Posted by: vicholdsforth | February 18, 2010

The Least of These: Why a Christian Would Oppose Obamacare

A few months ago I was a part of a conversation about health care reform in which one of the participants said “I can’t understand why so many Christians oppose a plan to provide care to ‘the least of these.’” In an effort to help build bridges of understanding, here is why I, a Christian, oppose the liberal agenda for the United States.

While the Bible does charge us with the responsibility to care for the poor, it never consigns this activity to government. It is always at the initiative of the individual. The foundational principle of capitalism is the right to own private property. Socialists argue instead that vital resources like food and the means to produce it should be shared. The Bible consistently affirms private ownership. “Thou shalt not steal” is meaningless absent the notion of private property rights. In the theocracy God intended for the children of Israel, private rather than community ownership was stipulated. Ex 23:4, for example, required that if one spotted a neighbor’s livestock wandering around loose that it be returned to him, not that livestock should be held in common. Several Proverbs refer to honestly and diligently amassing wealth as a virtue: 10:4, 12:27, and 13:22 are just a few examples. And Prov. 11:26 says, “People curse the man who hoards grain, but blessing crowns him who is willing to sell.” Not give, sell. In Acts 5, Peter clearly explains to Ananias & Sapphira that their property was theirs to do with as they pleased. Note that they were struck down not for withholding money, but for lying. The Bible contains numerous admonitions advocating principles such as charity and fair wages, while condemning things like usury; it never once advocates shared ownership of resources or the forced redistribution of wealth.

I haven’t found anything in Scripture that supports the notion that having money, even lots of it, is a sin. God blessed Solomon and Job with wealth far beyond what any of us can imagine. 1 Tim 6:10, which is often misquoted as “money is the root of all evil,” explains that “love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” As with so many aspects of the Christian walk, it’s the heart attitude, not the thing.  Restructuring our economy does not purge greed from the human heart, nor does it ameliorate poverty. One interesting fact I learned while researching my thesis is that we still have just as many juvenile delinquents as a percentage of the overall population as we did at the height of the Industrial Revolution. This was a period in our history in which former slaves and uneducated and unskilled immigrants from Southern & Eastern Europe were flooding into American cities looking for work. There were no government welfare programs in place to address the resultant social ills. And after spending trillions of dollars on the War on Poverty, there is no evidence that we have accomplished anything to ameliorate it.

In fact, “the least of these” have instead suffered some very damaging unintended consequences as a result of government involvement in charity, probably the worst of which has been to undermine family cohesiveness. Government welfare has created a financial disincentive for a woman to marry the father of her children, and freed many men from feeling any responsibility to provide for the children they father. The rate of out-of-wedlock births has skyrocketed since the 1960s, and the stigma has all but disappeared. Early and out-of-wedlock childbearing is far and away the single greatest predictor of poverty in the US, and children in single parent families face significantly higher risk of a host of problems including dropping out of school, addiction, and criminal behaviors.  Instead of lifting people out of poverty, welfare keeps them trapped there.

Another unintended consequence has been to provide a disincentive to work. Lev. 19:9 gives instructions for the care of the poor, namely, to leave a portion of one’s crops in the fields for them to glean. I think it is important to note that in God’s economy, the recipients had to work in order to receive the benefit. Not so under socialism. About 10 years ago I had a tenant who asked me to review her finances and help her develop a plan to get off welfare. We calculated that she was receiving the equivalent of about $15/hour in benefits. And she would lose them dollar-for-dollar if she went out and got a job. She, along with the other welfare recipients in the complex, enjoyed spacious, clean, well-maintained accommodations (per government regulations) with community resources like a park and forest preserve nearby. There was even a private pool staffed by a lifeguard.  One of my family members, meanwhile, was struggling by on a teacher’s salary with taxes and student loans to repay; she could only afford a poorly maintained apartment with none of the aforementioned amenities, and only one bedroom for herself and her son.  That welfare recipients should enjoy far better housing than those who are paying for not only their own, but the recipient’s, too, is outrageous.

