybe not enough. also I must say, I think that forced charity is wrong. For starters, it’s forced; dispite the fact it is effective or not, or enough or not. It’s wrong because of the force. Christian should not use force, nor use thretenings, nor use coercion, in my understaning of the bible. This is a small summation of what I’m taking about:
    http://youtu.be/PGMQZEIXBMs

  4. Dan Martin

    With respect, Jules, I think the whole “forced charity” argument is a giant red herring. Taxation to provide education, a safety net, or other things is not “charity,” it is a society deciding that it benefits as a whole from a populace that is educated, has no one destitute, whatever. While “charity” may have similar effects, if society decides it’s citizens are less likely to be victims of crime, for example, if all of its citizens have sufficient education to get decent jobs, and if we remove the threat of starvation when one falls on hard times. then society can tax (coerce, if you will) its citizens to ensure that these goals are accomplished…not for “charitable” ends, but highly self-preservational ones. That’s the secular answer.

    The biblical answer is that the forgiveness of debts and the reversion of land rights (IMO the capital of the day, as land is the means of production in an agrarian society) are not commands (or invitations) to “charity,” they were law. The fact that the nation of Israel never enforced the law doesn’t make this any less true…and in reality their failure to enforce these laws is one of the oft-repeated sins blasted by the prophets as they warned of Israel’s destruction.

    Libertarianism of the “what’s mine is mine, I do what I please with it, and you have no business telling me I’m wrong” form is categorically not a Biblical stance.

  5. Tim

    Dan,
    Just happened upon your website and it just happens I was thinking of this very topic. In a post above you write, “Anyhow, I have run across this verse abused by conservative Christians …” Would you post the website or source where you ran across this? I would like to read it for myself, know who said it and understand the context in which it was written. Was the speaker or author representing some mega-church or a pastor of some tiny, little church? More to the point, did this author have authority to speak for conservative Christians? I did not authorize anyone to speak for me and I am a conservative Christian.
    As written, your post clearly applies this view to all conservative Christians and the verb tense indicates you have run across this abuse more than once. Broad generalizations of any kind are rarely true. In my 48 years as a conservative Christian, I have never encountered any Christian, conservative Christian, properly trained pastor or any pastor at all propose or endorse such an interpretation of scripture. Such a view is not congruent with any form of Christianity I have ever encountered. Your generalization bore a false witness to your readers of millions or billions of conservative Christians. Do not be fooled. I am an equal opportunity defender. I defend liberals from false accusations as well as conservatives. Consequently, my conservative friends believe I drink the liberal cool-aid and my liberal friends believe I drink the conservative cool-aid. I have witnessed falsehoods destroy people so I like to defend people who are defenseless whether because of their absence or weakness.
    In addition, I am surprised you did not dismiss this view as that of a crank. It troubles me. It means this view fits in with your view, knowledge and understanding of conservative Christianity. Wow! You must have had some terrible experiences to foster such a view. There may in fact be some group whose teachings and actions are congruent with the view wrote of but please accept my word that such a group is not conservative Christianity.

    Consider an unrelated but similar situation, the Westboro Baptist Church. The WBC has been in the news the past few years for their anti-gay protests at military funerals and other events likely to get media attention. WBC is a loud voice getting a lot of media attention, sometimes claiming to speak for conservative Christianity, and at other times, the media presents WBC as a church representative of conservative Christianity. So of course, some of my friends believe WBC is some mega-church with thousands of members and representative of Conservative Christianity. However, WBC does not represent Conservative Christianity. WBC is not some huge mega-church with thousands of members but a tiny little church with around 35 members, (most of them are the pastor’s family or his near relatives). WBC is not affiliated with any known Baptist conventions or associations…” and as such does not submit to any doctrinal over site. Furthermore, numerous conservatives and Christian groups have publicly renounced the WBC. Read the Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westboro_Baptist_Church. However, people outside of conservative Christianity believe WBC is typical of conservative Christianity. Later, when some other crank spouts some ludicrous ideas and claims to be a conservative Christian, that crank and his ideas fit into peoples’ worldview of conservative Christianity and the distortion continues and even grows.
    I ask you to replace the word “conservative” with “some” in your original post. It would read, “Anyhow, I have run across this verse abused by some Christians, who were objecting to liberal Christians’ attempts to actually fight poverty, particularly using political means.” Your statement would still be correct, the thrust of your point does not change, and the discussion can continue as is. If however, part of your purpose is to present all of conservative Christians, or at least a significant portion of them, as ones who hold to the abusive view, then you have axe to grind and no amount of reason will stop you from bearing a false witness against millions of Christians.

