Lanterns: Government Charity: The Oxymoron


Government Charity: The Oxymoron

Recently, I shared my concerns about charity and whether the responsibility of charity lies with individuals or the government. Someone close to me responded about the need for government-funded programs that provide for the welfare of the American people, and how that is something separate from the charity we, as Christians (or Buddhists or Jews or just plain old good people), should be performing. But here’s the problem… the federal government doesn’t love you. It doesn’t love anyone. It can’t.

In 2015, Libertarian Caryn Harlos explained something to me that changed how I view politics and government (quote used by permission).

“Because a group of people get together and call it ‘government’ that does not grant that group uber-rights. A group cannot have delegated to it any more powers than at least one of its delegating members over the people it purports to control. Do you or I have the natural right to license relationships? No. Then we cannot delegate it to the government.”

The government, I realized, is not its own living, breathing entity. It is created to act on behalf of people—on behalf of you and me. It is representative of us, our views, our rights; but as Harlos explained, it has no rights in and of itself. It has only that which “we the people” have granted it.

So plug this piece into the question of charity. Can our government act charitably? It has no means of giving, except the money we put into it every spring. It has no conscience by which to judge the needs of those around it, except that we elect men and women to speak on our behalf and exercise their own consciences in our place. It has no emotion with which to genuinely care about the plight of man, only those it represents can determine where a need exists.

How, then, can a government behave charitably, except that the people it represents have decided and delegated to it the authority to move toward action? It is clear that our government can behave charitably on our behalf, and only on our behalf. What is not clear is what happens to us when we delegate all of this charity to the government, rather than acting of our own accord.

I suspect it falls into that old maxim… “out of sight, out of mind.”

Jesus told us that the poor would always be with us (John 12:8). If there was one statement of his that I kind of wish he’d been mistaken on, it is this one. But he wasn’t mistaken, was he? Jesus knew. It’s not simply that there are always needs around us, but that there are men and women who take advantage of those in need, who exploit them, making their plight permanent instead of helping them be released from the bonds of poverty. And Jesus wasn’t just speaking the truth of the future; he was quoting a passage in Deuteronomy, where we are commanded to care for the poor (Duet. 15:11). Jesus knew, and Jesus was right—the poor are always with us, not because that’s how it always will be, but because that’s the result of sin and greed among men. But we have numbed ourselves to feeling their plight every day by pushing the responsibility to love with compassion and charity upon a government who has no such spirit or ability.

If we delegate charity solely to the responsibility of the government, we fail. We no longer have to think about the needs of others; we no longer have to feel their hurts and sorrow. We no longer have to look them in the eyes; we no longer have to think about whether we can afford to help (or whether we can afford not to help), and we no longer feel the struggle of going without something for the sake of another’s well-being.

Don’t mistake me. There is a time and a place to fund organized charity. Tax season is not the time, and the federal government is not the place. The time is when you see a need, and the place is when some group is situated and able to move on your behalf. In many instances, we recognize a need and we simply are not able to act of our own accord—for instance, the famine in South Sudan and the droughts of East Africa. We see a desperate need, and most of us are not able to travel there with an extra meal or clean water to help those whose very lives are on the line. And so we entrust this action to our government? Why?

There are those who would critique the President because budget cuts would affect the relief aid the USA can contribute to South Sudan and surrounding areas. Yet time and again, we have seen that government funds are exploited by greedy governments around the world and never reach the people in need. Time and again, we have seen that government relief aid is literally blocked off from those to whom it is intended. Why on earth would we continue to allow our money to be wasted in such fashion? Why would we not seek some other means of delivering supplies? It may be that there is a group who is able to get beyond the government and blockades and restrictions so help can make it to those who need it. To expect the government to act on our behalf when it repeatedly proves its incompetence is not only foolish, but it is incredibly irresponsible of any charitable heart.

For a Christian, this is unacceptable. It is simply unacceptable. It defies everything we read in the Bible about how to treat our fellow man.

And for the record, organizations that are equipped to step in and take action (even organizations like UNICEF, which are affected by US budget cuts) are prepared to accept your donation. It’s time we stopped believing the lies that it is the government’s responsibility to act charitably on our behalf and that it is better equipped to do so.

Stand up. Get involved. Do something.

Written by Sarah Moore

Sarah lives and works in the beautiful Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

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