A recurrent theme by some Christians, is that the church can take care of the poor, and that it would be more compassionate and efficiency if they did rather than the govt. Certain Matthew 25 is pretty hard core that Christians should be doing so. Likewise, the cities in Ezekiel that chose not to do so did not end well. Even more so, in this Sunday’s lectionary reading, we have the parable of the 5000… just a few fish and some bread starting with the apostles multiplied to feed the entire group, and there were 12 baskets left over! Whats perhaps most interesting, is the words of Jesus. “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!”
As such, it is certainly a reasonable stance that the church should take care of the poor…
If one were to go back to the Old Testament rules on tithing, ie not 10%, but 23-1/3%, the church could do so somewhat. On the other hand, most Christians believe that the old testament laws no longer apply, but more so that we should give from the heart. In theory, this sounds like a much better solution. There will be some who give little to nothing, and others who give 90%+, and it would seem that giving would be even greater than the OT’s 23-1/3& figure.
Realistically, the US average church tithe ends up being only 2.43% or about $40 billion. Of that $40 billion, nearly 3/4 goes to salaries, buildings, and program expenses… thus, there is about $10 billion left for missions. If one splits the missions costs in half, ie 50% for evangelism, materials, missionaries, overhead, we end up with $5 billion/year to take care of the world’s poor by providing food, clothing, & shelter. I’m leaving off medical care, as there are differences in opinion as to the parable of the good samaritan and todays medical practices.
The US Govt spends $9.1 billion on food, nutrition, and temporary assistance for needy families each month (page 16 of the above report). So… if the church were to take care of the poor in the US, they could do so for ~2 weeks, before running out of money. In fairness though, lets assume there is a loss of efficieny, fraud, waste, etc in govt programs where in the church could do quite a bit better. For the sake of argument, lets say the church could out perform government on a 10:1 basis... fewer regs, fewer middlemen, ie farm direct to the poor with volunteer transport, better negotiations, more donations than direct purchases, more volunteer positions than paid ones, greater oversight, less fraud, better full time employment placements etc. (Ok, so I’ve way overly optimistic on this)
The church at its current budget levels, and priorities could thus provide for food, nutrition and temporary assistance for the poor in the US for 6 months out of the year…
Some have suggested, if the govt were to step away, that church folks would then donate more… some have even researched this (its behind paywall) and suggest that church giving declined as the new deal programs came into being. Then again, causation and correlation are not the same. It is how ever interesting to note the following data:
1933 Church giving 3.2%
1955 Church tithing 3.2%
2002 Church tithing 2.6%
2008 Church tithing 2.4%
If one then adds in the fact that taxes as a percentage of GDP are lower than they have been for decades… its easy to go???? Again, correlation and causation are often at odds.
Another aspect to consider, is how much the poor should be helped. Ie, govts idea of what is reasonable support. may be at odds with the values of some Christians. A Bishop of the Catholic church says one thing, those in the pew another and priests another. Likewise, Hugh, a Mennonite minister, overhears some Bible study commentary and….
“The passage was the story of the rich young ruler, who comes to Jesus for advice, and then Jesus tells him to sell everything he has and to give it to the poor. The people in the small group were having a tough time with this.
After hearing that story read, a young guy in the room – richer than 80% of the planet, born the predominant race and the most privileged gender in the wealthiest country in the world – the very epitome of a rich young ruler to the majority of our planet – it was then that this kid said,”I think the important thing to keep in mind is to have a balanced view. After all, God gives us our possessions for a reason, and—”
It was then that I lost it….”
Read the entire article at Who Sinned that these people are poor
What about Barbados, Calcutta, Guyana? If churches only help those lacking food in the US for 6 months, what about the rest of the world? What about the rest of the year?
There is corruption in government, even the most optimistic pro-government person there is can see problems with favoritism, single bid contracts, political contributions etc… but alas, the church is not immune. A fellow was kicked out of his church, as he didnt attend often enough. Imagine in todays economic climate, how many can’t attend “often enough”…now imagine said folks not only being thrown out of church, but also economically tossed out on the street. A very sad example of this is what happens far too often when folks get divorced. Imagine what would happen to the poor person who the church was helping.
The thing is, it wasnt always this way, and likewise not all churches are like the above. Back when, churches were behind the building of hospitals, the building and planning of schools. Public schools, a hundred plus years ago were rallied for, and even funded by the ELCA’s predecessor bodies. Today, churches have sold their hospitals, sold their schools, and many have become exceedingly dependent upon government to function. Ie, Lutheran social services and Catholic charities here in MN receive so much money from the state, that had the MN budget shutdown continued, they were looking to have to cancel any number of services. Likewise, when government funds church charities, hospitals etc, strings are included, and rightly so… but alas, such is often in conflict with the mission and/or values of the church.
Bottom line, its not just a math thing, a history thing, a definition thing, or even an abuse thing. Recent history is pretty clear, the church cant do it all, or even a major portion, irrespective of Matthew 25. Likewise, the government cant do it all either, as evidenced by greater and greater budget cuts, almost always impacting the least of these more so than anyone else.
This is where churches can and often do step up to the plate… and yet so many still fall through the cracks. To think that the govt should step back, and shift greater burden for poverty onto the church is beyond unrealistic….