Faithful Politics

Being faithful with our politics, not political with our faith.

The Crossroads: Should Christians Support Income Redistribution Efforts By The Government?

The Crossroads is a monthly installment where Christians of differing perspectives have an opportunity to voice their respective opinions on an issue.  In the spirit of promoting edifying dialogue within the Body of Christ we encourage you to add your voice to the discussion.  May our conversation be uplifting for the Church and point us all to a more clear understanding of our Savior.

Religion and Politics

Question: Should Christians Support Income Redistribution Efforts By The Government?

Ontological Equality Does Not Equal Practical Equality - Eric Teetsel

God designed a world of inequality. People come in various shapes, sizes, and abilities; are born under very different circumstances; and are given unique callings that require different lifestyles. There are exceptions. For example, each of us is an Imago Dei being of infinite worth (Genesis 1). Each of us is equally in need of a savior (Romans 3). But nowhere do we see these ontological truths leading to practical equality. We see implicit affirmations of practical inequality in stories like the vineyard owner (Matthew 20) and the illustration of the Church as a body of many parts (1 Corinthians). Ask yourself, how would Jesus respond if I told him it was unjust that I was a pinkie toe and not an arm?

Moving from biblical principles to American public policy in the 21st century, what are the implications of ontological equality and practical inequality? Instead of dividing society between the makers and the takers, Christians should encourage government to develop frameworks within which individuals can express their God-given talents and experience the dignity and satisfaction that comes from contributing to the common good. This means an opportunity society that rewards virtuous behaviors like fidelity, thrift, hard work, patience, risk-taking.

- Eric is the program manager for the Values and Capitalism initive of the American Enterprise Institute (ValuesAndCapitalism.com)


It’s Not About Redistribution, It’s About Social Programs - Keane Fine

“Should Christians support income redistribution efforts by the government?” That is a loaded question that is framed by people who desire the answer to be ‘no.’ Should Christians support the government ‘taking’ money from people who have a lot and giving it to those who don’t have as much? Probably not. But the reality is the government doesn’t take money from people who earn a lot and just hand it over to the poor. They use the money raised from taxes to fund programs that help those who live below the poverty line. Social programs are not an attempt to put everyone at an identical income level, it is not some socialist dream of everyone being equal. It rather attempts to help those who are poor survive and hopefully overcome their current situation to be able to support themselves.

The question could instead be: Should Christians support programs that aid those who are less fortunate? I can’t see how the answer can be ‘no.’ If this was a question of the government taking money from faith based aid organizations and instead using it for government sponsored ones I could see the concern. I understand the argument that small organizations can work more efficiently than the government and if peoples needs were being fully addressed by small organizations we would not need to have these discussions. But the reality is that there are more needs than there is help. There are more people who need food, housing, medical care, and education than the Church is providing.

While it would be great if no one in America struggled to survive the reality is that many people either through circumstances under their control or outside of it are in need. Struggling to survive in America should be unacceptable to any American and even more so to American Christians. Everyone is called on to help those who need it. It is disturbing that Christians would be more upset over government programs used to help those in need than they are that there are people in America who are in need.

- Keane is the co-founder of FaithfulPolitics.org and works for a Christian publishing company.


There Is A Difference Between Governmental Justice and Personal Responsibility - Kolburt Schultz

The operative phrase in this question is, “by the government.”  As Christians committed to biblical authority we have no option but to affirm the importance of caring for the poor and vulnerable of society.  Sacrificial giving of one’s resources is a staple of the Christian life.  However, once we bring the government into this discussion we leave the realm of biblical authority and enter the domain of political opinion.  Christians can argue that government aid is essential for a thriving society, while other Christians can contend that government programs only create dependence and stifle productivity and economic growth.  Though neither of these positions can claim for itself the exclusive label of “Christian.”

The Bible does however point to some helpful distinctions concerning the role of individuals and the role of the government.  Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert provide a wonderful exposition of Leviticus 19 in their book What is the Mission of the Church?  In it they point out that the Levitical law proscribes two distinct aspects of a healthy society: personal generosity and governmental justice.  In verses 9-10 the Israelites are instructed to not glean the edges of their fields in order to allow the poor access to food.  A few verses later the law addresses the judicial system, stating that the Israelites are not to “be partial to the poor or defer to the great” (v. 16).  Here we see a clear distinction between governments and individuals.  Individuals are to be generous, governments are to be just.  The core of justice is found in fairness and impartiality.  It is difficult to make the argument that “justice” can come from forced generosity.  Neither can the government love poor people, only other people can do that.  What is more, you can’t love the poor with someone else’s money; you must give sacrificially of your own resources.

