CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Socialism, Social Justice and the Church

Nov 12, 2017

There is nothing wrong with being concerned about the wellbeing of your neighbour. But there is plenty wrong in thinking that more Big Government is the answer. Plenty of the social justice warriors (SJWs) on the Left never lift a finger to actually help their neighbour – but they are more than happy to vote for more government handouts.

Of course that means a bigger government, and higher taxes. And less economic growth. But it is economic growth which has proven to be the best means of helping the poor. More government programs have NOT been the answer. Yet sadly plenty of Christians have bought into the idea that confiscatory state welfare programs are somehow the thing Jesus would urge.

Um, no. The Bible throughout urges God’s people to take personal responsibility to help the poor and needy. It nowhere demands a growing state bureaucracy or socialist confiscation policies. It puts the responsibility where it belongs.

But lefty SJWs always manage to mangle Scripture as they baptise socialist economics and Big Government “solutions” to our social and economic problems. Now, is there a place for government help here? Of course. God created the institution of the state and it certainly has a role to play here.

But God also created the institution of the church, and he expects believers to also play a big role here. Simply absolving ourselves of any personal responsibility – whether as individual believers or as the church – and thinking an ever-expanding state should do all this is not a case of “What Would Jesus Do?”

But I have made this case often enough elsewhere. See for example these three pieces for starters:

www.billmuehlenberg.com/2011/08/08/social-justice-part-one/
www.billmuehlenberg.com/2011/08/08/social-justice-part-two/
www.billmuehlenberg.com/2013/01/06/on-social-justice/

But since so many Christians especially get this so very wrong, it is worth spending more time on. In the minds of many believers the “Christian” thing to do is simply to vote more high-taxing, big-spending, entitlement politicians and parties into office, be they Democrats in the US or Labor and the Greens in Australia.

They may not lift a finger to actually help the poor themselves, but they think that voting socialists into power fulfils their Christian duties here. Oh, and they may go to some rock concert that throws around platitudes of helping the poor, thinking they have done their Christian bit.

But helping the poor is far different than that, biblically speaking. Here I want to draw upon the insights found in two recent articles on all this. Regis Nicoll of the Colson Center first penned “The Injustice of Social Justice” which is well worth quoting from.

He begins with a brief definition: “Justice is about fair play, giving people what is owed them without bias or favoritism. An employee is owed a fair wage by his employer, an accused criminal is owed a fair trial by the court, a child is owed the protection and care of his parents.”

He then looks at the biblical picture, as well as lessons from church history:

To be sure, God has special concern for those on the margins of society. Scripture is full of warnings about injustices to the poor and disenfranchised. But contrary to the Gospel of Liberation, God’s foremost concern is not emancipating us from political and economic oppression; it is redeeming us from sin. This is not to diminish the importance of giving people what they need. To the contrary, meeting the needs of others has been at the heart of Christian action from the beginning.
In the first century, Christians took such comprehensive care of their own that St. Luke remarked, “there were no needy persons among them.” During the plagues in the second and third century, Christians attended the needs of the sick and dying who had been abandoned by their pagan physicians and civil leaders. The Christian community went on to establish the first hospitals and orphanages such that, by the fourth century, the scope of their compassion attracted both the notice and ire of the Caesars.
Frustrated over the social conditions in the Roman Empire, Flavius Julian called it a scandal that Christians “care not only for their poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.” The effectiveness of charity among the early Christians is attributed to something ignored in the modern discussion on social justice.

What Jesus had in mind is a far cry from what the SJWs have in mind:

When Jesus taught about charity and compassion, he was not speaking to Roman consuls about their governmental duties; he was speaking to individuals about their moral duties. That’s because in the biblical division of responsibility, the Church, not the state, is the instrument of compassion.
As divinely ordained, the duties of the state are limited to restraining evil, executing justice, and securing social order. The state fulfills that high calling by protecting the rights of its citizens: first and foremost, their “natural rights” which include the freedoms of speech, thought, and religion; and secondarily, their legal rights, such as the right to vote and drive a car.

It is time to put the focus back on the church, not the state:

To achieve real social justice, the state must decrease and the Church increase in the area of compassion. Is that a realistic expectation? Many folks would say, no.
But given the inefficiencies and impersonal nature of the state welfare system and the fact that Christians make up over 70 percent of the tax base, the Church could take over the compassion business, efficiently and effectively, with only a fraction of the cost of state-run programs.
I have no misgivings. Such a transition could not happen over night. Even with the political will of the electorate and the moral will of the Church, it would take years, if not decades, to shrink government and prepare the Church (individual Christians, churches, and faith-based organizations) to recover its biblical role in compassion services.