Socialism relies, even if only implicitly, upon the assumption that people will work hard even if there is no personal reward in it, and that no one will take unfair advantage of their neighbors. I think one would be hard-pressed to argue that the Bible or the lessons of history teach us anything other than that people are basically self-interested. Americans have been alarmed as unemployment has reached 10%, and rightly so. What many do not realize is that in more socialist-leaning France, unemployment is around 10% pretty much all the time, and many who do have a job cannot work as many hours per week as they’d like to. Socialism has provided a disincentive to work hard and take risks. Sweden, for example has seen as much as 20% of its able-bodied workforce choose to stay home and collect welfare benefits, instead.  And the French are saddled with a stagnating economy that has been hobbled in its ability to provide enough work for its laborers. In spite of decades of socialist policy, France still has millions living in poverty. What the poor need are jobs. Governments do not create them. Entrepreneurs and the free flow of capital do. Socialism has failed to eliminate poverty anywhere it has been tried, around the globe and throughout history.

Imposing a socialist regime robs us not only of the fruits of our labors, but also of the blessing of freely sharing them. In Philemon 1:14, Paul writes, “without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, but voluntary.” Dinesh D’Souza calls this a “moral transaction.” When we freely help our neighbors in need, both experience positive emotional and spiritual benefits. Moreover, community cohesiveness is strengthened. People are reassured that when they are in need, their neighbors will be there to help them; and the recipient is inspired to “pay it forward” when in a position to do so. Creating government programs destroys all of that. Generosity and gratitude, attitudes that enhance community, are replaced by resentment and entitlement, which undermine it.

To conclude, I would like to submit for consideration the notion that the conservative political position is more logically cohesive. To wit, many liberal Christians support social policies like abortion rights and gay marriage based on the notion that, although they may privately feel that these behaviors are wrong, it is not their place to impose their convictions upon someone else. Yet they freely impose their interpretation of the biblical mandate to care for the poor upon the rest of us. Why one and not the other? Rather than picking and choosing some of my moral convictions as appropriate to impose upon the community while consigning others as “none of my business,” I attempt instead to allow the biblical texts to inform all of my views. I submit that all biblical principals represent the wisdom of God and as such, hold pragmatic value for society, even for those who do not subscribe to Christianity. There is therefore no dichotomy between my public self and my private self, my individual self and my community self.

My friend can’t understand why a Christian wouldn’t want the government to do more to help “the least of these.”  What I can’t understand is why any Christian would advocate for a system that demonstrably traps people in poverty, undermines families and the community, and finds no support in Scripture.

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Responses

  1. YES!!!

  2. Vickie,
    My family is from Austria, a socialist country, and it does not expect people to work hard with no incentive. What you are describing is the failure of Communism. Socialism is quite different. Please look at http://www.ask.com/web?q=What+is+the+difference+between+communism+and+socialism%3F&o=0&l=dir&jss=0.
    Otherwise, you raise several good points. Throwing (government) money at social problems is not the answer. Christians need to provide real help by considering carefully how what they do will affect others and whether “help” is truly beneficial. For example, lending money to someone who never pays loans back would be a bad idea. That would enable them to continue their pattern of debt.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Nicole. I like your comment that throwing government money at social problems is not the answer. The truth is, the only money the government has is money it has taken from you and me (or money it has printed up for itself, making the dollars in your pocket and mine worth less). So the question is, who do you trust more to invest those dollars to make a difference in someone’s life…yourself or politicians and bureaucrats? Having seen what the government does, I trust private charity.

      The only difference I was able to discern between socialism and communism from the link you provided is how those in power came to be there. If I understand the article you provided correctly, the essential difference is that the socialist scheme is a democratic one, while the communist is authoritarian. Either way, the government is both regulator of and player in the marketplace. As I touched on in the article, I believe that both the Bible and the lessons of history teach that people are basically self-interested, so to place that much power in the hands of a small group of people is to give them the power to exploit the masses. And I don’t think we have to look very far to find a democratically-elected politician that has resorted to unethical activity in order to get and keep his position. Austria, like the rest of the world, has not eliminated poverty through its socialist economy. They still have approximately 11-12% of their population living in povery. Austria does enjoy a consistently low unemployment rate, but so do we when the government is not tinkering with the economy. You are right. Christians do need to provide real help…not the government.


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