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I know that the title of this article probably spurs passionate feelings inside you.  It certainly does me.

But my goal is in this article is not to tell you whether you should be for or against welfare as a whole in our country.

It’s too complex to deal with in a short article like this one.  It’s not just about whether we should help the poor.  It’s not just about whether the government should be involved in it.  And it’s also not just about the national debt and whether we can afford it.

You’ve got to decide where you stand on the policy based on your own understandings of the political system.

But the goal of this article is to talk about Scriptural principles which should inform us as we deal with a welfare system which is already in place, and how we should respond.

So be humble, and have #compassion! Click To Tweet

High Standards for Ourselves

First and foremost, before we can understand how to deal with others, we must understand what the Scriptures tell us about ourselves.

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 inform us that we should provide for ourselves, not being dependent on anybody, and it will cause us to win the respect of non-Christians.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 tell us that we should not be lazy but should work if we want to eat.  It’s important enough that Paul says that we should discipline those in the church who call themselves believers who refuse to work if they are able.

All this means that we should hold ourselves to high standards.  Before we begin to work with anybody else, we need to make sure that we ourselves are doing everything we can to provide for ourselves.

And I know how hard it can be to get off of welfare, since you can often make more money receiving from the government than you can working a job at minimum wage.  This makes it very difficult to make your own living.

But the commands still stand, and even if it takes us years to do it, we must make it our goal to be off of welfare and working for own families.

Understand Compassion

Photo credit: AK Rockefeller via / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: AK Rockefeller via / CC BY-SA

But this does not change how we should view those who are trapped in the difficult system of welfare.  They might have grown up with far less privilege than you or me.  They might have never learned good financial habits.  They might face social constructs that you don’t – like racism, sexism, single-parenthood.

Financial instability might very well be from poor decisions that an individual has made on their own.  But it doesn’t mean that they don’t need help.

Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

As Jesus had mercy on people who have made poor decisions which ultimately put them in terrible positions in life, we should also have mercy.

Remember, maybe you’ve made really good financial decisions throughout your life.  But you are just as sick as anyone on welfare, just in a different way – maybe your pride and arrogance have been your downfall.  Maybe your lust or anger have hurt you.  Whatever it is, you’re just as poverty-stricken as any other man or woman, in terms of emotional poverty, character poverty, spiritual poverty, and the like.

So be humble, and have compassion!  Help those in need from your own bounty, and don’t despise a program which has compassion as its goal.

Understand When Helping Hurts

All that being said, when someone is financially poverty-stricken, the answer is not always to throw money at the situation.

#Paternalism is such a destructive thing because it actually keeps people in #poverty. Click To Tweet

As you interact with people that you think you might be able to help, you’ve got to remember not to be paternalistic.  This is a term widely-used in the book “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  The ideas in this section come from this book.

Paternalism is “Habitually doing things for people that they can do for themselves.”  When Helping Hurts puts it this way:

Paternalism can take a number of forms, such as:

  • Resource Paternalism:  giving people resources they do not truly need and/or could acquire on their own.
  • Spiritual Paternalism:  taking spiritual leadership away from the materially poor, assuming we have more to offer than they do.
  • Knowledge Paternalism:  assuming we have all the best ideas about how to do things.
  • Labor Paternalism:  doing work for the materially poor that they could do for themselves.
  • Managerial Paternalism:  taking ownership of change away from the poor, insisting that they follow our “better, more effecient” way of doing things
Photo credit: Anja Disseldorp via / CC BY

Photo credit: Anja Disseldorp via / CC BY

Paternalism is such a destructive thing because it actually keeps people in poverty.  If someone is continually given money when they need food, and they are an able-bodied person who could be working, it communicates a message to them.

That message is that you are not able to work.  You are not able to provide for your family.  You need other people to take care of you.

We must be extremely careful not to be paternalistic as we work to help others climb out of material poverty.

Instead, we should encourage them to pursue their own solutions to their problems.  If you ask someone in material poverty what they wanted to do when they were younger, you might see them brighten up a little bit and stand up a little straighter.  They might explain that restaurant they’ve always wanted to open or that electrician license they’ve been thinking about for a while.

Our job is not to give everything to them on a silver platter.  Our job is to help them obtain their own goals so that they can solve their own problems.  Maybe connect them with your friend, the dean of the hotel management program at your local community college.  Maybe help them develop a business plan.

Just be sure to honor Christ as you help them in a way that does not hurt them.

For more information about a mission strategy which is not paternalistic, look at this previous article.


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