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Recently someone informed me that it was hypocritical to call myself Christian, and to be against many progressive/liberal policies (the specific argument was about US-run welfare)

So my question: is it hypocritical to call myself a Christian and not support welfare programs?

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It may be a good idea to be explicit about whether or not you are referring to private welfare programs, or state-run welfare programs. –  TehShrike Sep 5 '11 at 0:44
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@TehSchrike: It would seem from the question, particularly where it says "the specific argument was about US-run welfare," that this is referring to government programs. –  Mason Wheeler Sep 5 '11 at 1:31
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Haha, when the Bible was written, there were no government welfare programs. May be instead of arguing over this moral dilemma, go outside and do something to assist the poor. I'm guessing that's what Jesus would do. Remember him? –  user532 Sep 5 '11 at 8:07
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This seems like (1) a very localized question, relevant only within a certain political context, and (2) not constructive, likely to lead to debate. –  Bruce Alderman Dec 11 '12 at 22:35

11 Answers 11

There are many times in the Bible we as Christians are called to give to the poor such as "If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth." 1 John 3:17-18 NIV

So, while it is said that we must be willing to serve and give to the poor, it does not say it is the government's job to serve and give to the poor.

While I won't say if I am for or against government welfare, I do not believe the Bible tells us we must support government welfare.

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Note: <comments Removed> -- Please refrain from carrying on extended conversations in comments. Comments should generally address improvements to the original post. If you want to get into longer side discussions about these issues, the Christiantity chat room is a good place for that. Thanks. –  Robert Cartaino Sep 5 '11 at 18:07

It really depends on the policy. The general idea--helping those in need when they cannot help themselves--is certainly compatible with the Gospel. But a lot of welfare programs go beyond simply helping people. By the way they're implemented, they cause recipients to grow dependent on welfare and have a greater incentive to continue participating in the program than to use it as temporary support until they're able to get back on their feet again. This is a direct contradiction of Paul's direction that "if any would not work, [would not, not can not,] neither should he eat."

It would not be hypocritical for a Christian to oppose a corrupt welfare system. But the focus should be on reforming it and trying to establish a working system, not on doing away with the concept altogether.

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Amen. I think instead of foodstamp programs that allow people to buy king crab legs and steaks, the program should be limited to a sort of highly nutritious gruel. –  The Preacher Sep 4 '11 at 18:41
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This would be the important bit: "But the focus should be on reforming it and trying to establish a working system, not on doing away with the concept altogether." –  leeand00 Sep 4 '11 at 21:57
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@The Preacher. Because punishing people you don't like is more important than helping people? Everyone has a psychological need for the occasional treat, and what right do you have to micromanage how someone else apportions their assets? If I want to go without one day so I can treat myself the next, that's my business, not yours. –  TRiG Sep 6 '11 at 17:10
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@Chris: Which people, in which time and place? I'm discussing principles here, not specific applications. And where does it say in the scriptures that the only way to work for your own support is to be employed by someone else? That's a very recent (and very wrong) idea that's done a lot of harm to modern society. –  Mason Wheeler Nov 11 '11 at 21:42
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So, since the civil war (American bias?), the system has been rigged against them. And it's their fault for not being bootstrappy enough? What should they do? Forage? You'll throw them in jail for trespassing. If you want to use that argument, then you'd better start living the full Amish lifestyle. The reality is that those times are gone and they are not coming back. Where then do you propose they work? –  Chris Cudmore Nov 12 '11 at 0:45

No, you're not a hypocrite, for two reasons:

  1. The Bible instructs us to be charitable (James, chapter 2, verses 14-17 says that if faith "does not lead to action, it is in itself a lifeless thing" and Proverbs, chapter 11, verses 24-25 says that "A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed"). But it does not say that it has to be organized, let alone organized in so specific a way as to necessitate a government program.

  2. Not everyone else is a Christian, and it's reasonable for Christians to support something, but not support mandating that thing for all of society.

As an extension of point #1: charity is a significant part of Christian teaching, but by definition charity ceases to exist when it is at all coerced or compelled. True charity is only possible when it is given voluntarily. Whether one supports government welfare programs or not, they remove the possibility of real charity by their very nature.

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Hi Chris, welcome to Christianity.SE. Would you mind citing a reference or two for at least your first point? Good answers here should cite a reference or two. Thanks for stopping by. If you are new to SE sites you might take a look at the faq. –  wax eagle Sep 5 '11 at 2:30
    
Done. :) Thanks for the welcome. –  Chris Bowyer Sep 5 '11 at 17:12

I would argue that supporting government-run welfare programs and being Christian is hypocritical, not the other way around.

