Saturday, February 02, 2008

Forced Compassion

What is the role of government? This is a very important question for us to consider and to answer for the answer will determine who we vote for and what programs the government should be offering. Being a Christian and an American there are two sources which will help us determine what the role of government should be. The first is the Bible. In Romans Paul writes:
1 Every person must be subject to the governing authorities, for no authority exists except by God's permission. The existing authorities have been established by God, 2 so that whoever resists the authorities opposes what God has established, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.

3 For the authorities are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you like to live without being afraid of the authorities? Then do what is right, and you will receive their approval. 4 For they are God's servants working for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for it is not without reason that they bear the sword. Indeed, they are God's servants to execute wrath on anyone who does wrong. 5 Therefore, it is necessary for you to be subject, not only because of God's wrath but also because of your own conscience.

6 This is also why you pay taxes. For rulers are God's servants faithfully devoting themselves to their work. 7 Pay everyone whatever you owe them—taxes to whom taxes are due, tolls to whom tolls are due, fear to whom fear is due, honor to whom honor is due. (Romans 13:1-7, ISV)
According to Paul the basic role government is to play in our lives is law and order. To protect its citizens from criminals on the inside and enemies on the outside. It is for this most basic service that Paul says we pay taxes.

As an American the Constitution of the United States also plays a role in helping us decide what the role of government should be. In fact that is the purpose of the document, yet it is so surprising that so many people in this country have not a single clue what it says. It defines the role of the federal government, which is very limited. If you haven't read the Constitution of this great republic then you should take the time and read it.

One of the things that worries me are Christians, mainly seen in the emergent church, who believe it is the government's role to force people to be compassionate. In other words they believe the government should take my money and give it to somebody who doesn't have any. This is seen in different welfare type programs. This isn't compassion. It is simply redistributing wealth. The way of Jesus is not forced charity but the personal choice to be compassionate.

The problem with forced compassion is that it doesn't work. It doesn't work in a Christian sense or an economic sense. Let us think about this from an economic sense first. The federal government has no money. The money that the government has it takes from people. This is a proper government function. Taxes are not immoral. So the problem isn't with taxes, but with how much money government takes from us and what that money is intended to be used for.

Each "charitable" government program costs money. Something like universal health care costs us money, it isn't free. The more government programs we have the more taxes that are required of us. The heavier the tax burden the less buying power we have as people. The less buying power we have as individuals the worse the economy becomes and the more people there are who need to have government assistance. The more people on government assistance the more taxes that are needed to fund those programs and the heavier the tax burden becomes. In the end we discover forced charity is no charity at all and cannot be sustained, at least not without a crippling tax burden on hard working people (is it moral to tax people so much that they can hardly afford to live?).

Add up the costs of the new programs people like Senators Obama, Clinton, and McCain want to add to an already bloated system and one has to wonder where the money is going to come from. Especially when we think about the reality that we are already borrowing 3 billion a day from places like China. By borrowing money to pay for compassionate social programs we are leaving the next generation to pay the bill. For the sake of the nation our government cannot afford to be the world's largest charity.

I also have a hard time believing that Jesus would what us to give away our responsibility to be charitable by giving that responsibility to the government. We cannot learn to have compassion and to give generously if we think that is the reason we have government. Compassion is a personal choice and charity is a personal responsibility. Remember Jesus' story about judgment in Matthew 25? What separated the righteous form the unrighteous? They were separated by their willingness to help those in need. Let me be absolutely clear on this: We need to fight for justice, stand up for the weak, and help those in need and we lose something when we give this responsibility to the government.

Let me leave you with an illustration. Imagine I was in downtown Chicago and I saw a homeless man on the street and I said to myself: "That man needs to be helped." But I didn't have any money on me so I wondered what I should do. Then I see you. I go over and beat you up, take your money, and give the man all the money in your wallet and say, "Have a good day and God bless." Have I acted compassionately? Have you acted compassionately? When we expect the government to be the source of charity we in essence give them the right to do just that: steal from people who have money and give that money to people who have none. Compassion doesn't happen when we give government the responsibility to help people, but perhaps we ease our consciences by telling ourselves something is being done.

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