    Thank you for reading.

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      Hi Tim, and thank you for stopping by. I think you may be over-interpreting my statement. The phrase “I have run across” this abuse hardly implies that I believe, or suggest, that all conservative Christians believe this way. For the record, I don’t believe this to be true…in fact I know plenty of conservative Christians who believe quite strongly in helping the poor. However, I have universally encountered this attitude (verbally in conversation; I’m sorry I can’t give you a reference), rare though it is, among people who style themselves conservative, and consequently I would be reducing the accuracy of my statement if I were to delete the adjective.

      That it was a fringe attitude, I don’t dispute. That wherever it occurs it’s an abuse of Scripture, I hope you don’t dispute. I do deny your charge of false witness, though.

  6. Tim

    Hi Dan,

    Thank you for your response. Like you, I reject the abusive application of Christ’s words that you encountered. Like you, I believe we are to help the poor. You have not written or implied otherwise, I just thought I should make a clear statement on my position. We are of like mind. With that said, I would like to clear up a few things from my post above.

    My only reason to comment on your use of the verb tense of “I have run across” is that it indicates you have run across this view more than just once. I do not know if you had two encounters or hundreds. My only point here was that you indicate it was not just one isolated incident. In hindsight, I should have left this comment out of my original post. It added nothing to my main point but was a distraction from it.

    Your thesis is that all conservative Christians believe that since we’d never get rid of the poor, it’s foolish for the liberals to try.” I arrived at this conclusion by your wording “I have run across this verse abused by conservative Christians, …” and then you explain the logic as “…if Jesus said we’d never get rid of the poor, it’s foolish for the liberals to try.” My challenge is that assigning this view to conservative Christians is wrong and that it bears a false witness of conservative Christians. Your thesis may be true of some small isolated fraction of conservative Christians but that is most your observations can conclude. At the very least, the wording is loose enough that readers could understand it as I indicate.

    In your last post, you write, “… I know plenty of conservative Christians who believe quite strongly in helping the poor. However, I have universally encountered this attitude” It seems you want to have it both ways. You know plenty of conservative Christians who to help the poor and yet you have UNIVERSALLY encountered those who do not want to help the poor. (Capital letters for emphasis) This contradiction perplexed me; however, I think I recognize the problem. Sometimes a writer wants to write all items in group A are also in group B, but incorrectly writes all items in group B are in group A. Imagine I was studying the plant life in some particular soil/moisture/climate type A and make a the observation that all the plant species in soil/moisture/climate type A also happen to be in vegetation classification Omega. Although this fact is clear in my mind, I incorrectly write that, all vegetation of class Omega grows in soil/moisture/climate type A.

    If I am correct, you encountered Christians who believe that since we would never get rid of the poor, it is foolish for the liberals to try. Furthermore, these Christians universally identified themselves to you as conservative Christians.

    With this, I must end my comments. Thank you for the dialogue, I have enjoyed it and look forward to reading your response. Please use or discard my comments as you see fit. I doubt, however, I will post anything more. My postings take hours for me to think through and I have already taken too much time away from my duties.

    Best regards,
    Tim

  7. Dan Martin

    You’ve teased out the distinction correctly, Tim. I have heard the justification “the poor will always be with you” multiple times from different Christians, all of whom would have (accurately, I think) identified themselves with the label “Conservative.”

    My thesis is not that “all Conservative Christians” believe anything at all. My thesis, in fact, had nothing to do with the labels “conservative” or “liberal.” It had rather to do with the fact that a prooftext that I had previously heard used (as it happened, by conservatives) to defend the pointlessness of helping the poor, when taken in context actually meant the complete opposite.

    If you read around other articles on my blog, you’ll see that appropriate interpretation of Scripture is a central tenet of much of my writing and thought. As it happens, many of the *inappropriate* uses against which I argue come from those who claim most loudly, their belief in the literal words of the Bible…that is, those who style themselves “conservative” Christians. But it’s this point – right use or abuse of Biblical texts – not any parsing of conservative/liberal, that drives this post as well as the larger bulk of my writing.

