Have you seen the picture of former president Jimmy Carter that is making the rounds on social media these days? He looks so doleful one expects to see tears running down his cheeks. Somewhere in the picture is a caption or slogan stating that anyone who objects to the use of federal tax dollars to help the poor should stop saying they want a country based on Christian values. Guess what? It is not true, none of it.
Former president Carter never made that statement. He made some foolish statements over the years, but never one this foolish. The true source of this statement was someone unknown to most folks. Still, anyone wanting to know who made this comment can find the story with a quick search of the internet.
The disheartening part of this matter is how many people apparently bought into the hoax. First, it is disheartening that anyone would believe President Carter would utter such nonsense. Second, it is disheartening that people think Christian values include taxing people to help the poor and needy.
Helping others is a Christian value. There are many verses in the Bible clearly indicating a Christian is to love and help others. However, there is not one verse in any Bible this writer has seen that clearly indicates the way one is to help others is by giving money to the government so the government can give it to those the government feels are needy. True, Jesus tells the Pharisees people are to pay their taxes, but neither Jesus nor anyone else expected the government to use those taxes to feed the poor.1
The Bible is clear in a number of places that the responsibility to help another falls on the individual and/or the church. Jesus tells the rich young man or ruler, depending on the translation, to give his wealth to the poor. At one point, disciples are specifically appointed by the leadership to care for widows and orphans. In other verses, the Bible shows believers pooling their resources so all in the church can eat and do God’s work. Nothing is said about giving one’s wealth to the government so the government can help others.
The use of tax money to help the poor is not a Christian issue. That is a strawman argument designed to distract the speaker’s audience, make them uncomfortable and attack politicians who wear their faith as part of their political personae. The use of tax dollars to help the less fortunate, however one describes the less fortunate, is a political issue. It is not a Christian values issue.
Critics of this writer’s position may respond that the argument is moot. In the infamous words of a recent Secretary of State, “What difference does it make?” After all, Christians are supposed to help the poor. If that is true, why should they care if their tax money is used to help the poor? It is easier that way, and more equitable. What difference does it make who actually gives the poor folks the dough?
It makes a great deal of difference! Shifting the responsibility for helping others to the government is a copout. It is a way for individuals, religious or otherwise, to avoid personally being involved with the person needing help. Christian values include personal responsibilities and relationships. These encompass relationships with other believers and relationships with those who do not yet know Christ.
The responsibility part includes getting down in the dirt with those who need help if necessary. Christians are supposed to act like the Good Samaritan. They are not supposed to cross the road to avoid the robbery victim laying in the gutter. They are to get down in the gutter to help him out, and then be responsible for him until he is better. Christians are not supposed to depend on Big Brother to take care of their neighbor. Christians are supposed to do that themselves.
Being a Christian can be hard work. It can be especially hard when it involves getting one’s hands dirty helping the poor and needy. It is so much easier to let Uncle Sam do the dirty work. However, when people, Christians or otherwise, abrogate their responsibilities there is another risk. The government has an excuse to step into what Christ taught was an individual’s responsibility. When that happens, the poor and needy come to look to the government as their friend, provider, and savior.
Most religions teach there is something more powerful than the government. Those in power do not like that way of thinking. Governments would prefer to be seen as helper and savior. That is why governments, even so-called theocracies, want to control as much as possible. They want people to depend on them, and look to them for everything.
Kings wanted religious leaders to coronate them in the name of their god. They wanted to be held up as the chosen of that god or the gods. They wanted the trappings of power, and they wanted to subjugate the citizenry. It is always easier to subjugate people if they feel dependent on the government. Even democracies can fall into that trap, and there is every indication this democracy is sliding that way.
1. This piece is written based on this writer’s understanding of the Bible. It is possible to find those who argue the Bible does justify government’s role in feeding the poor and needy. To this writer it seems most of those arguments ring more of rationalization than biblical truth.
© S. E. Jackson