The other morning I went into the grocery store to pick up a muffin for breakfast. I do this quite often, because I like to see my friends there and see how they are doing. I used to work there and a lot of the people I worked with are still there so it is a good way to keep up with them.
So, when I went in the other morning I ran into one of my buddies who works in produce. He has been extremely influential in the development of my political views. He is a really smart guy, and someone who’s opinions I appreciate greatly. We started chatting and he told me he had read one of my recent Examiner articles about the Church extending charity to those left in need by government cuts. He said he really liked the article. He said he agreed with what I said and then, in reference to government assistance programs, he said something that I found very significant:
“it can’t be considered charity if it is taken through coercion.”
That is a great way to say something, in just a few words, that I have been trying to say through several blog posts and Examiner articles.
My friend’s comment got me thinking about what the purpose of charity is, especially as a Christian. If the bottom line is providing for people’s physical needs then I think that it may make sense to support government assistance programs, because taxpayers are forced to support those programs, thus raising the likelihood that those intended to receive the aid will get it (the government’s ability to actually do what they say is a subject for another post!).
If, on the other hand, the goal of Christian charity is to demonstrate the love of Christ and open up opportunities to share the Gospel to point people toward the answer to their spiritual needs, then government programs may not be the best approach. The reasoning is fairly obvious; basically that people will not see the contributions taken by the government as charitable gifts, since, indeed, they are not given in charity, but in obedience to the law. If the gifts are not seen as coming from an act of love and care for others, then will they point people toward the One who first loved us, the reason that we love one another?
What do you think? Should Christians support government assistance programs? What is the purpose of Christian charity? Does it have a “purpose” or is it simply the result of being loved by God and having the Spirit within us?