In a full-page Politico ad last week, Christian activist Jim Wallis made the case for protecting government programs for the poor from budget cuts. “God is watching,” the ad claims.
The ad is part of a larger campaign called the Circle of Protection, which includes representatives from the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches, Bread for the World, and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Members met with President Obama for forty minutes on July 20 to discuss government’s responsibility to “the least of these,” a clear reference to Jesus’s statement recorded in Matthew 25: “Whatever you did not do unto the least of these, you did not do unto me.”
All Christians agree that serving the poor is a primary task. But however well-intentioned it may be, the Circle of Protection serves to protect status quo government spending, not the poor themselves.
So, how do we make helping the poor a priority as the budget debate continues? A blanket exception in budget cutting for poverty programs is not the way.
First, the parable of the talents reminds us that we are to be held accountable for the resources we have been entrusted. Eliminating redundant and ineffective poverty programs is an act of stewardship—not a failure to uphold Christian charity.
Second, at the pool of Bethesda, Jesus commanded the beggar, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!” For many, poverty is a temporary situation. However, some poverty programs exacerbate poverty, keeping the poor locked in a cycle of dependence on government assistance. Programs that allow for such complacency must be reformed.
Third, wisdom and responsibility require us to consider the fruits of our behavior. Is our ruinous pattern of deficit spending wise? As our runaway debt hinders economic growth, those most harmed will inevitably be the poor. A sustainable economy requires entitlement reform. Under current law, Medicare will be insolvent by 2024. Prudence requires us to recognize this fact and encourage our representatives to implement reforms that provide for those who rely on the program without sacrificing the well-being of future generations.
In a broader sense, our duty as people of faith is to advocate for just policies that advance human thriving. We believe this means advancing liberty and opportunity through a culture of free enterprise. Doing so will create jobs, alleviating physical poverty while also creating the conditions that allow each one of us to express our talents and experience the dignity that comes from contributing to society.