The Myth that the Church Alone Can and Should Take Care of the Poor

Tuesday Jesse Graston, the South Carolina Coordinator of the John Birch Society, stood on the steps of the South Carolina Statehouse and called on Americans to nullify the Affordable Care Act and replace it with charity from churches. Frankly this is a sentiment I have heard for years. The government should get out of the “charity business) i.e. welfare, medicare, medicaid and Social Security and let the churches do their job. Well, I have news for you. That is just flat-out never going to happen. Not only because it wouldn’t work and people would be missed but also because they simply do not have the resources to carry out the task. Follow the math with me for a second.
(If math makes you queasy look for the statements in BOLD)

The federal budget expenditures from the year 2011 (the most recent year data is available) for these programs is as follows:

  • 746 billion for welfare programs (283 billion is also contributed to these programs by the states for a total of 1.3 trillion)
  • 725 billion for Social Security
  • 480 billion for Medicare

The grand total of these expenditures is 2.505 trillion dollars per year. There are about 338,000 Christian congregations any given year that works out to $7,411,242.60 per church.

Now let’s look at  Christian church budgets in the United States.

In a survey performed by the Evangelical Christian Credit Union this is how churches responded that they spend their money:

Chart

Let’s look at a few line items…

  • Total average spending on personnel, buildings and administration is 85%
  • Total average spending on local/national/international benevolence 3%.
  • Yes, you read that right THREE FREAKING PERCENT!

If a nonprofit had this kind of percentage going to the actual people they were serving you would never give your money there. As an example, according to the Christian Science Monitor here are the percentage of total expenses spent on programs for a few well-known non-profits:

  • American Red Cross 92.2%
  • United Way 90.6%
  • Feeding America 97.2%
  • Habitat for Humanity 83.7%

If you do the math this works out to $8,270.00 average allotted in each congregation’s budget for benevolence. Do you remember the amount each congregation would have to provide to cover federal and state spending on these programs? $7,411,242.60.

I think we are a little short.

[Don’t even get me started on church debt.  According to Church Finance Today, “68% of churches in the West-South Central U.S., and 64% of churches in the East-South Central U.S. have expenses exceeding income. These are the best regions in the country.”]

All of this assumes that the numbers stay the same you say. Ok,  think about this…

  • Even if we threw 100% of church revenue at it we would still be over 7.4 million short per congregation. EVERY YEAR.
  • Even if giving doubled because taxes were cut, you cut spending in half and threw it all at benevolence, we would still be over 3.6 million dollars PER CONGREGATION SHORT. EVERY. YEAR.

All that to say, it is mathematically impossible.

Also, if only the Christian Churches, as Mr. Graston and many others assert, are charged with caring for the poor, they would have to give 100% of their annual income. And it STILL wouldn’t be enough.

How’s that for a tax increase?

According to World Christian Trends AD 30-AD 2000: Interpreting the Annual Christian Megacensus, in the year 2000, total Christian income in the United States was $5.2 trillion annually and according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, median income for working-age households slid 12.4 percent from 2000 to 2011. But for the sake of argument let’s say that number stayed the same. Church members would have to give a little less than 50% of their income to cover for it all and that wouldn’t include the remaining taxes they would still owe the government to pay for defense, infrastructure and education.

Talk about a tax hike.

Next Mr. Graston threw out this doozie about the difference between the way liberals and conservatives view taking care of the poor,

“They think it’s the duty of others to help them take care of the poor,” he remarked. “We believe that we shouldn’t take from others to help take care of the poor or to help ourself, but we follow Christ’s example.”

“He did not steal from his disciples to feed the hungry,” Graston continued. “No, he gave of his own substance to those that were in need, and I believe that as we’re saying no to the encroachments of the federal government, that we will have to stand up and the churches must take their place to take care of the needy. I’m asking as we push the government out of the way that we need to fill that vacuum and begin to see those that around us and take that initiative ourself.”

Let’s take what he said point by point, shall we?

#1. “They think it is the duty of others to help them take care of the poor.”

Last time I checked we (the citizens) are the government. The money the government spends on taking care of the least of these is money given to the government by we the people. The government is nothing else but the people we hire to steward our collective money. If we do not like the way they spend it we have recourse for that. It is called voting.

#2. “We believe that we shouldn’t take from others to help take care of the poor or to help ourself, but we follow Christ’s example.”

Hmm. When Jesus fed the 5,000 what did he start with? Loaves and fish from a person in the crowd. When Jesus made wine, what did he start with? Pots of water owned by the host of the party. Who was it who supported Jesus and provided him with the money to care for people? According to Luke 8, a group of women. As far as I can tell, Jesus used resources acquired from others to take care of people.

