A regular argument made, at least from some evangelical political voices from the political left, is to cite numerous Old Testament texts about poverty and then suggest that one of the central concerns of a just government is to solve the problems associated with poverty. Republicans are heartless promoters of bigger business while Democrats care deeply about the little guy and people’s needs.

No one who has an ounce of compassion disagrees that Christians should care about poverty and its associated social ills. The issue here is not "Should we care about poverty and the problems related to it?" Rather, the question is, "What is the best way to respond to poverty?" The evangelical left, expressed through voices like that of Jim Wallis of Sojourners, often acts as if they alone hold the high ground in this debate. They care deeply about the poor and conservatives do not. Frankly, I believe it is time that we smoke this myth out into the open for what it is, nonsense.

I confess that Ronald Reagan, and what he stood for, has had a profound impact upon my life and political thought. Reagan once said, about his own Illinois childhood, "We were poor when I was young, but the difference then was that the government didn’t come around telling you you were poor." How true.

I most assuredly do not want to make light of real poverity in America, or of the need to address this problem with compassion, but anyone who has really seen the rest of the world, as I have in places like India and South American, knows that America’s poverty is a small thing when compared to that elsewhere. Here the poor can and do buy stereos, televisions, cigarettes and alcohol. There they hope for food and water in order to live another day.

I believe Ronald Reagan got it right when, in a speech as governor of California in 1972, he said: "Free enterprise has done more to reduce poverty than all the government programs dreamed up by Democrats." The bottom line answer to poverty in America is not more social programs devised and run by the government. Personally, I want more Christians to understand that they should not feel guilty about the blessings this system has given to them materially. They should, however, learn generosity and much broader giving with true joy. "Unto whom much is given much is required" still holds true.

Reagan, once again, understood all of this so beautifully. He said in his State of the Union address in 1988: "My friends, some years ago the federal government declared war on poverty, and poverty won!" The solutions to poverty are to be found in the free enterprise system and the sooner we stop bashing business and wealth making enterprises the better will be our overall response to poverty in America. And you can tell the Christian left I said so!

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  1. Acton Institute PowerBlog January 20, 2006 at 7:32 am

    Armstrong on Government and Charity

    John H. Armstrong tackles the question, How Should Government Deal with Poverty?
    He writes, A regular argument made, at least from some evangelical political voices from the political left, is to cite numerous Old Testament texts a

  2. Adam from Chicago January 20, 2006 at 9:19 am

    I have two basic problems with these comments. First, is a pragmatic problem. If we are to place responsibility for helping the poor on the church then the church would have to eliminate all of the other things that it does and drastically increase its giving to deal with it. Church giving is approximately $180 billion a year and the government spends far more than that on poverty prevention programs. In addition, there is currently a line that is drawn about how much the government should help. All that you really seem to be saying is that you don’t like where the line is drawn. I am assuming that you don’t want the government to stop aleviating poverty altogether. Social Security, for instance, is the largest and most sucessful poverty prevention program in world history. When it was started almost 80 percent of the elderly were in poverty, now it is less than 11 percent. What about education, since most conservatives believe that education is the best way to end poverty, should the government stop its poverty program associated with education? If you add up all of the money spent by all levels of govenment, then education is one of the most expensive parts of poverty prevention.
    Here is my main issue. Poverty is most likely to occur to children. Children do not have responsibility to care for themselves. We as Christians are called to help, orphans, widows, aliens and the poor. I certainly do not think that government programs are the end all of poverty prevention, but even the majority of Church based programs are funded by government because the church is not funding them. So if you want Government to stop fighting proverty, or even to reduce its fight on poverty, we need a church that will actually do something.

  3. A. Caneday January 20, 2006 at 4:16 pm

    Amen! Great article!

  4. Rev. Rick Carder February 7, 2006 at 8:41 am

    Is poverty an economic issue alone? I agree that those who make wealth should be entitled to keep it, make bigger companies or build bigger houses. However, is there any response from The Church especially the evangelicals? Is not poverty a social issue too? (better education, mentoring, tutoring…)I am a conservative evangelical who has taken responsibility for doing my part to help those in need. What I often see however is the evangelical church placing “church membership” ahead of charity to “the least of these.” Some churches have even placed “church attendance” as a requirement to getting financial help. Granted, there needs to be a balance. The church exist to reach people and make disciples. How about making disciples that are filled with compassion for the poor and in-need? Visit my site for some ideas: http://www.love-cc.org .

  5. upset lady March 14, 2006 at 6:43 pm

    we should care because this is part of mother natures children and it is wrong not to care.

  6. Kevin Woosley March 29, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    My feeling is that the Church needs to be concerned with both Poverty and Wealth. It’s fruitless to examine a problem without also examining it’s relationship with it’s opposite state.

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