    Peace, and come back soon!

  8. Heather

    Hi. Thank you for the above. I came looking for this information as my church pastor (wife of the head pastor) AOG told me they wouldnt support me showing the LIVE58 movie as it claims to show we can end extreme poverty in our lifetime and she believes that Jesus said the ‘poor will always be among us…” inferring like you say that we shouldnt be too concerned to want to help the poor. I was heartbroken by this response. My heart is for every person to be given equal dignity and a life with Jesus.

  9. Hope Forti

    Heather,

    We at Live58 are also saddened by responses like this and are grateful for perspectives like Dan’s (though we do have a following of both conservative and liberal Christians and we do not do this primarily through political means).

    In case you haven’t seen it already, I’d love to direct you to this video which speaks to your pastor’s concerns. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uZV90fsoCY

  10. John Carney

    I couldn’t agree more that we are called by Jesus to care for the widows and orphans, and the thirsty and sick and otherwise impoverished. But what I think secular liberals and “Reform” (for want of a better word) Christians tend to overlook is that Jesus, unlike Judas, was not primarily a social reformer. He was (is) primarily a humanity savior. I think that the purpose of His Crucifixion and Resurrection was to reverse the death sentence under which we all live thanks to the trickery of Satan. All the other evils in the world, like slavery and unbridled greed, stem from that. (Parenthetically another thing that secular liberals and reform Christians tend to resist is that “Yes, Virginia, there is a Satan clause.”)

    We ARE called to bring as much heaven to earth as possible for as many people as possible, but I believe that an even higher priority for Jesus was to bring earth to Heaven.

    IMHO, John

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      With respect, John, I think you’re setting up a false dichotomy. Look at the ways the Bible describes sin; most of them are behavioral, and a surprising number of them involve specifically how the people of God treat other people. The idea of setting up soul salvation as somehow of a different category than salvation of human relationships (and societies are nothing but human relationships on a larger scale) is completely foreign to the Jubilee way of Jesus. See my post on Jubilee and Advent for more …

  11. John Carney

    I also want to echo one of Tim’s comments by saying that it’s disheartening to me that so often when the words and actions of groups like the WBC are presented by the media, the impression is left – by the omission of any disclaimer to the contrary -that all Conservative Christians believe what they believe. For example, out the hundreds of conservative Christians that I know personally, I can think of only one who has ever said anything that impugns the character of homosexuals.

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      You associate with an odd collection of conservative Christians then, John. I have attended fairly normal Evangelical churches for most of the last 25 years and have heard anti-gay screeds from dozens if not hundreds. Not sure what that has to do with a post on the poor though …

  12. Laura

    Let us remember, Jesus was addressing Judas, who was in charge of the treasury, and also happened to be a thief and a betrayer…I wonder If Our Lord was more concerned about the motives of the heart and judging others?

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      I’m not sure I follow your meaning, Laura. Whether Jesus was addressing Judas or all of the disciples is indicated by the fact that the “with you” in the original is plural, not singular. Since Judas was only one guy, we have to presume he was not the sole object of Jesus’ comments. And certainly the passages in Deuteronomy are addressed to all the people.

  13. Laura

    I always thought Jesus was admonishing in this passage the lack of spiritual poverty He was witnessing, after all the disciples must have known by this time the importance Jesus placed on giving to the poor. ‘The woman’ was only demonstrating her understanding of the ‘Jublilee’ that was about to take place in the upcoming Passion and Death of the Lord and his disciples missed the point. If we give to the poor apart from God aren’t we missing the point as well?

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      I think that is true, Laura. He’s definitely putting the disciples’ objection to the woman in perspective. However, the purpose of this post was to respond to the conservative abuse of the passage to diminish Christian duty toward the poor. You have already acknowledged Jesus’ teaching about the poor, so you’re clearly not in that camp. I don’t disagree with your interpretation; this post was merely to point out the erroneous interpretation of others.

  14. John Carney

    Dan, I have to say I didn’t express my intent very well, thank you for revaling it to me! :- ) I agree with everything you say. I didn’t mean that we shouldn’t take care of the poor, and I think that Jesus is our Lord as well as our Savior and He makes it very clear in several places that it’s at least as important that we do the things he asks of us as it is for us to proclaim our belief in him as our Savior. And despite the fact that I often tell people that the best Christian I know is a Jewish lesbian in the San Fernando Valley (since she does the things that Jesus asks of us better than anyone I know) – despite that it’s still important to Him that we recognize Him as our Savior. Actually … despite what I JUST said … I’m not convinced that will look any less approvingly at non-believers who love the way we are supposed than he does on professed believers who do the same.