#3. “He did not steal from his disciples to feed the hungry. No, he gave of his own substance to those that were in need…”

Of course he did not steal from them. Neither is the government stealing from the people. We elect our representatives who then administer the finances. As the Declaration of Independence clearly states,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The government gets its power from who? From us. Humans set up governments to secure rights for all our citizens. Rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We declared and continue to declare that all our citizens are created equal. This is what our government is for and that includes but is not limited to using our tax dollars to help ensure this. If you ask me this is a very practical way to take care of people. We the people have spoken and we have decided we want our government to help us carry out the commands to love our neighbor, to care for the poor, the widow and the orphan. If you don’t like the way they are doing it, or think you have a better way, the beauty of our system is  you have the right as a citizen to try to persuade people that you are right, you have a right to organize and vote and change things. 

#4. “…I believe that as we’re saying no to the encroachments of the federal government, that we will have to stand up and the churches must take their place to take care of the needy. I’m asking as we push the government out of the way that we need to fill that vacuum and begin to see those that around us and take that initiative ourself.”

Taking care of people is not an encroachment of the federal government. And, as fully detailed above, churches are actually not capable of taking care of all the needs.  [As a side note this is a major reason why at novitas church we have no paid staff and meet in a building we use for free. We do this so we can use all of our money to take care of people.] I actually agree with one part of his last line. We do need to “begin to see those around us and take the initiative ourself” to be part of the solution. I just don’t think we need to push the government out of the way to do that. I believe we need to come along side the government and encourage fiscal responsibility, cut waste and streamline so that we can take care of people more efficiently. Honestly this is part of the reason President Bush instituted The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships which has been continued under President Obama, so that, according to ABC News to,

“coordinate with faith-based and community organizations on social service outreach and will work to utilize these organizations’ efforts to advance the administration’s policies, with a primary focus on poverty.”

Now that is a beautiful thing.

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This Mind Blowing Fact Proves That Christian Churches Cannot Provide For The Poor

Why Christian Companies’ Corporate Conscience Should be Clear

English: Hobby Lobby store in Stow, Ohio

Hobby Lobby store in Stow, Ohio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: This is NOT a post about:

  1. when life begins
  2. whether contraception causes abortion
  3. whether Roe vs. Wade should be overturned
  4. Pro-choice vs. Pro-life

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So there is a lot of hubbub out there right now about Hobby Lobby and their suit against the Federal Government over Obamacare.  Their basic concern, and the concern of many Christian business owners is that Obamacare is causing them “to violate their deeply held religious beliefs under threat of heavy fines, penalties and lawsuits” by requiring them to provide insurance that covers abortions, contraception and the morning after pill. They contend that it violates their conscience to provide such coverage because they morally oppose the use of such medications and procedures. It is my contention, however, that Hobby Lobby — and companies like them — can and should comply with the new law without any hesitation. It is also my contention that they can rest easy knowing that God does not lay (what they consider to be) the sins of others at their feet.

Requiring Christian-owned businesses to provide health insurance which covers contraception is not, honestly, that big of a deal, simply because it effectively changes nothing. Companies such as Hobby Lobby already pay people money that some of those people then use to pay for contraceptives/abortion themselves. Should Hobby Lobby be allowed to fire all those people? Of course not. Hobby Lobby is no more or less responsible for the use of said contraceptives either way. Once the money leaves their hands in the form of a paycheck or insurance premium the use of the money is no longer their responsibility. Some companies argue that under Obama care, they know that their money will be used to pay for abortions. Here are the facts.

#1. Every state must offer at least one plan that does not cover abortion so that there is an option for individuals who do not want this coverage.

#2 You will not have to pay for other people’s abortions unless you have opted to have this coverage for yourself.

In her article from earlier this year, Laura Bassett summed it up this way:

In fact, the policy does not require anyone who does not want abortion coverage to pay for it. Under the law, states have to offer at least one health plan on their insurance exchanges that doesn’t cover abortion services at all. If a state decides it does want to have health plans that cover abortion services on its exchange, and if a woman chooses one of those plans, then she has to pay a separate fee of at least $1 to a separate account for that coverage in order to make sure no federal dollars are used to support abortion services.

For people who opt into a health plan that covers abortion, the Affordable Care Act requires that health plans “provide a notice to enrollees” at the time of enrollment that their plan includes the surcharge, but those plans are not allowed to advertise the specific surcharge.

In short, the employees are given their choice of plans at least one of which will not include abortion coverage.

Now I realize that if even one woman they employ chooses that coverage and then has an abortion, some of their money will go to paying for it. But think of it this way; if I hire you to clean out my garage and then you use that money for an abortion, it is exactly the same. The health care law requires employers to provide an insurance option that covers abortion and contraception. It does not require employers to pass out morning after pills or write checks to abortion clinics. The employee is still making the choice, not the employer.

Listen, I am not pro-abortion. I think it should be as rare as possible. But to argue that I am then morally responsible for your choices off the clock simply because I provide you a paycheck or help pay for your insurance is insane. I guarantee you Hobby Lobby has paid people who have used their money to sin in all kinds of ways. I do not hold them responsible for that. They cannot, nor should they be able to, tell people how they can or cannot spend their paychecks. Unless of course they are breaking the law.