It is true that the Bible does call for Christians to give to the poor. However, this is a moral decision. Putting this in the hands of the government essentially makes it mandatory. You've lost the ability to make this moral judgement - instead giving becomes expected and enforced, and is meaningless.

In a similar, but perhaps more contrived example, what if a law was considered that made holding non-Christian beliefs a crime? Would be be hypocritical to protest against this bill because it shows that you hold non-Christian beliefs? If the government legislated all good Christian practices, would every citizen be perfectly Christian? As Chris Bowyer put it, charity (and by extension, any moral decision) is only possible when undertaken voluntarily.

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Amen. Welfare isn't a Christian giving to the poor, it's the government taking more from one group to give to another group it deems meets it's requirements. It's good for Christians give to the poor whenever they have the opportunity because "He who gives to the poor, lends to the Lord, and He will reward him for what he has done" , but at the same time it's much better to teach a man to fish, than to give him a fish. –  2tim424 Sep 5 '11 at 8:28
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@WhatAboutJohn3_17: You should also ask yourself why one group has more so that it is necessary to take from that group to give to another one. A South American bishop said: If I give the poor to eat, they say I am a saint; but if I ask why they are poor, they say I am a comunist. –  Giorgio Sep 5 '11 at 10:50
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@thekidder: By the same line of reasoning we should not make it mandatory to observe other moral decisions, such as "not to steal". Does the fact that a Christian does not steal lose its value because it is enforced by law? Or am I missing something? –  Giorgio Sep 5 '11 at 12:10
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@Adam Robinson: Well, nothing prevents us from making such a law. One could say that every human being has the right to eat and that if someone has too much they must give to the poor. We are free to make our laws as we want. I am not defending such a law, just saying that nothing prevents us from making such a law: human laws are not absolute, they are the way we make them. –  Giorgio Sep 5 '11 at 14:24
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@thekidder: You can make a pretty strong rights-based case for Giorgio's viewpoint. Your profile says you're from the USA. Doesn't our nation's most fundamental philosophical document speak of all men being endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that government is established explicitly to protect those rights? Jefferson put life before liberty for a reason. If your freedom to do whatever you want ends up destroying lives, it needs to be circumscribed by the government. And people die without the basic necessities, so... –  Mason Wheeler Sep 6 '11 at 4:29

Your friend suffers from a misconception that in order to identify yourself as a Christian means you are implying you are morally perfect, desire and believe in all the right things, and never act or believe inconsistently. There is not a Christian on the planet who would meet this standard.

The whole point of believing in Christ is that we don't meet a perfect standard, and trust Jesus to allow us to know God in spite of these shortcomings, and that once we believe this, He graciously starts the process of transforming our desires, thoughts, and behaviours. However even with His grace operating in our lives, perfection will only be achieved when we die or Christ returns.

The answer is that it is not inconsistent to be hypocritical or wrong about something (not my opinion on welfare) and identify yourself as a Christian, so long as your hope is in Christ and not your own goodness. Otherwise the gospel would not be good news.

Php 3:8-14 NIV What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ (9) and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (10) I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, (11) and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (12) Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (13) Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, (14) I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

(Emphasis mine)

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"There is not a Christian on the planet who would meet this standard.". Using this argument you can justify any behaviour: "I steal because, you see, I am not perfect. If I were a perfect Christian, I would not steal, but I steal because I am not perfect." –  Giorgio Oct 31 '11 at 18:29
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Giorgio - please show me where in my answer above I was justifying sin? –  Bork Blatt Nov 7 '11 at 12:35
    
If I understood your statement correctly, you say that you can consider yourself a Christian even if you do not meet a perfect standard. Is there a minimum standard (below perfection) you need to fulfil to consider yourself a Christian? If there is no such minimum standard, then sins are justified. –  Giorgio Nov 7 '11 at 17:41
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Turn that around for a second - does a sin disqualify you from being a Christian? If Bob knows James as a professing Christian, and James tells Bob a lie which Bob later discovers - does this justify Bob saying "... and you call yourself a Christian?" –  Bork Blatt Nov 8 '11 at 14:52
    
"Does a sin disqualify you from being a Christian?": I would say, it depends on the sin. A small lie does not disqualify a Christian. But there are other heavier sins that disqualify a Christian, aren't there? –  Giorgio Nov 8 '11 at 17:46

There is no command in Scripture that compels Christians to seek to create governmental programs of any kind. However, there are plenty of admonitions to love, serve, and be compassionate and generous to others personally.