  15. Karl

    Dan, like Tim I am a conservative Christian, have been for well over 40 years. I ran across your site in preparation for my high school Sunday School class related to serving. I’m interested in motivating my young men to a life of service, but also want to warn them of the “arguments” they may hear or fall into to take them away from serving. I love your presentation and support it. What I find missing in all the similar discussions, and the political activity, is avoidance of the extensive discussions against the sluggard. I agree there are the orphans and fully disabled whom we should do everything we can to help as they can’t help themselves. However, those capable of working, even if it is sitting at a computer and answering phones, should do so and not be on the charity rolls. Since society has changed and many women are in the workforce, this applies to widows as well. Our efforts should be directed towards taking care of these people through their transition, but they are to take a roll of standing on their feet. Even well intentioned Christian charity can establish a culture of dependency, like any other drug (yes money is a drug), which we should do everything we can to avoid. If those people we help choose to not take whatever work they can find (not just what they believe to which they are entitled) then we need to “shake the dust off our sandals” and leave them.

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      Hi Karl and thanks for your comment. I’d have several thoughts in response:

      1) My audience for this post was not the poor, but those who use Jesus’ statement to defend their refusal to help the poor. So admonition to the poor wasn’t really germane…we need to be confronted with our own sin, not lulled into complacency by a reminder of the fact others are also sinful.

      2) While the slothful poor do exist they are, at least in my experience, less common than the American conservative narrative suggests. More of the poor I have known work harder, longer, and with less security than the middle class and wealthy.

      3) While there are biblical admonitions against sloth, they pale both in quantity and force, in comparison to those condemning the comfortable for failing to care for the poor. So I guess in this case I find no need to be “fair and balanced…” ;{)

  16. Paul

    I believe turning over the responsibility of caring for the poor to the government is both unwise and un-Christian. Jesus said to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s. The poor belong to God and not Caesar. In the practical sense, feeding the poor is a valuable tool in getting their ear to preach to them the Gospel as Jesus did when he fed the multitudes. Government leaders also recognize feeding the poor is a tool, but not to preach the Gospel but to spread all manner of wickedness and deceit against our Lord and his Church. In addition, the Lord commanded his people to care for the poor. Forcing others to do it at gunpoint is not only disobedience to God but common thievery and is a self-deception. How nice to be able to fulfill the command to care for the poor simply by voting for politicians who jump at the opportunity to put the poor into dependence on them and their political party. How painless to be able to drive a nice SUV and have the latest big screen tv while forcing others to care for the poor. When Jesus encountered the rich man who had lived a exemplary life and obeyed the commandments and who asked Jesus what he must do to enter into heaven Jesus told him to sell all he had and give the money to the poor and to follow him. The rich man walked away sad because he was unwilling to give up the cares of this world. It is the same for those who are unable to give up the cares of this world and care for the poor and follow Jesus with a true heart but who choose instead to force others to care for the poor and conveniently take credit in their deceitful hearts because they voted for a politician all too willing to devour the poor for his/her own selfish purposes. It is well known that conservative Christians are much more generous in giving to the poor out of their own pockets than liberal Christians who have come to believe the state is their church. By getting involved in charity the state has usurped the responsibility that rightly lies with the Church for caring for the poor. We often hear the left sound the alarm of separation of church and state when a town puts up a manger scene at Christmas or posts the Ten Commandments at the courthouse but where is the cry of the hypocrites about the state taking over the province of the Church in caring for the poor? The reality is we live in a left-wing church/state today that seeks to bring the children of God into captivity with it’s cradle to grave entitlements. Who needs God anymore when the government is there to care for you, indoctrinate you with a different gospel, and to make you by your vote, a participant in the holocaust of the unborn which the left has wrought on God’s creation.