In a follow-up article entitled “Has Government Become Too Big?” he continues this discussion:

Thomas Jefferson is said to have quipped, “a government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.” While history does not support the Jeffersonian attribution, it does support the conclusion—witness Soviet Russia, Communist China, and North Korea.
But how big is too big? At what point does the size of government become an obstacle to effective governance and the common good? Plainly, government needs to be large enough to protect the governed and their property, but not so large that it becomes a threat to those ends. Of course when a country spends over $0.5 trillion each year more than it takes in, it is safe to say it has reached beyond what it can effectively govern.

He spends some time on the claim that we just need to raise taxes and get the rich to pay their “fair share” and then writes:

The bottom line is that we can’t tax our way out of the deficit, much less the federal debt (currently, a staggering $20 trillion and rising). That means getting our fiscal house in order will largely depend on reducing spending by trimming the girth of government.
In 1789, the federal government consisted of about 50 employees in three departments: State, Treasury, and War. Today there are 4.4 million federal employees working in hundreds of departments, organizations and agencies. Although an exact figure is hard to pin down, estimates vary anywhere between 200 and 500 federal entities with duplication of effort, overlap, and inefficiency, rife.

He takes us back to what the American Founding Fathers believed:

The U.S. government is currently running at about 36 percent of the GDP with the biggest area of growth over the last 100 years in “entitlement programs” (Medicare, Medicaid, social security, welfare, food stamps, etc.). Those programs, which amount to nearly one-half of the total, were virtually non-existent prior to the twentieth century. It reflects the thinking of the Founding Fathers that, as James Madison put it, “Charity is no part of the legislative duty of government.”
It seems that the Founders understood what our modern leaders have forgotten, or dismissed: in the area of compassion, services to the needy are best administered by those closest to the problem—that is, local and regional organizations, like churches, faith-based institutions, civic groups, and volunteer associations. In fact, for the first nineteen hundred years of its existence, the Church took the lead in social work, establishing hospitals, orphanages, food distribution systems, and houses for the poor and aged.

And speaks more to the vital role of the church:

As I have noted previously, when Jesus taught about the duty to the poor, he was not speaking to Roman consuls about their duties; he was speaking to private citizens about theirs. Until the modern era, Christians accepted the biblical division of responsibility, by which the Church, not the state, is the instrument of charity.
That is not to say that the state has no responsibility to alleviate human need in the wake of widespread emergencies (e.g., the Great Depression, Dust Bowl, hurricane Irma). Rather, it is a reminder that the state’s involvement should be limited and temporary—augmenting, not usurping, the responsibilities of the Church and other mediating organizations established to serve the common good.
To starve the leviathan, the Church must reclaim its biblical role. In partnership with other mediating groups, the Church must be a compassion supplier that progressively reduces the demand for state involvement in social service.

As he mentioned, this will not be easy. Far too many Christians have abandoned their biblical responsibilities here, and have simply looked to Big Government as their saviour. And no state ever willingly likes to relinquish power and control. The bigger it grows, the more it demands. And the growing pool of those getting government handouts continues to spiral out of control.

So between unbiblical Christians who have forsaken Scriptural counsel, an ever-expanding welfare state, and a growing percentage of those living on entitlements, this will never be an easy task. But if we really want to help those in need, and if we really want to do things by the book – the Good Book – then it is time to start rethinking all of this before such change becomes impossible.

Ronald Reagan certainly had it right when he said, “Welfare’s purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence.” Let me finish with a humorous take on the psalms from a few years ago. It does indeed help make my case:

The State is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
It makes me lie down in federally owned pastures.
It leads me beside quiet waters in banned fishing areas.
It restores my soul through its control.
It guides me in the path of dependency for its namesake.
Even though our nation plunges into the valley of the shadow of debt,
I will fear no evil,
For Barack will be with me.
The Affordable Care Act and food stamps,
They comfort me.
You prepare a table of Michelle Obama approved foods before me in the presence of my Conservative and Libertarian enemies.
You anoint my head with hemp oil;
My government regulated 16-ounce cup overflows.
Surely mediocrity and an entitlement mentality will follow me
All the days of my life,
And I will dwell in a low-rent HUD home forever and ever.
Amen.
Psalm 666

www.crisismagazine.com/2017/injustice-social-justice
www.crisismagazine.com/2017/government-become-big

