Theological Thursday – Christians and Social Welfare

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Disclaimer: I’m sorry to be exclusionary, but this post is really for my Christian readers.  If you are Wiccan or Deist or atheist it won’t make sense and really doesn’t apply.

For quite a while now I’ve been hearing people say, “If you truly believe in God you will follow this or that political plan to help the poor.”

Here’s the thing….

Regardless of politics, if you call yourself a Christian, there is a certain standard that your Lord and Savior told you to live up to.

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourslves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted…. for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

-Luke 12:33-34

Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

-Matthew 10:21

And the Bible tells us this story:

As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasurey. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” he said. “This poor widow has put in more than all the others.  All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

-Luke 21:1-4

This ideal is hard to accept!

I love Jesus and call myself a follower of his…. but am I really willing to give up all my possessions?  All?  My house? My computer? My car? The clothes off my back? Maybe… but it would be HARD for me to do.  Really hard.

Judging by the numbers, I’m not the only one who feels that way.

The Old Testament Law was to give 10% of your wealth back to God.  Not just any 10%, but the BEST 10%.  Most churches still encourage that practice (I guess telling people to give EVERYTHING is considered over the top.  See, “it would be HARD,” above.).  Yet, even 10% seems to be too much to ask.

Consider this math:

According to Wikkipedia, 73% of Americans consider themselves to be Christians.  That is 227,462,099 people. Assuming an average family size of 2.6 people, it’s 87,485,423 Christian households.  If the average household income is $50,054 that means there should be $437,864,542,115 each and every year flowing into the church coffers AND BACK OUT AGAIN in service to “the least of these.”

That’s right… if so-called Christians put their money where their mouth is, there would be HALF A TRILLION DOLLARS coming just from the USA to take care of those who are unable to take care of themselves.

I’m not talking about Christians giving up all of their worldly possessions, as that crazy radical named Jesus suggested.  I’m just talking about 10%.

The reality is, only a small percentage of people who call themselves “Christian” actually have any kind of active faith.  Those few give an average “tithe” of less than 3%.  Many churches are finding it’s barely enough to keep the lights on.

We (and please understand I am including myself in this) get so worried about keeping up with all of the material things that society says we need that we feel we can’t afford to give 10%.  But, seriously…  do you give 10% of your income to the cable company?  Do you give it to the bank to make the payment on your “extra” vehicle?  Do you give it to the stores at the mall to be sure that your clothing is stylish?

I suggest that we, the church in the prosperous (yes, even in these economic times we are prosperous compared to many) Western world, need to take a long hard look at our own practices before we start saying that God wants non-believers to pay 40% in taxes in order to care for the poor.

If you call yourself a Christian and you are living comfortably (or even just a tad uncomfortably) and failing to give at least 10% I suggest you examine your habits.  I know… believe me, I KNOW, it can be hard to give 10% when you feel like you can’t even live off of the 100%, but, as a Christian you are to have faith.  Take a look at “the lilies of the field who neither sow nor reap” and know that God isn’t going to leave you in need when you are being faithful to give to Him.

And if you are in a position of leadership in the church, I pray that you examine very closely what your church is doing with the precious, hard-earned tithes of the faithful.  Are we using that money to buy fancy buildings and cool electronics that make us seem “relevant?”  Or are we using it to serve the needy, as we would serve Christ himself.

I know… there is a time and a place to spend money on buildings and pretty things.  I’m just saying that we need to be sure our priorities are right.

As for social welfare… well, that’s a political issue, not a religious one.  Vote however your conscience leads you.  But don’t blame non-believers for not helping the poor when the church is setting such a dismal example.

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6 responses »

  1. I wasn’t going to comment because even though I’m a theologian so I love your arguments and having this conversations I am not Christian: however how you feel about the gospel of wealth or what’s called “prosperity theology” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosperity_theology). In other words: do you believe churches should be teaching members how to manage their money, and if so what should they teach? Or do you think that’s something a church is overstepping their boundaries doing?
    One of my best friends was involved with a very conservative Baptist church, whom some of the friends she keeps from the church have called it a cult (not bashing it just for perspective): she believes that it IS the churches job to teach people how to handle their money. I believe given her background without the financial information and education she was given from this church she wouldn’t be in such a good financial position as she is today (much better than myself btw) however, “giving” doesn’t seem to be included nor does any kind of social responsibility. In fact she’s much more fiscally conservative politically than I am and seems to take much larger risks with her personal money over all. (basically, she always has what she needs and then some but also spends most of her disposable income – I am assuming she is saving for retirement and etc.)

    • Well… this is “off the cuff” and not especially well thought out (so don’t judge me too harshly by it! lol) but, I think that it’s fine for churches to teach financial responsibility. There is a lot of great advice in the Bible that even non-Christians would be hard-pressed to dispute. Things like, don’t buy on credit, don’t lend irresponsibly, it’s better to invest than to “sit on” your money, etc. I would be in a significantly better position if I’d done any one of those things consistently.
      While I believe that it is possible to make a good argument for “the Bible is written for all people in all times,” I think that it would be foolish to take every part of the Bible out of the times and places in which it was written. For example, the Bible says it’s appropriate in some cases for a man to sell his daughter. We frown on that in our society. The Bible makes no mention of saving for retirement… because there was no concept of retirement in those times. A person did useful work until the day came when they were too old and infirm to perform any sort of useful task what-so-ever and then their children cared for them until they died. So I think, when reading, we need to keep Biblical advice in the context of the bigger message.
      That said, I think the single, big, glaring ONE BIG MESSAGE of the entire life of Jesus was, “Love God and love your neighbor.” So if a church is teaching financial management with no concept of social justice I think they are missing the point entirely.
      That is why I find it infuriating that Christians believe the government should be legislating care for the poor and elderly when they, themselves are failing to care for these same people as Jesus commanded.
      Does that answer your question? Or did I miss the point?
      I do that sometimes! LOL
      Thank you for reading with an open mind. I think that it is such genuine curiosity that helps us all learn and grow! I appreciate it very much!

  2. I just wanted to put in a word or two. I’m a wiccan and went ahead and read the post. I’m always interested in spiritual matters. I think this post could apply to any of us, no matter what religion we practice. This is a matter of the heart. We ALL need to give, according to our means. Even the poorest person can give something……their time, their energy, something. Let me just give you an example. There is a young couple near me. He works long hours just to get by. They have no car. The parents help how they can but they are working also. He mentioned that she had no way to get to the store and get groceries. They really didn’t have the money to pay for gas to get a ride and it was a hardship. I told them that I give another lady a ride. She and her husband are disabled and have no vehicle. I can’t help them financially, but a ride to the grocery is so welcome. And it certainly only takes s short half hour of my time to pick them up and drop them off when we are done. If each person could help one other person in some way, THAT would be a truly “Christian” thing to do. I think we all get caught up in survival and forget how to look for ways to reach out.

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