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      Paul, you’ve trotted out a lot of familiar conservative bromides, but your assertions could use some examination. Let’s look at them in order:

      1) Nobody here is advocating “turning over the responsibility of caring for the poor to the government.” In fact I have made the case pretty strongly that Christians ought to be known for their care for the poor. Unfortunately, we aren’t…in fact quite the contrary. But since you’re advocating a conservative position, I’ll assume you believe in market forces of supply and demand. If the church were so fully committed to serving the poor that they were all cared for, I assure you the government would get out of the business. Government programs for the poor are merely filling a demand gap that the church has failed to fill.

      2) You said “In the practical sense, feeding the poor is a valuable tool in getting their ear to preach to them the Gospel as Jesus did when he fed the multitudes.” The implication of that statement disgusts me. You seem to be implying that our aid to the poor must have conditions on it … “listen to my sermon or I won’t feed you.” Christian charity — if it’s really Christian — contains no such provisos. We are to feed the poor because Jesus commanded us to, not because it’s a foot in the door for our “evangelism.”

      3) “Forcing others to do it at gunpoint” is a bullshit argument. I’m sorry, but there’s no kinder way to say it. Nobody is forcing anyone to give at gunpoint. I know, you mean that the force of government is what provides for tax collection, which you are claiming to be theft. But go look at the federal budget … the vast proportion of which goes to defense, agriculture, business, and only a tiny fraction of it goes to help the poor in any way. Your argument, if it holds any water at all, applies far more to forcing me at gunpoint to support corporations whose business I wouldn’t buy in the free market, and forcing me to support wars of choice in countries that don’t affect me, than it does to forcing you to support the poor.

      4) You said “It is well known that conservative Christians are much more generous in giving to the poor out of their own pockets than liberal Christians who have come to believe the state is their church.” I challenge you to support this statement with facts. If you’re referring to Arthur Brooks’ book “Who Really Cares?”, I’ve read it and critiqued it at length (I need to dig that up and post it on this blog). He made a massive statistical case and then drew conclusions from it that weren’t in the data. In summary, Brooks’ data showed a strong correlation between religious practice (liberal or conservative) and giving, not between conservatives and giving. His interpretation didn’t match his numbers.

      Unless you have dedicated your life to caring for the poor, and challenging all your conservative Christian buddies to do the same, you have no business complaining that the government is stepping into the hole you refuse to fill. Render government aid unnecessary, and it’ll go away.

      But in the meantime, don’t yell about it being unchristian to advocate for the poor. I support and advocate for *anyone* whose actions make the poor’s life better, and oppose any actions that make it worse. That includes government programs. You want them cut, then replace them with with other supports first, not later.

  17. Paul

    1) Your answer is bullshit. I’ll use that term since you decided to use it (When in Rome, do as the Romans do). A committed Church is perfectly capable of feeding the poor but instead involves itself in silly and nonsensical politics, the business of building buildings, and in many churches a get rich quick scheme (the more you give the more God will bless you). Contrary to your answer the government is quite happy to be involved in charity as your political party uses it as a legalized bribery scheme to garner votes. It is clear for all to see who want to see. Every electuion year the democrats start talking about new aid and entitlements for everything from student loans to birth control. Your contention the Church would not be committed if government were to stop being involved in charity is simply speculation and an attack on the Church and nothing more.
    2) The fact you are disgusted by what many charities like the Salvation Army do; feed the poor but also use the opportunity to give the “meat” of God’s word and the “Living Water” of the Gospels as they are much more important than food and drink disgusts me but doesn’t surprise me. There is no implication of forcing anyone to listen to the Gospel. Apparently you have a reading comprehension problem as a “tool” and an “opportunity” are positives and not to be compared to forcing others to care for the poor by the force of government. You simply read into that what you wanted it to mean. But in fact preaching the Gospel is more important than food or drink. What do you think Jesus meant when he told Peter to “feed his sheep”? Do you really think he was speaking of food and drink alone?
    3) Comparing the amount of money spent in the federal budget for defense or agriculture or whatever to charity is absolutely irrelevant and a diversion. If God wanted to force us to give to the poor he is capable of doing it without the help or corruption of the government, but nice try. In fact God made it plain he wanted charity to be done both voluntarily and with a joyful heart. As far as your point about corporations I totally agree. I don’t think the government should subsidize corporations, period. A good example of this is now the government is forcing American to buy health insurance from large insurance corporations but you probably support this. As far as wars are concerned; there will never be a war fought that has the support of all of the people so we rely on the Congress to make this decision under our Constitution but regrettably both political parties have abused this and I don’t believe we should enter into any war without a declaration of war by the congress.
    4) You critiqued Arthur Brooks’ book. Okay you win then. Great argument! Refute the central premise with facts. Simple, right? Do it.