[1916 words]

8 Responses to Socialism, Social Justice and the Church

  • Bill, this article is music to my ears. I clearly remember a gathering 20 years ago where I expressed an opinion that church welfare should increase and government decrease. I was met with a counter argument from a lady who said that her husband would have to approach a church minister to receive his benefit. I replied that under such a system her husband would probably be better off, at which time a small war broke out. The lady was not interested in any reasoning behind my thoughts, but scorned me for having the nerve to put forward such an outrageous idea. A man listening to the exchange simply nodded his head; I think he understood where I was coming from.
    John Hennessy

  • Thanks Bill for the clear refutation of socialism.

    As I have said before and will say again, you might think the socialism we have now in Australia is a bit like Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. However, the reality is far, far worse. Our current system steals from the worker and redistributes it to the lazy. The lazy takes two forms, almost all of those dependent on the welfare cheque (exclude pensioners who paid taxes all their life), and almost all government sanctioned jobs that are pen pushers and contribute nothing to society. A Christian should be in neither of those camps.

    It is interesting that the welfare that God ordained required the beneficiaries to do some form of work, eg. Deuteronomy 24:19

    God worked, even though He had no requirement for money, how much more should we as His children?

    David Clay

    Melbourne

  • Dear Bill,

    There is much food for thought in your article and governments HAVE become massively cumbersome with politicians in my opinion and probably in many other people’s opinion too earning far too much and receiving far too many perks long after they have retired from politics.

    I also think Government welfare programmes HAVE encouraged the growth of a pool of lazy individuals who have no intention of working. However, on the other hand there needs to be SOME protection for those who genuinely can’t find work. This is because capitalist societies will NEVER achieve full employment.

    On the other hand it is only a matter of time and this has been proved, before extreme Socialist states such as communist Russia collapse from within through corruption etc.

    As the Christian Churches have been pushed to the margins of society and congregations have shrunk so has the Christian idea of charity changed. Every year our church has an appeal for Pregnancy Help who help women faced with unwanted pregnancies.There is always an excellent response in new baby clothes and money.Then they have the St Vincent de Paul bin and other small charitable projects as a church. Individual Christians help and support each other socially and spiritually.

    An Indian member of our congregation from the Christian part of India said there the poorer Christians and other poor people look to the Church rather than the government for everything because of course there is no social welfare in India.

    Modern socialism has come a long way since it began in the 19th century with its three streams of ideology namely Fabianism, Christian Social Justice and Unionism. The Doncaster railway men which is my home town in the UK would turn over in their graves if they could see the state of socialism today because they helped to found the Labour Party in England. They were Methodist chapel men, hardworking, teetotallers, morally upright family men who only wanted justice and a fair wage.

    Finally, I would never vote for a Labour politician EVER again because most of them are a disgrace. This is not to say I think the Liberals are much better.

  • Yes, How are we to wind this back?
    There is a saying that “Government is addicted to gambling”, and unfortunately church welfare institutions, and christian families, have become dependent upon government funding and government systems.

    I was talking to someone just the other day, and they had wonderful ideas about some christian service they could set up. My initial enthusiasm and encouragement was immediately tempered by warning to them to avoid the government funding that is often so alluring. Government funding means government control – control of finances, control of policies, and now control of moral choices.

    Many years ago, before John Howard was prime minister, I shared with him one on one about families taking responsibility for their own aged people, and for educating their own children. He was enthusiastic about the idea and commented that the family can do such tasks for 1/7 of the cost that it takes the government to do the same thing. I was looking for the possibility that such families might get a tax break, for taking back those responsibilities. (A whole discussion here!)

    Anyone who wants to reverse the system is bound to pay twice. Families will often only be able to have one spouse working while the other spends the time caring, teaching, serving etc etc.
    Grand parents will be better occupied with family and community service. It is a completely different culture that is needed. There is a totally different set of values that need to be adopted.

    How do we do this?