- Kolburt is the co-founder of FaithfulPolitics.org and a regular contributor.


*Organizational affiliations are for identification purposes only.  The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the organization or of FaithfulPolitics.org.


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6 Comments

  1. Keane,
    The civil government, by definition, is incapable of providing charity to anyone. I borrowed that line from J.P. Moreland. I think the key point you brought up is helping people “overcome” their situation. The problem is that government programs do not accomplish this. They send checks out with no accountable structure to ensure that the money being sent to people is being spent wisely. Also, non-profits distribute a much higher percentage of money received to the poor and needy than the government could ever hope to do. This is due to the stress by non-profits to keep admin costs at a minimum whereas the government does not stress this.

    As Christians, we must promote a free market as much as possible to help those in need. This allows churches and non-profits to treat the disease, not the symptom. Poverty is a mindset, not a condition for the able-bodied. So, we have to train these people in budgeting, a good work ethic, and healthy financial habits. Government is extremely limited in these regards. It has been shown that lower taxes always lead to higher charitable contributions. So as Christians, we must support this.

    • To Robert Howell
      While in a perfect world – Which God and each of us know we do not live in – non-profits would be the soul provider of assistance to those in need, it is just not reality. Both government and non-profits doing all that they do still fall short of aiding the ‘widows orphans’ aliens and poor. It is convenient to say non-profits do a better job (many do not) and government does a bad job (it could do better).
      We as a people will be judged and viewed by the world based upon how we treated the neediest amongst us. Each of us as individuals should and do bear the same judgement, whether by those who know us, our children, ourselves and God. When taxes are lower more money is given to charity? – not sure that statistic has any teeth or reality. Certainly it is not a workable or easy solution to the person trying to figure out here the next meal will be coming from.

  2. Eric,

    How do you view the early church in acts sending money to Jerusalem in order to support the widows and orphans? This practice seems to me to be incongruous with the idea that inequality is inherent in our humanity, or am I not understanding you correctly?. I do agree that some people have more, and some have less. I also think that it is the responsibility of the church to help the widows and orphans (those who are in physical need).

    I don’t think that there are many people who believe that those who are in profound need should not be helped by Christians. The question becomes, how do we help them? Many, like Kolburt, would argue that the government help is no help at all, and that it actually harms those who it aims to aide. Others, like Keane, would say that while the government is inefficient, and possibly enabling, it is still genuinely helping those in need.

    I think that I am somewhere in the middle. I think that a part of the mission of the Church is to help those in need. I believe that this can come through both the government and private groups. I think that we need to be striving to change the government systems to be more effective, but if we were to take it away entirely would cause intense human suffering, and would be irresponsible.

    • Josh,

      Thanks for your thoughts, but I think my position is micharacterizd. I don’t think that government aid is of no use, just that it is limited in scope. One of the limits being the biblical call to love our neighbor. One of the exegetical failures of the religious left is their argument that we are fulfilling God’s call to love the poor by raising taxes on the wealthy. The government can and should provide some kind of safety net, but only the Church can show the love of Jesus.

  3. To Eric
    While God designed a world of inequality – giving each of us a variety of gifts talents and skills that together build a community of people who have the benefit of relying upon one another – He also designed a society of equality.
    The laws given through Moses in Leviticus clearly state God’s intentions that all belongs to Him and we are given the land to stewart and benefit from for a time. The year of Jubilee as commanded in the Torah was a chance to even the score. The lack of business savvy of one man, where he might lose some of his land, was not to be carried forward to his children, they got a new start as the land was returned to the family. This would also imply that the handing down of wealth to the next generation could not happen.
    The command to allow for gleaning and not taking 100% off your farm fields shows God’s foresight in knowing there will always be those in need.
    I agree fully with your second paragraph except that “we should encourage government” – this redefining of values and rewarding, looking with esteem upon those who live these values is a personal and community goal. As long as we use money as a sign of who wins, people will go hungry. The resource that puts food on the table and in the bellies of dieing children is the same resource hoarded by those who want to display their success.
    We need to have them trade in the money and hand out trophies and gold stars instead.

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