Christian Social Responsibility: What is the Biblical Response to Progressive Policies?
What is the proper, Biblical response to the profligate son of the rich oil tycoon, born with every material blessing, who lavishes his father’s wealth instead of working to maintain his business, not so much as batting an eyelid while his neighbors languish in poverty?
There are two conflicting notions here, but one is more fundamental and takes primacy. Indeed, for one, it is proper and meet to give compassionately to those in want, so that there is no want. The rich son is falling quite short of that standard and is, in many ways, an affront to society, but is that adequate reason for the government to forcibly take his money via taxes?
The rest of this essay will explore countervailing arguments as to why the answer is a “no” from a Christian perspective, and, as such, argue that big government progressive policies are not Biblical. The author will then conclude that followers of Jesus Christ should lean towards limited government, family-centered conservatism in this day and age. The utopian visions of our social engineering progressives will not come to fruition until His second coming, when giving will come freely from human hearts and not via government edict.
Whither the moral authority of government?
A perhaps uncomfortable fact is that the rich oil tycoon earned his money fair and square, within the law. Once upon a time, he left the comfortable confines of home and set out west, invested his money, staked out his claims, took on both physical and financial risk and, with a bit of luck, found black gold in the desert, created jobs, raised the living standards of his community, and earned his keep. His choice to leave his inheritance to his son is entirely within the law. It is his son’s prerogative, therefore, to spend that money as profanely as he wishes.
Just as the burden of proof is on the prosecution in the court of law, the default is that an individual who earns his income fairly keeps it. Yes, Christians are to obey human rulers as Christ exhorted, and as such, live by the rule of law and pay taxes, but there is no Biblical precedent for collectivism. In fact, in the Adamaic, Noahic, and Mosaic dispensations, there were no political rulers for the people of God. It was only after the Israelis demanded a human king like other societies that God relented and raised up Saul, but private ownership with an exhortation for compassion remains the Biblical model for good, simple living.
It’s not compassion if you make someone else do it – that’s strong-arming!
Therefore, proper, Biblical response to the profligate son of the rich oil tycoon is to shift the attention away from him, and towards those in need. It is to give from one’s own pockets. There is nothing godly about the individual who stomps his foot angrily at the injustices of society and demands that government representatives take more from the pockets of the rich in response. That is removing one’s personal responsibility from the equation. To put it bluntly, raising taxes in the name of compassion is theft.
There is hidden place in God’s grace for human dignity, that gives time for this profligate son to stumble in the far country before coming to a choice about whether to return. You may have heard of this very famous parable that God’s own Son told His disciples. What he does with his wealth is between him and God, and what we do with ours is as well.
An argument against Christian socialism: bad hermeneutics, bad eschatology
There is an increasing voice within the liberal Christian community who cry out for progressive policies in the name of compassion, but there are few fatal flaws with this viewpoint, especially if a literal hermeneutic is employed. Before this is examined in more detailed, a perhaps even more fundamental flaw needs to be exposed, and that is the separation of church and state.
There may be a few confused head-scratching at this connection, but it really is quite simple. Exhortations for the church are not to be applied to the world at large, for the church is not of this world. To be sure, we are commanded to be loving and compassionate, but this is an “in-house” issue. It makes no sense to force those standards to the society at large, just like love and compassion cannot come against one’s volition. They can only come through time as relationships are built.
In fact, forcing the non-Christian to be compassionate without addressing his primary evangelical need is hypocritical and completely against God’s blueprint. The author will even argue that this is one of the most damaging things one can do for the Kingdom in this day and age. Imagine the non-Christian’s reaction at the self-proclaimed child of God, demanding that someone else give up his wealth instead of personally sacrificing to achieve those ends.
Utopian aspirations in this day and age are inherently humanistic. Interpreted literally with a historical-grammatical hermeneutic, the Bible clearly teaches that Christ will physically return to set up His kingdom, a time when He will write His law on human hearts. Social engineering as a human effort ultimately attempts to achieve what God promised He will do. God cannot be too pleased by that, especially given that coerced systematic giving that does not come from the heart does not please God. Just review what Jesus Christ said to the Pharisees.
The world is indeed in need of hope and love, and the Christian duty is to set out to meet those needs. At the individual level, the family level, the church level, the non-profit level. The challenge is to show the initiative, as millions of Christians and people of God are already doing, to transform hearts through showing love, as Christ first loved us. The United States is far and beyond the leader in private giving, which is more tailored, efficient, and reaches those around the world in need without strings attached, as opposed to government aid programs, which are in effect just an arm of US foreign policy. Israel, whose people by and large live by the Old Testament, shines in this regard as well. For example, she was the first responder in Haiti. This is the key to compassion, the key to change: to start yourself, and to inspire your neighbors to join the effort.
In conclusion: a brief case study in point
Project Child Save (http://www.projectchildsave.org) is a private, personal initiative started by war veterans. They conduct military raids, mostly in Latin America, to rescue children kidnapped by sex traffickers, free of charge. This is the perfect example of a group of individuals, who see a glaring need in society, and then go themselves to do something about it, instead of asking Washington DC to raise taxes to fund a project to do something about it.
Caught in the morass of bureaucracy, international law and foreign relations, governments cannot rescue these kids in a timely manner, and they are quickly drugged and sold. Ty and his group travel to these countries on their own dime, risk their lives, and have rescued more than 70 children in more than 60 operations to date. This, and not collectivism, is the key to making our world a better place. This is hope, and this pleases our God in heaven.