Thursday, October 17, 2013

Liberal Christianity and Public Benefit Systems

An interesting debate seems to have been brought by those identifying as "Liberal Christians" and "Evangelical Christians."  Does the government have a role to play in caring for the sick, poor, and parentless?

It's an interesting theological question.  The Bible contains no real context exclusivity on this topic.  State-level socialism didn't really exist in Greece or in Rome.  Any hunger that was addressed was done by those who had surplus or by those who ran religious institutions.  It does not exclusively say nor does it explicitly prohibit or dictate the means in which charity must be delivered.  Programs like SNAP, TANF, Medicaid, and other assorted public programs provide massive real-world benefits to those that would otherwise end up on the streets, starving, stealing, and hurting others to survive.  This is my professional quote of this segment:

"When one believes they cannot meet their basic needs within the confinements of their society, and by the rules it establishes regarding the procurement of those resources and needs, then that individual will seek those needs outside the system imposed upon them."

So, we as humans, being hierarchical beings, establish systems of order to work in.  We create mechanisms of efficiency to create a stable flow of order and productivity.  It is the very foundation of human civilization.  We establish food delivery systems to provide for the whole of society.  We create aqueducts to deliver fresh water to plants and animals in a farm setting.  We build dams to generate electricity.  We create systems of social order to create a society where humans can bring grievances and questions of justice against one another without violence, but under the rule of law.  We build corporations to deliver goods and services to a vast consumer public.  We build all these structures and systems of order to create efficiency and establish regularity.

Regularity is the key to creating a stable and sturdy ladder with which one climbs from the bottom to the top.  In areas where there are no profits to be made, government can establish that regularity and stability to ensure that those who are building or rebuilding their lives can work themselves to a state of self-sufficiency and become tax-paying, productive members of society.

Now, in regards to the Biblical case for Food Stamps, TANF, and other similar programs:

Christ, as part of his ministry routinely spoke about individual generosity.  He spoke often about the mandate that if you can give something of yourself, then you are giving to me.  That blessings come to those who give selflessly, anonymously, and privately, and without motive for any return or reward.  Give simply to give, and no other reason.  And I believe that philosophy 100%.  If/when I do give, I give anonymously...just as I do with prayer...anonymously.

But, let is also consider this:  We've established the religious mandate to care for the poor, sick, and parentless.  But what about government?  Why should it have a role?  What justifies it?  How about Romans 13?  Paul spoke in Romans 13 that if you are due to pay taxes, pay taxes, if Tribute, then tribute...if respect, then respect.  That leaders are established by God to do the Lord's work, and deliver justice to all.  That the leaders of government are held to account to be arbiters of justice to all people.  And that, yes, you should even fear your government (in the righteous respect context, not the Area 51 government taking my guns context).

I first want to dismiss a position that is often expressed.  That position is this: that state-imposed charity robs people of the blessings that come from charity.  This myth is often expressed to oppose state-run social services with the belief that there is a material loss caused by "The State" taxing it's citizens and redistributing it to those in need.  I would argue that those who are truly charitable will give as their heart leads them to give.  If you are justifying not giving just because the government taxes you...then I'd say you should re-examine your motives behind it.  Giving shouldn't be something you do only when you have excesses.  It should occur naturally from your relationship with Jesus.  As the spirit works in your life, you will feel the need and desire to give strictly for the reason of wanting to give.  The argument that social programs rob people of that opportunity is totally off the rails and is an excuse to argue against a systematically functional public policy that establishes people in workable and sustainable patterns of survival.  You as an individual are more than empowered and able to give to your local food bank, homeless shelter, or charity.  If you're blaming food stamps for your lack of generosity, then you're just plain not generous period.

Religious liberals, like myself argue that having a solely religious justification for public policy is not enough.  That there must exist in any government policy a real world, measurable, scientific reason for any said policy to exist.  Religious liberals would dismiss the assertion that "God told me to do this or to sign that" in regards any government policy.  When any politician of any faith agrees or disagrees to a policy, that politician must have a rational and material reason that can be argued and debated in order for that position to be viewed as a valid position.  Simply to hedge on faith serves no purpose and is fundamentally poor governance.

It is not wrong is to have religious conviction that reinforces your political views, but with that influence, you must have real, present, physical, provable evidence to demonstrate the issue can be argued with more than just religion.  For example, if conservatives argue that food stamps are state-imposed charity...there's no arguing with that fact.  It's true.   Currently, there are more politicians who say "We believe that those without the means to buy food should be given a grant to buy food at tax payers' expense."  Now, if I were to stand up and say..."Jesus tells me to feed those who don't have food using tax payers money."  That in of itself is not a rational argument to justify a state program.  But if I say "My faith teaches me to feed those who hunger...but here's what this study, and this study, and this study say about what feeding those who can't buy food does to improve society..."  I have introduced real, tangible scientific evidence to support my beliefs, and therein, we've created a rationale that penetrates all lines of division or conflict.  Simply stating, "My faith tells me to do it" while offering no tangible, real-world evidence to support your belief politically is not sufficient reasoning to support the position.

It is not Leftist-Christian theocracy to feed those who cannot be fed.  Such a viewpoint is shared among multiple faiths and belief systems across the globe.  Islam (who actually did institutionalize this view), Judaism, Hinduism, many numerous Native American belief systems and cultural systems, as well as regional and tribal faiths teach the same thing.  If you feel compelled to give, then give.  Do as Christ commanded and give anonymously, give in secret, and give simply to give.  But what you cannot avoid as a citizen of a state-level society is copping out of your obligations to your society.

The Biblical rationale for public assistance isn't really present either direction.  Such systems of subsistence didn't exist in the single-digits A.C.E. of the Roman Empire.  But what is justifiable scripturely is what Paul teaches in Romans 13.  To obey the laws imposed upon you, to respect your leaders, pay your taxes, and give respect when due.  He's talking about being a rational member of society, and that through your obedience, that your example of Christ-like love and life may spread to others.  Now let's be clear, governance and public policy depend on one being able to argue facts.  If you can argue with evidence taht Food Stamps is more harmful than good, then do what you feel is right.  However, to simply rip it away after people have been dependent on a system for years, crafting their finances and living circumstances around that system...then you as a legislator have a responsibility to ensure that you don't hurt anyone as you pull the rug out from under them.  If you're going to remove a system of provision, then you have to replace it with something else to keep them from being harmed.

While you may not agree with your tax dollars feeding the hungry, it is not leftist theocracy that dictates the view.  It's the view that solving hunger solves crime, solves drug abuse, solves childhood chronic illness, and systematically and measurably benefits the lives of millions of Americans across the country, and the world even.  Solving hunger in a systematic, regular, consistent manner, such as through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), you are assisting in solving the problems that cause larger more systematic problems if left unsolved or unsatisfied.  There is the measurable, rational, systematic reason that we provide SNAP to the public.  You never know if you will be in that position, and you as a person who doesn't need it rests assured that a hungry and poor person won't try to rob you for your money so he can feed himself.  And while that does happen occasionally...just imagine if 50 million people were thrust into that position.

No comments:

Post a Comment