    In closing I guess I can answer your statement the same way you give it. Unless you have dedicated your life to caring for the poor, and challenging all your liberal Christian buddies to do the same, you have no business forcing others to provide charity and stepping into the hole you refuse to fill. Do this and legalized government bribery will go away and so will the monster that has cause the holocaust of millions of God’s children.

    But in the meantime, don’t yell about it being Christian to force others to do what Jesus commanded the Church to do. I support and advocate the free will God gave us in all things and abhor government programs that rob from one and give to another; even the next generation that is being buried in a mountain of debt which I find exceedingly evil.

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      OK Paul, I responded like a jerk and you returned what I dealt out. I can’t criticize you for that, and I apologize.

      I do think that it’s still reasonable for me to protest that churches aren’t remotely close to addressing the need gap we have even with government aid, and that anyone who advocates for reducing such aid should see to it that churches belly up to the bar and demonstrate that they give a hoot about poverty before raging at the government for doing it. While I grant many conservatives believe government is merely trying to create entitlement dependency, I have to respectfully disagree on that point. We have nothing but each other’s word for that, but I can at least tell you, as one Christian liberal, that my analysis is a very simple “does this program (or eliminating this program) help or hurt the disadvantaged?” Having answered that question, I feel my support for or opposition to it is decided.

      I may have misunderstood your comment about ministry as a “tool” to promote the gospel. When you said “The poor belong to God and not Caesar. In the practical sense, feeding the poor is a valuable tool in getting their ear to preach to them the Gospel,” I heard an implication that the church should force the government (and maybe non-Christian charities as well) out of the business of helping the poor because somehow they’re muscling in on the church’s turf … as though (for example) the hungry should have to choose between starving or listening to us. That may not be what you meant, but I would certainly find that idea offensive in the extreme. While Jesus definitely taught the word as well as healing the sick and feeding the 5,000, there is no evidence that he conditioned the latter on hearing first. You said “But in fact preaching the Gospel is more important than food or drink,” and in one sense I agree, but this all hinges on one’s definition of “the Gospel.” If by this you mean what Jesus said in Luke 4:17-18 I’m all for it; if rather you mean the Four Laws I couldn’t be more against.

      I think we have a point or two of agreement in (1) a lot of other places federal funds are spent inappropriately and (2) the lavish spending people in churches do on their own buildings and programs and infrastructure. I still think that considering governmental programs that help the poor “forced charity” fails to take into account a myriad of other factors: one, as I already said, the tiny fraction of government spending that’s actually targeted at the poor (it ain’t much proportionally); and two, the fact that many such programs (e.g. education and public health) are done mainly to benefit the larger society in that educated and healthy people are less of a danger to us than poor and sick ones. So while I oppose cutting a government program whose primary target is the poor, unless and until the much-more-expensive programs that benefit the rich have been cut, I do not think it’s a question of charity so much as justice.

      As for Brooks’ book, I posted my review here so you can take a look at it if you wish. The short summary is that if Brooks’ study were a project in any serious statistics course, he’d get a C- or worse for sloppy math and sloppy inferences. His data are interesting … and if examined without his unfortunate conservative lens, I think they suggest strongly that the real divide between people who give and people who don’t is whether or not they adhere to some form of faith, regardless of whether they self-identify as “conservative” or “liberal.” That’s not actually so surprising, as with faith comes some sense of a morality and a responsibility greater than to oneself.

      In closing I apologize for my manner in yesterday’s response. I hope that having addressed you in a more civil manner, you’ll return the favor.

