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