Home » Biblical Studies » Progressives Don’t Want to Help the Poor to escape Poverty—Entitlement Programs aren’t Charity or Charitable

Progressives Don’t Want to Help the Poor to escape Poverty—Entitlement Programs aren’t Charity or Charitable

entitlement programs bouy with anchor sxc hu smallOne of the frustrations I face as a biblical theologian is the confusion that biblical laws regarding the poor cause Christians who cannot tell the difference between charity and entitlement programs sustained by governmental confiscation and redistribution of personal wealth. This confusion is created, I believe by two different realities that collide like speeding cars at a lonely Texas intersection.

The first point of confusion regards the nature of biblical law in relationship to the ancient Israelite community vs. the nature of modern senses of law in relationship to technologically advanced western societies. Israelite legal code had both the advantage and disadvantage of being part enforceable statutes[1] and part covenantal appeal. Many of the laws have penalty attached to them, like theft, vandalism, assault, murder, adultery, and rape. (Remember: It was not enough to suspect someone of a crime nor to catch them committing a crime; it had to be proven by 2-3 witnesses, who could pass careful scrutiny in their character and testimony.) Other laws were less susceptible to a courts purview and punishment.  Try bringing, “Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people; but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Lev 19:18) before a judge. Thus, one needs to carefully assess the “legal” weight of laws of charity as opposed to divine call. Law in Israel was about community and worship and not just court. The meaning of a law is found in a law’s intention, the reality it is trying to bring about, working theoretically and practically within its presumed system and culture.

The second point of confusion stems from the warping of modern sensibilities about family and community in the face of rapidly globalizing perceptions. For, in truth, to claim to be “part of a global community” is to have no community; it is to be a single individual among a mass of individuals looking to the government for salvation from all that ails you. The enormity of our infrastructure, the unimaginable technological advancement or our society, and the increased reliance on credit, insurance and “public” works have radically altered modern perceptions of personal accountability. Those all important safety nets of the past, family and local community, have faded from our minds to such an extent that most today cannot even imagine a solution to any problem that does not rely on the government. It seems to me that the vast portion of comments about any problem in society is greeted today by the statements, “There ought to be a law,” and “The Government should do something about this.” I capitalized Government on purpose.

Thus, in today’s environment, “concern for the poor” has become synonymous with “government entitlement programs.” If you don’t support a government solution to a problem, then you just don’t care about the poor. You are heartless, mean, and let’s not forget racist. The mind cannot even entertain the idea that anything or anyone can help the poor better than the government. The notion that entitlement is actually harmful to the poor is inconceivable… and yes, I do know what inconceivable means.

Those of us, however, who do want to help the poor… really help the poor… as in help the poor escape poverty through education, labor, character and seized opportunity… we know something about charity vs. Government Entitlement programs. We know that the psychological and legal dynamic of each is radically different and will eventually lead to completely different kinds of society.

To say, “This is God; give to the poor; help your neighbor; reach with love into the community,” is a far cry from saying, “This is the government; we are here to take your property so that we can set up distribution centers for those who haven’t done as well in life as you have. We will choose whom, when, how, and how much.”

Let’s not be so naïve as to think that a body of laws, established within a kinsman system of small local communities, that make appeals to the heart of a neighbor is in any way equivalent with supporting sweeping government systems of nationwide entitlement programs. Charity is not entitlement and entitlement is not charity.



[1] “Enforceable by whom?” is an important point of interpretation. They had no cops. Their entire legal system was a kinsman system with a growing central kingship laid over top of it. The same law within two different systems of enforceability may have radically different impacts on the community. What is healthy in one system may easily become oppressive in another.

[2] media pic is from sxc.hu; it reflects the notion that government entitlement programs are like a life preserver with an anchor tossed to a drowning soul.

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