Government Can Help, But Is Not the Final Answer

Courtesy of Cynulliad Cymru via flickr

I am not anti-government. I am not against social welfare programs. There is a great need and place for them in our society and our world. And while people who consider themselves “conservative” may not say that they are particularly anti-welfare, they would just as soon squash and get rid of these programs, like I did with the palmetto bug that was in my daughter’s bed earlier this week.

But I also realize that we do not need to put our full trust in government assistance programs. There are too many challenges, issues, and abuses in the systems that are supposed to cover like a wide blanket. There is a risk and tension between providing too much coverage, versus leaving some without protection.

There are no simple answers anymore.

Don’t Hope in Government Assistance

Marriage, parenting, and education are a few areas of life that can be both helped and hurt (at the same time) by welfare programs.

  1. Marriage.  When looking at six different aspects of marital quality, couples who receive assistance report a lesser degree of satisfaction and commitment in their marriages. “For example, if couples can’t pay the bills, then they are likely to be more irritable and stressed about other areas of life. . . . It’s a constant drain on many aspects of marital quality and overall well-being.” It is not that welfare causes marital problems, but it is not helping either. Help the marriage problems, not just the money problems.
  2. Parenting.  Programs like TANF (the largest federal support program for families with children) should be helping children. But a researcher at the University of Missouri has discovered that “TANF has created enough pressure on families trying to comply with its regulations that it has actually begun to exert a negative force on these families at the margins.” What results is a decrease in the cognitive scores of young children.
  3. Education.  Dr. Paul Thomas (professor at Furman University) reminds us that schools cannot fix society’s problems, since “the impact of teachers contributes as little as 13 percent to measurable student achievement.” What plays more significant roles? Prenatal influences, medical care, food insecurity, pollutants, family environment, and neighborhood characteristics.

“We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.”  Dr. Martin Luther King (1967)

Hope in the Gospel

As I said, I am not against government assistance, such as welfare and grants. Grants can give a boost, but they cannot be relied on for sustainability. My friend Pastor Joe Mole (Vision Ministries) says, “Allendale doesn’t need another grant. It needs God.”

We cannot trust in government, not because government is evil, but we should not trust in any of mankind. We must trust in God.

God has been sovereign over the world since He created it, through being with His people throughout history, and through persecutions. And He will continued to do so throughout all time and tribulations. As I explained to my sons last year, we belong to God.

But mostly, we know that God is sovereign and that He cares for us because He sent His Son to die for our sins, so that through faith we can live forever with Him. Our hope can never be in anything in this world, and the realities of poverty and suffering remind us of this. This broken world is not our home. Instead, God has provided a perfect place for us, and has provided access to it through His grace.

What must we trust in? The Gospel, which is of first importance.

Love One Another

And while we are trusting in God, we must realize that we have a role in carrying out the change we want to see. But change will not come through handouts, but with life-on-life care and involvement. Steve Saint writes in Projecting Poverty Where It Doesn’t Exist,

“Until we realize that we can’t overcome poverty with handouts, we will never be much help in completing Christ’s Great Commission. As followers of Christ we must fight poverty through discipleship rather than covering it with spiritual frosting.”

Be warned — handouts are clean and easy, whereas discipleship is messy and complicated.

What does it look like to couple assistance with discipleship? What does it even look like for us to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19) in Allendale? That’s been the biggest question on our mind recently.

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