A well-meaning friend said to me today that it is a free country and the people don’t have to work there. They can just go somewhere else where that coverage is offered. Really? So now people have to know all about the owners of a company before they take a job? They need to find someone they agree with on all moral and spiritual accounts before they can work somewhere? That is like expecting an employer to know everything about a person before hiring them. This is a free country, we embrace freedom of religion when it comes to personal practice. What we do not allow is one person’s freedom of religion to trump the rights of others. If you want to do business in the United States, there are all kinds of things you may consider sinful that you cannot use to discriminate against someone when considering them for a job. For example we don’t allow companies to ask if people have already had an abortion, whether they are living with their boyfriend/girlfriend or are gay. I guarantee you that people who already work for Hobby Lobby are and have done all these things. People in fact spend their paychecks from Hobby Lobby in support of those choices.

Sadly, I think most people are just more comfortable with people who sin in the same ways they do or just keep it to themselves.

Here is the bottom line: The owners of Hobby Lobby should comply and then go to bed with a clear conscience. The individual using the contraceptives or getting the abortion or living with their boyfriend or doing drugs with the money you pay them was doing it yesterday and will do it again tomorrow. Obamacare does nothing to change that or make you pay for more of that (in fact it may be that less of an employer’s money goes to abortion since the insurance will pay a portion rather than 100% of it coming from that person’s paycheck). A company has no control (nor should they) over the private acts of an individual – and that is a good thing. God does not hold us responsible for the sins of others.

Consider this? What if the owners were Jehovah’s Witnesses (which don’t believe in getting blood transfusions) and they decide to remove the coverage for blood transfusions from their insurance policies. Would you be okay with that? What if they were Christian Science? They do not believe in much medical intervention at all. Should they be required to provide insurance for their employees? You see, when taken to its logical conclusion, it falls apart. The only truly fair way to handle this is to let each individual choose for themselves and Christians should be okay with that. After all Romans 12:10-12 says:

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

My point is that by providing the mandated insurance options ,Hobby Lobby does not need to feel their conscience is being violated. They are not controlling whether or not these people have these procedures either way. The individuals involved are controlling their own behavior. The owner’s consciences should remain clear. Their money (in the form of people’s paychecks) is already being spent donating to pro choice causes, Democrat candidates and Planned Parenthood, not to being spent on drugs, alcohol, abortion, porn and any number of other things they may not agree with. It is the nature of commerce in a free society.

Another friend asserted today that we should afford rights to people as long as they didn’t contradict the Bible. Wow! Here is the problem. Turning the Bible into American Law is a BAD idea. Even if you are a very conservative Christian this should make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Exactly whose version of the Bible do we follow? The Southern Baptist Convention’s? Brian McLaren’s? Pat Robertson’s? Mark Driscoll’s? Heavens to Betsy! Let’s think this through!

I am a follower of Jesus and I want my country to afford and protect my right  to worship as I see fit. I DO NOT want to live in a theocracy until Jesus is the one leading it, even if my personal beliefs were respected. Even if you, my lovelies, got to write up the laws based on your understanding of who God is and what he wants, eventually someone else rises to power and next thing you know all the women are not allowed to go to school and are forced to wear burqas. Afghanistan springs to mind. The beauty of the United States is that the same Constitution that guarantees my Muslim neighbor, my atheist neighbor, my Israeli neighbor, my gay neighbor and my Mormon neighbor their rights to believe and practice ensures my right to do the same. As soon as I begin removing or denying their rights it is only a matter of time before mine are next.

If you do follow Jesus as I do, we can look to him for how best to handle this situation. In Matthew 22:15-22 it says:

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

During this period of history the Jews were occupied by the Romans. There were many Jews who thought the Messiah would come in and overthrow the government. By all accounts the Roman Empire was not known for being kind and benevolent. In fact, quite the opposite. They were most likely spending the money that the Jews paid them in tribute to perpetuate all kinds of things the Jewish people disagreed with. Did Jesus blame them for the sins of the Romans since the money they provided was used for things they didn’t allow? Did he say, “Refuse to pay Caesar what he requires? In fact, sue him. Our money shouldn’t be used for such things!”? No, actually, he didn’t. Did he ever say anything to the political leaders of the Roman Empire about how they spent the money? Nope. Not a word in the scriptures about that. Jesus reserved his words about money and how to spend it for the people who claimed to follow God. And here, where he could have said stop paying the tribute and use that money for something else, he instead says, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”

We can also look at the scriptures and see that God never forces us or manipulates us or bans us from making poor choices.  (For the record I don’t see birth control as a poor choice, and I think any situation where an abortion is chosen or necessary is tragic, but there are many for which any abortion or contraception is seen as sin). He also never forces us to choose him and he doesn’t strike dead those who don’t. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. God’s mercies are new everyday.

I think we can draw from these passages that Jesus is more concerned with the hearts of the owners of Hobby Lobby who say they follow him than he is about the money they essentially pay as a tax to provide healthcare.

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