Serving “the least of these” through government programs


Some of my fellow North Carolinians say it is unbiblical for government to invest money into social programs.  Jesus’ call to take care of the poor, they say, is more of an individual mandate than a government policy. 


I don’t disagree— Jesus did not tell us how to take care of “the least of these.”  He didn’t say we need to demand SNAP programs from the federal government, or to support local non-profits, or to keep the church’s food bank filled.  He gave us no directives on the right or wrong way to take care of “the least of these.”  He just told us to take care of them, and left the details up to His disciples.


Christians should invest our money, as well as our time and care and attention, toward feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, housing the homeless, and helping the least of these succeed within a culture that marginalizes them.  That’s our calling as Christians, and we should embrace this calling.  We should be consumed with love for others as Jesus was.  Christianity does not compel us to limit our charity, but to increase our charity more and more.


But either Christians are not embracing this call, or we do not have enough resources among us to do the work of Christ on our own.  If we did, North Carolina would not have the 13th highest percentage of citizens in poverty, or the 10th highest rate of children in poverty.  We would not have the 10th lowest median income in the nation, the 5th highest rate of unemployment, or the 9th highest rate of food insecurity.  Our death rates among the rural poor would not be among the highest in the nation.   


That is at the least unacceptable and embarrassing, and at the most sinful.  And since individual Christians alone cannot solve these social problems, we call upon the government for help.  It’s not that we want the government to serve the least of these on our behalf; it’s that without government support, the work of helping others cannot be completed.  And if the government cannot—or will not—help, it could at the very least reject legislation that burdens our more vulnerable citizens.


But more and more our GOP-controlled state legislature choses to work against the best interests of “the least of these,” creating the burdens that Christians are called to fight.  The legislature could make it easier for the poor to afford utility services, not make it harder by gutting social service programs.  They could increase funding to local health programs, not eliminate funding based on a political vendetta.  They could be a model for how a state serves its poor and suffering, rather than be a model for eliminating social welfare programs.


Maybe Jesus did not intend for government programs to do the charity work of the faithful.  We don’t know.  But we do know Jesus intended His disciples to take care of “the least of these,” not to increase their burdens.  Regardless of the laws passed in Raleigh, men and women of God will continue to serve the poor in the name of Christ.  But I hope our state representatives will choose to be partners in our service to the least of these—I welcome your help.


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