The Bible makes clear God’s imperative that we take care of the poor. Both the Old and New Testaments put far more emphasis on this than on issues like homosexuality or abortion (which are important in their own right). Think, for example, of the words of Jesus:
For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me’ (Matthew 25:35-36).
I doubt that anyone would deny that caring for the poor is a responsibility that every Christian must take seriously. Certainly, each of us should be involved personally in contributing to the support of destitute people. But, what role should government play? You often hear Christians say that caring for the poor is a duty we have as individuals, and the government has no role or responsibility in this area. It is a job for the church and other private institutions, and the government should stay out of it. Well, let’s think about that.
If we believe that we can satisfy Christ’s requirement that the poor be cared for with only individuals and the church or other charitable institutions doing the job, we have to acknowledge a very disturbing fact: the job isn’t getting done. There are literally millions of people, many of them children, who remain in great distress in our nation today. If the poor can be adequately cared for by the efforts of Christians and other good-hearted people alone, why aren’t we doing it? Then there would be no need for government involvement and no controversy about it. Certainly Christians and their institutions are expending great efforts to help poor people. But history demonstrates that private institutions alone, including the church, simply can’t do all that is needed.
Healthcare is a great example. The church has done magnificent work through the many hospitals and other healthcare ministries it has created. But still there are multitudes in our nation today who are in great distress, sometimes literally dying, because they cannot get insurance and cannot pay for the healthcare they desperately need. Only government can address such issues on the required scale. If the church could meet the need, we would already be doing it and government involvement would not even be a question.
So, here’s the issue: doesn’t God’s command that Christians care for the poor obligate us to use the best available tools to do so? In a democracy government is nothing more than the arm of the people in carrying out their will. If we refuse to use that arm, and poor people continue to suffer and die who could have been helped if we did use it, can Christians claim to have met Christ’s requirement that the poor be cared for? Or do we not bear responsibility for the misery we refused to alleviate?