  • And of course plenty has been written on all this. Here is just a small sampling of some of the books worth looking at in regard to all this:

    General

    Baker, David, Tight Fists or Open Hands? Wealth and Poverty in Old Testament Law. Eerdmans, 2009.
    Blomberg, Craig, Neither Poverty Nor Riches. Apollos, 1999.
    Claar, Victor and Robin Klay, Economics in Christian Perspective. InterVarsity Press, 2007.
    Clouse, Robert G., ed., Wealth and Poverty: Four Christian Views on Economics. InterVarsity Press, 1984.
    Corbett, Steve and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts. Moody Press, 2009, 2012.
    Gushee, David, ed., Toward a Just and Caring Society: Christian Responses to Poverty in America. Baker, 1999.
    Holman, Susan, ed., Wealth and Poverty in Early Church and Society. Baker, 2008.
    Schneider, John, Godly Materialism. IVP, 1994.
    Stackhouse, Max, et. al. eds., On Moral Business: Classical and Contemporary Resources for Ethics in Economic Life. Eerdmans, 1995.
    Wheeler, Sondra, Wealth As Peril and Obligation: The New Testament on Possessions. Eerdmans, 1995.
    Witherington, Ben, Jesus and Money. Brazos Press, 2010.

    Pro Free Market

    Beisner, E. Calvin, Prosperity and Poverty: The Compassionate Use of Resources in a World of Scarcity. Crossway Books, 1988.
    Bradley, Ann and Art Lindsley, eds., For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty. Westbow Press, 2014.
    Chilton, David, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators. Institute for Christian Economics, 1981, 1985.
    Davis, John Jefferson, Your Wealth in God’s World: Does the Bible Support the Free Market? Presbyterian and Reformed, 1984.
    Griffiths, Brian, The Creation of Wealth: A Christian’s Case for Capitalism. InterVarsity Press, 1984.
    Griffiths, Brian, Morality and the Marketplace. Hodder and Stoughton, 1982.
    Grudem, Wayne, Business for the Glory of God. Crossway, 2003.
    Grudem, Wayne and Barry Asmus, The Poverty of Nations. Crossway, 2013.
    Hore-Lacy, Ian, Creating Common Wealth. Albatross Books, 1985.
    Lindsell, Harold, Free Enterprise: A Judeo-Christian Defense. Tyndale House, 1982.
    Nash, Ronald, Poverty and Wealth: The Christian Debate Over Capitalism. Crossway Books, 1986.
    Nash, Ronald, Social Justice and the Christian Church. Mott Media, 1983.
    Novak, Michael, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. Simon & Schuster, 1982.
    Olasky, Marvin, Compassionate Conservatism: What It Is, What It Does, and How It Can Transform America. Free Press, 2000.
    Olasky, Marvin, The Tragedy of American Compassion. Regnery, 1994.
    Richards, Jay, Money, Greed, and God. HarperOne, 2010.
    Schaeffer, Franky, ed., Is Capitalism Christian? Crossway Books, 1985.
    Siroco, Robert, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy. Regnery, 2012.

  • Thanks Bill,
    A huge list of books that I would have little hope of wading through. How do you do it??

    The Jan 2013 articles esp. part two gives some real hope that something might be done.
    Sure, the free market economy that best leads to economic growth is a major foundation to the solution, since it is based on willing energy, enterprise, imagination (inspiration) and responsibility.

    Apart from the Olansky book that lead to significant change for a while, it appears (to me) that Corbett, Gushee and Chilton may be the closest to actually making a difference, arising more out of theory into practice.

    Are you aware of “The Dream Centre” headed up by Matthew Barnett of the Angelus Temple in LA? Matthew and his brother have an amazing list of programs from rescuing girls from sex trafficking, to feeding thousands and helping the aged and infirm. Matthew was in Australia about three years ago and spoke of the work of “The Dream Centre”, and it was amazing.

    From what I understand these guys are putting many of the ideas, in your article, to work and getting real results for the Kingdom of God. The commitment by the workers is indeed like paying for it again. How entangled they are with government interference and “help” I cant say.

    There is also a church in Adelaide that takes on a community project or two each year, including once providing major help to a struggling hospital. The S. Aust. government has come to them for ideas and advice.

    So there is good stuff going on. There needs to be a general culture change though. A culture change that means Christians are watching a lot less television, and putting time, effort and funding into genuine family, community, social and welfare projects that enable the proclamation of the gospel.

  • Can a Christian be a Socialist? I do not think so.

    Perhaps an article for Bill ?

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