Christian conservatives, especially those with a strong bent towards conservative economics (conservative economics defined as an economic philosophy that places an emphasis on the ability of individuals and businesses to control their own resources free of government intervention and regulation), often wonder why people don’t see the merit in their arguments. There are a considerable number of reasons for this lack of effectiveness as I daresay most (Christian) economic conservatives would readily acknowledge, a couple of them being philosophic indoctrination in the public school system, an emotional investment in their position, etc. For someone who has given careful consideration to the issue before coming to a conclusion, it is easy to be frustrated by the apparent lack of consideration on the part of others. But, far too often, we fail to seriously and thoughtfully ask ourselves why it is that our arguments are so ineffective. We don’t seem to question ourselves very often; mostly we just question others.
I think we could use a little more introspection on the issue, and now seems a particularly good time to indulge in this introspection. Some of my own thoughts on the issue are as follow.
We talk a lot about it being wrong for the government to take what is not theirs but ours (take more than they reasonable need to function properly at the governmental level) because they have no right to take it. Certainly, that is true, but for the Christian that answer is incomplete to the point of actually being wrong. From a perspective that is not particularly inclined to conservative economics that answer sounds repulsively selfish on its own two feet, but particularly selfish in light of one of the most basic tenants of Christianity…that we are to care for the poor and needy. Simply put, to argue that we shouldn’t pay high taxes and shouldn’t allow the government to implement wealth distribution programs (that take “surplus wealth”) or semi distributive programs simply because that is “our” excess wealth (wording not necessarily my own…trying to look at it from another point of view) and it “belongs” to us is a selfish, un-Christian position if you haven’t grown up adhering to conservative economics. Quite frankly, even as a conservative, I can easily understand this point of view.
Is there some truth to this view that conservatives are just selfish? I think there is in some cases, but certainly that isn’t true always nor is it inherent to conservatives. I do believe that some people oppose things like government wealth distribution programs for less than Christ-like reasons, but even if there weren’t such people to reflect badly on others of similar political beliefs, the rhetoric commonly employed by conservatives is of such a nature that you can neither confirm nor deny the good or bad intentions of conservatives. It just sounds bad to an ear not pre-disposed to agree.
Regardless of what you think about the above thoughts, I think we can all agree on this. There is no reason for the Christian (or even the non-Christian) economists to rely on this seemingly selfish reasoning to promote their governmental philosophy. For the Christian there is much more behind conservative economics, and to acknowledge this would significantly impact our rhetoric, heart (through constant reminder), and the perception of others.
Every mature believer should have long ago realized and accepted this fundamental truth: Our money, no matter how hard we work to earn it, is not our own. It isn’t the government’s either. It is the property of God! We are only stewards of the resources that He has been so gracious as to entrust us with, and it is our calling to be the best steward of those resources that we can be. The wealth we keep from the government isn’t ours at all! We should be extremely cautious with the “because it’s mine” rhetoric. We might actually start believing it if we don’t already.
As a Christian, I hold to a conservative economic philosophy because I believe it allows me to be the best steward possible of the resources entrusted to me by God. They allow me to personally fulfill the biblical command to care for the poor and needy.
Think about it for a moment. If I were paying tax dollars to the government for the express purpose of it being re-distributing to people in more need of it than I, a healthy chunk of my money is going to get eaten up in the collection and distribution process. The government first has to pay someone to collect the money, then it has to pay someone to distribute it, then it has to pay someone to organize the collection and distribution process. Next, it has to pay someone to enforce the collection process which entails many consuming tasks; it has to pay someone to keep books, accounting for what comes in and goes out; it has to pay someone to identify and/or determine who needs the re-distributed wealth, another consuming task, and the list goes on.
Clearly, what money I send to the government to distribute will be dramatically reduced out of necessity by the time it reaches a (hopefully) needy person. Then there is the issue of not knowing the person who will receive the money. You will not know whether they really need the money and aren’t just being funneled it for political gain. If I am paying $10,000 in taxes every year, then that is $10,000 I can’t use to meet needs right here around me which are plentiful. Think what I could do to meet needs with $10,000!
Elaborating further on a previously made point: as a Christian of limited income and a responsibility to faithfully steward it in whatever amount, I don’t know that the person receiving my money through the government really is in need and not just lazy, for instance, or they have friends who could better care for their needs than I or the government. I can’t keep track of my dollars-lost in a pool of billions-to know that they aren’t being used by an un-ethical politician to buy votes. I can’t keep track of my dollars, to ensure that they aren’t being used to fix budget short falls (possibly resulting from bad stewardship on the government’s part) instead of being used to assist those in need. Yet, I can’t steward adequately if I don’t have this sort of knowledge!
There are a lot of things I don’t know when the government stewards my money for me, but if I am to be a faithful steward I need to have an advanced knowledge, right?
But, consider this. If I, as a Christian seeking to glorify God, see a person with a need in my midst, or I hear of a person in need through a friend I trust, I can give them the money I have extra without employing a middle man like the government does. If I have a hundred dollars to give to a person in need I can give them the whole hundred dollars. When I give it to the government to give to that same person, the government, out of necessity (I don’t necessarily fault them for the necessity) takes a very large portion of that money to pay for the things they have to pay for. It might be $44 or $74 instead of $100 by the time it makes it to the needy person. As a Christian, this poor, inefficient use of my funds concerns me, especially when I can do better.
There are other reasons that I base my conservative economics on my faith, but I won’t take the time to list and detail them as they are not the point of this post. The point of this post is (excuse the repetition) that as CHRISTIANS we have a responsibility to do justice to the Word of God and its intent. God’s intent isn’t that we hoard our money like miserable, greedy misers. God’s intent is for us to use the resources entrusted to us for the advancement of His Kingdom, and that starts with meeting the needs of those in our midst. If we do not communicate this in our arguments for conservative economics, then we serve our Lord and Master poorly in this regard and will likely fail to advance our cause.
When posed the question, “Why don’t you support aiding the poor (through government aid programs)? You don’t “need” all your money!” don’t say, “Because it’s mine!” That answer strongly smacks of selfishness. Instead, answer this way: “As a steward of the resources God has entrusted to me (with which to further His Kingdom), I believe that for reasons both practical and theological that I am best able to efficiently and faithfully manage the resources entrusted to me.” That’s the essence of it, or at least it should be, I believe.
In conclusion…the issue of perception should be important for a Christian. We are assured in scripture that holding fast to our Faith will bring scorn, hate, and persecution; but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try our best to present ourselves to the world well, and, most importantly, ably serve and communicate the Love and Justice of our Lord and Savior. If we are able to accurately communicate and exemplify the heart of our Lord and Maker, our testimony will have a power that even we cannot completely comprehend.
There are HUGE portions of America’s population sharing with you and I a-like-or-very-similar Christian faith that overwhelmingly vote to support high taxes and government welfare because of a flawed or incomplete understanding of our duty to the poor and needy (as it relates to and involves the government). I would be silly not to use this common ground of faith to argue for what I believe to be true. Unfortunately, I have not done this on many occasions, and even more unfortunately the same is true of millions of fellow Conservative Evangelical Christians. May that never be the case from here on forward!
God bless and veritas supra omnis!
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