Even if the government has social programs, that does not alleviate us from our own personal responsibility.

I do know people who suggest the answer to the question of "What would Jesus do?" must, of necessity, mean that we support more and more government social programs. However, a better way to answer that question is to first find out what Jesus did. He never supported government social programs, but He did care for the poor, was kind to children, had compassion on the multitudes, and ultimate sacrificed His life for all mankind.

This is a very poor argument as well, because if we are to make government do what Jesus would do and take over our responsibility, we would need to put prayer back in schools, abolish abortion, put the ten commandments up all over the place, and many other things that your friend would likely not agree with. But you can't pick and choose on this stuff.

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This would be a really compelling argument if you could demonstrate that there were government social programs that he had a choice to support or not support and/or the possibility of getting into a political position to create such. From my understanding things really didn't work that way then so that link in the argument is weak ... I agree with your conclusion but it would be interesting to back it up with a picture of what he did/didn't do in a historical context. –  Caleb Nov 11 '11 at 19:15

It depends. Are you currently tithing? Are you currently feeding the poor where you may find them? Are you ministering to your brothers to do the same? If so, then I believe you might not be hypocritical. If every follower of Jesus strived to do this, there would not be a need for welfare.

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Could you flesh this out some? –  wax eagle Jun 25 '12 at 14:19

"is it hypocritical to call myself a Christian and not support welfare programs?"

It looks like this question could be read at least two ways - first, should we support the creation of welfare programs (as opposed to finding other, privately-funded ways to help the poor)? second, should we support welfare programs that have been instituted (as opposed to, say, evading or petitioning to opt out of paying the tax that supports them)?

The second question--do we give our financial support to existing welfare programs if the government compels us to--is easy:

Mark 12:14-17 (NASB):

They came and said to Him, "Teacher, we know that You are truthful and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay or shall we not pay?"

But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, "Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at."

They brought one. And He said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" And they said to Him, "Caesar's."

And Jesus said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were amazed at Him.

Of course this raises the question of whether we ought to 'render unto Caesar' things that are wrong and unjust, which brings us to our first question: Do we say that the government ought to support the poor? The Bible is mostly addressed to individuals, not governments. But there are a couple of clear cases where the rulers of cities and nations are addressed and expected to support the poor, such as Deuteronomy 15:6-8--

"For the LORD your God will bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you. If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.

--and Daniel 4:27--

`Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by doing righteousness and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity.'

Failure to do so when there are means to do so was the sin of the city of Sodom, according to Ezekiel 16:49:

"Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.

Now, if the welfare program is poorly conceived, the law poorly worded, the financial aspects poorly provided for, by all means, one could oppose implementing a welfare program on those grounds--but to do so only because it is a welfare program should certainly be un-Christian.

Of course the government giving its support to the needy does not excuse us from our personal obligations to charity. But the government itself does have this obligation as surely as we do individually.

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The reality is that there are very smart, literate, God-fearing Christians who come down on varying sides of many of the hot-button issues with ample support for whichever angle they find most in-line with their God-given ethical and moral framework. Please note, I'm not saying that morality is relative and not absolute. Instead, I believe that we have varying expressions of God's Divine Essence, as imputed through the Imago Dei and as such certain aspects of God's perfect, absolute moral framework find stronger expression in some than in others. Immigration, Right-To-Life, Gay Marriage, Education (usually in the form of Science Education), and Social Justice (just to name a few) all have well-argued, Bible-based Christian points. Honestly, we need them all since none of us is a perfect manifestation of the heart of God and we need to pay attention to those whose expression of God's ethics may be stronger than ours in various areas.

With all of that said, it's easy to toss out all kinds of phrases, many of which are found in the answers and comments here. "No mandate to support state-sponsored welfare programs" and "the law is poorly-worded" are particularly attention-grabbing. Both of these are anachronistic projections of present-day scenarios onto a culture and time that are not our own. There were "state-sponsored" welfare programs, going back to The Law of Moses that required harvesters to leave a portion for the poor to come and harvest for themselves. Again - this divides people into "but, but, but, see, they had to work for it ... teach them to fish" and "yes, but they didn't plant, fertilize, water, or own that which they took - it was a benefit endowed upon them by the law of the land."