  18. Paul

    Dan, my beliefs are based simply on my understanding of Jesus Christ and what he preached. My politics are shaped by my faith and not the other way around. Therefore I reject the practices and beliefs of both major political parties to varying degrees. I am not interested in democrat or republican talking points. Nor am I interested in argument based on the federal budget, pointing to one bad behavior to justify another, or in fact any vain philosophy of man. I am a simple man and my profession is the same as my Lord’s was. I am a carpenter. I guess I fit the label; the working poor although I reject all such labels for myself other than “child of God”. My argument is a simple moral argument that I base on my understanding of what Jesus said and did. It seems to me Jesus was never concerned with outcomes when talking about giving and the poor. If he were, perhaps he would have offered the young rich man entry into heaven if he sold half of what he had once he had rejected the Lord’s instruction to sell all he had and give it to the poor. Certainly half would be better than nothing if Jesus was concerned simply about feeding the poor. What I take away from this is the desire Jesus has for our hearts to be pure and our willingness to follow him at all costs. I think this is evident again in the parable of the widow’s mites. Jesus again puts the focus on the condition of our heart. Did he criticize or call on the government to force more charity for the poor? Perhaps Jesus was teaching us outcomes would naturally follow the circumcision of the heart. God created us with a free will. I believe anything that perverts this is enmity with God. And of course I am not speaking of all government. To me, good government is one that protects the nation and individual from violence, is not predatory itself, and fosters the most liberty amongst the people. I don’t believe we should allow the government to make ANY decisions about social justice benefitting the rich or poor. Questions of charity and it’s proper role is the province of the Church and not the government. This is why I said ceding the care of the poor to the government is un-Christian. The poor belong to God and not to Caesar. the government is spiritually unfit to make such decisions. Your argument the void must be filled first can also be turned around; the government must be removed first before the Church can fulfill it’s proper role. I don’t worry about outcomes as my Lord sits on the throne. I try to be as true as I can to Jesus and what he taught us, stay away from entanglements with wickedness, and let God deal with the big matters over which I have no control. Did you know the Nazi Third Reich had one of the largest social welfare programs in history? It was also based on forced charity. I think God hated the filthy corruption of that regime and God judged it accordingly and I believe the same judgment may be underway for those today who corrupt and distort the Gospel of Christ and who share in common the murderous spirit of the Third Reich.

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      Paul, I think your reasoning contains several major flaws, where you believe you’re being influenced by the way of Jesus when in fact it comes out like secular Libertarian/Republicans (which doesn’t make the philosophy anti-Christian so much as simply “not Christian,” that is, not derived from Jesus). First of all, the discussion of influencing government is one we really can’t extrapolate at all from Jesus … he lived under a government that didn’t even have the illusion of accepting guidance from the people, and further made no claims about establishing freedom. In that setting, Jesus argued for ministry to the poor. He did not address the government simply because it was not open for addressing.

      On the other hand, the levitical law of the Old Testament has very radical legal controls (i.e. “government”-imposed) and regulations on finances (see this post on Jubilee for details). That’s the closest indication to what a God-designed government would look like economically, that we have. And IMHO it’s far closer to socialism (not the atheist 20th-century kind) than it is to capitalism.

      But finally, I really must protest your repeated claim of “ceding” the care of the poor to the government. I do no such thing, nor do those who have commented on this blog. It is the inescapable duty of every follower of Jesus to minister to the poor as he encounters them, and to frame his life so as to benefit and not harm the poor. All I’m arguing for is that we have no business opposing government efforts toward the poor–and, in a democracy, I think we have the right if not the obligation to support those efforts unless and until we have balancing efforts on offer that render those government programs irrelevant. Until then, if our politics (deliberately or not) causes one more person to go hungry or without basic human care, I believe we’re culpable. This is clearly a point at which we disagree. OK … go and do thou what thou can.

  19. Paul

    In the early Church Christians were tightly knit together and of the same heart and shared their possessions loosely, meaning they were not coerced or forced. In Acts 5 we see the sad story of Ananias and Sapphira who held back a portion of the profit of land they sold and lied about it. In addressing them Peter said; ” 3 But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?

    4 Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.

    In this we again see charity as a voluntary endeavor and not forced upon the people and this is within the Church and not the government. But we are somehow to believe Jesus would approve of forced charity by a secular government?

    I’m perplexed as to why you believe free will is a Libertarian/Republican philosophy? It is perhaps Libertarian as they believe in free will but hardly Republican as they also support forced charity by the government but maybe to a lesser degree than the democrats.

    Non-Christian? That is pretty funny considering God created us with a free will.

    As to the government that existed in the time of Jesus; the Sanhedrin enjoyed semi-autonomous authority granted by Rome and this included taxing authority. Jesus advised the Pharisees and Sadducees on numerous matters but I can’t find him calling for a government solution in caring for the poor.

