Thursday, May 20, 2010

Government, Foreign Assistance, Church

I was privileged to sit in on a conference at Wheaton these past two days called "Government, Foreign Assistance, and God's Mission in the World." A "Wheaton Declaration" will come out of it after a couple revision loops. One paragraph of the first draft looked to be a particularly good summary:

"The extraordinary power of the United States and the daily impact of the United States on the world's poor requires special vigilance on the part of American Christian citizens as to the effects of the US role and policies and assistance programs. Our goal should be to bend the power of the United States toward a maximally effective impact on the world's poor"

The relationship between churches and the government on these sorts of issues is a thorny one, in my opinion, and I am much more comfortable personally with Christian groups lobbying the government than denominations per se, especially when it comes to specific policies. Nevertheless, I may post some thoughts in relation to the conference over the next few days.

Probably the first thing that struck me was the assumption of values. I think almost everyone at the conference accepted the value of helping the poor. One early caveat was on effective assistance. There was a strong distinction made between aid and development. Aid is short term in a time of crisis (e.g., Haiti). Development is about empowering people to support themselves eventually.

But I sat there wondering whether even most American Christians are on board with the basic value that it is our duty as Christians to help those in need. Before we can ever get to the question of the government, we have to make sure Christians can see that helping those in need is a fundamental Christian value.


John C. Gardner said...

It seems to me that most Americans do not see that they have a responsibility to the poor. There are individual church ministries and churches which do. We need to remember that part of the Lord's Prayer is "give us this day our daily bread." How we should help others is contestable but not that we should help them.

JRS said...

Sure, Christians have a responsibility to serve the poor and everyone else as well.

However, I can see no connection to expecting the government to get involved. Can we as followers of Jesus ask the government to take money by force (taxes) from one group of people so it can be given to another group?

Further, there is no constitutional authority for levying taxes for the purpose of distributing money to the poor. The constitution authorizes three types of spending: debts, defense and general welfare. Targeting money for the poor or any special group is unconstitutional.

Surely, God’s people do not expect the government to do God’s work for them.

Marc said...

I listened to some comments by people from Arizona over the new laws and the conservative perspective was: if the Government won't protect our borders then we have to. I don't know what it's like there but I understand how it can be if social conditions start dropping. But this is the ideal climate for that rare plant known as social compassion: good news for the poor.

Ken Schenck said...

JRS, I hope today to post some of the things from the conference relating to reasons the government should be involved in this sort of aid and development work, despite its clearly mixed results.

Two thoughts somewhat specific to your comment are, however:

1. I hope Americans going forward will have a full and rich sense of what is in the interest of the general welfare. Things like the arts or space exploration bring back incredible affective benefits to the general welfare, even thought they are not easily quantified or immediate. One might argue that being a generous and charitable nation is in the interests of the general welfare because it creates a people with the kind of disposition a people needs to have to thrive.

2. It's hard for me to believe this sort of aid and development is unconstitutional when it has taken place for so long!