    Regarding your post about a Jubilee Kingdom; I’m all for it! But with a secular government capitalism is probably the best option.

    There is no need to protest my statement about ceding the care of the poor to the government as I am not speaking of individuals but rather the Church as an institution. I believe the Church should have fought government efforts to involve itself in what traditionally was the province of the Church. I believe the dwindling attendance is caused by the lack of zeal by young people to raise money to build another building and other silly things the Church is involved in now that a major part of it’s mission has been usurped by the government. The Church is vibrant and growing in places like Africa and China where it’s mission and work is still vital in people’s daily lives.

    Finally, you say; “if our politics (deliberately or not) causes one more person to go hungry or without basic human care, I believe we’re culpable”. Do you also believe if our politics (deliberately or not) causes the slaughter of 50 plus million unborn babies we are also culpable?

  20. Pingback: Sacred Treasures | Older Eyes

  21. Trent

    I have not been able to read the entire thread, but did want to make a couple of comments. 1 – In an earlier post the comment was made that God wants to bring earth to heaven, but in the prayer of Jesus it is actually stated, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” It seems to me that we forget that we have been admonished to make the earthy function as much like heaven as we can… To me that means to target the alleviation of poverty through any means necessary including taxes. A frustration about having a government take some of our money to do what scripture has already commanded us to do may warrant a political or economic rebuttal, but I don’t see how it can warrant a protest from someone who reads and follows the words of Jesus.

    Regarding the unborn, when we fight efforts to make sure children who are born to mothers struggling to care for the public evidence of a shared mistake are fed and given health care we become pro-birth, not pro-life.

    More than anything else this thread, or what I have been able to read, convinces me that the grateful heart of giving or the unbegrudging payment of a tax bill that may help someone less fortunate is an end of itself.

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      Trent, you certainly can be forgiven for not slogging through this whole thread, which I find pretty tedious myself and it’s my blog. I think your comments are on the right track … but if this thread proves anything, it’s that a lot who consider themselves to be Christians hold a very different view.

  22. Paul

    I feel sorry for you Trent. The fact you trivialize God’s creation as the “public evidence of a shared mistake” is very sad. No wonder some who “consider themselves to be Christians” can ignore the holocaust of the unborn and support a neo-Nazi political party simply to justify forced charity which has no basis whatsoever in scripture. I will pray for your soul.

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      Paul, without presuming to put words in Trent’s mouth, I believe you’re probably missing his point. The “shared mistake” is not trivializing the children … it is rather placing the blame (if blame it must be) for children conceived in circumstances where they are unwanted (or where the mother sees no hope of caring for them) on society, not merely on the couple who had sex.

  23. Paul

    Oh, that’s rich. Blame society. I’m sure on judgment day God will excuse the slaughter of his creation because someone wasn’t there to give a handout for someone’s “mistake”. My parents who were both first generation Americans were simpletons I guess. Their view of abortion and having children was; “if you can’t afford it, don’t get pregnant”. I guess they were quaint and backwards in their beliefs and practices. Justify and rationalize and then stand before God and do so. I think all that do this are going to be surprised to say the least.

  24. Soshanna

    The Christian solution to end abortion? Protesting against it outside abortion clinics? Protesting outside our government buildings with duct tape across our mouths (UK) – symbolic of voiceless foetus)?
    Christian response, surely, to any woman BEFORE contemplating abortion, “Come to me u who r weary & heavy burdened.” Christian solution – the Church stepped up to ‘wide open arms’ ministry to women considering abortion. To walk with them (& not just talk the talk at them) through pregnancy & support them post birth with aftercare solutions for them & their baby. Solutions that bring life not death.
    If the Church was truly known for its strong arms of Jesus in all human circumstances – no ‘pit’ is deep enough to stop His strong arm of deliverance – i tell u the truth, serial abortion would end.
    Throughout (fallen) human history women have & will continue to conceive “unwanted” pregnancies. (Despite the Church’s existance on planet earth for over a thousand years & some…) An encounter with the true & pure love of Jesus, delivered by His people on earth, as it is in Heaven, restores life. Transforms life. For eternity…
    “Pie in the sky?” (As we say in UK.) No. Heaven invading earth? Yes, because we Believe….

    To all on this site – whatever your ‘politics’ – God Bless u & keep u & yours.

    Shoshanna

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