As society evolved, so too did the expression of this. When the Temple was destroyed and the people were exiled, they developed new ways to follow the Law, and the Pharisees eventually emerged as the keepers of this way. They synagogue became the primary location of worship and various means were employed to carry on the sponsored welfare. Contemporary Judaism had the "poor bowl" and "poor basket" available to those in need. The poor bowl was “a weekly dole to the poor of the city and consisted of food and clothing” while the basket was “distributed daily among the wandering paupers and consisted of food.” The "radical" Jewish Essene sect appointed "agents" in cities to provide travelers and the poor with clothing and other necessities. Pious citizens would give while on their way to the temple and people would give food to any of the poor they may encounter. They still kept Torah law which made provision for the poor both for sustenance (e.g. the aforementioned harvest laws) and worship (e.g. sin offering substitutes).

So does this make you a hypocrite for not sponsoring state-funded welfare program. It depends. Probably not, but it depends on why you do not. We're too eager to seek a cut-and-dry answer that allows us to justify our own feelings, but the heart of the matter is the heart of the person. If you do not wish to support this because you see even better ways to provide aid for those in need and you would rather leverage your resources to support those causes, then great. If, however, you simply cannot give because you're upgrading your gaming rig, or purchasing an LCD TV then you run the risk of being like the man who was blessed beyond measure and decided to create new storehouses to hold all of his goods. He died without being of benefit to himself or others.

Those who challenge you as a hypocrite may be well-founded, or not. The reality is, though, that it provides an opportunity for you to evaluate your proximity to the heart of God in this particular area.

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I think the christian objection to modern day welfare vs the ancient state welfare you describe isn't so much that in ancient times recipients still had to work for it as it is that in ancient times the state welfare was in the name of God. Today's US welfare system makes no such claim, and what we have today is the state taking over the role of religion in society. The ultimate result of this is people looking more and more to the government, instead of looking to God. edit: Hmm, maybe this should be part of it's own answer. –  Joel Coehoorn Jun 25 '12 at 13:22
    
I undoubtedly agree with you. However, it is still incumbent upon Christians to care for these folks. That responsibility seems to have been abdicated and the government attempts to fill the space. Unfortunately, the Christian objection is less about the ethical framework of the government and more about the bottom-line impact. But to your point, I agree - putting more faith in the system than in God is clearly a divergence from the ideal (see: 1 Samuel 8). –  swasheck Jun 25 '12 at 14:04

One big issue with welfare programs today is that they are done in the name of the Government, rather than in the name of Jesus. The result is that, more and more, society looks to Government for things that should be the role of religion. Religious programs are stripped of resources as people take money that would have gone charitably to support competing programs and must spend it in taxes instead. Ultimately, this hurts welfare recipients more than it helps, because it hurts the ability of religion to reach out to the lost among those people.

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+1 I see it differently, though. I see the church as historically having backed out of portions of her calling. The government responds to needs - it doesn't invent poor and homeless and widows and orphans so that it gains control over an area. I fear that (at least in the US) Christians are more hopeful that morality will be legislated so that they feel more at ease living in their government. –  swasheck Jun 25 '12 at 14:08

There are many answers here claiming that welfare is contrary to Christianity. Here's another way.

Yes, to be totally opposed to welfare is wrong and contrary to Christian teaching.

I know that will come as a surprise to the American Christians here (much less to Christians in any other part of the world) but a close reading of the Gospels would really make it clear.

The clearest thing is that Jesus quite clearly commanded us to be generous to the poor, and to take care of those who can't take care of themselves. The parable of the sheep and the goats is all we need to be sure of this, but there are plenty of other places we are commanded to generosity in the New Testament alone. The duties in the Old Testament to look after those unable to look after themselves are equally clear. I hope that no Christian reading this is any doubt about the matter.

Let's move on to some reasons people are giving for not supporting welfare.

  1. Some people are claim that there are welfare programs that are extravagant. or corrupt, or misused or taken advantage of. Some welfare programs are indeed like that, but that's not an argument for abolishing welfare. If something isn't working the way it should then you reform it, you don't get rid of it. If the police wasn't doing its job you wouldn't conclude that we don't need a police force - you'd work to get a better, more effective police force. Note that I'm not saying you have to support all welfare as a Christian - you can certainly oppose corrupt, extravagant or ineffective welfare.
  2. Some claim that it's wrong to compel people to contribute to welfare. Welfare should be voluntary, they say, and its especially wrong to force non-Christians to contribute to it. I'm wondering why we don't apply this to the other commands of God - should we to allow people to opt out of of "Thou shalt not murder" if they don't believe in it? Or "thou shalt not steal?" You might notice that in practice most non-Christians are in fact quite happy with the idea of contributing to welfare. Are you going to take that opportunity away from them?
  3. Some claim that it's not the government's job to be doing this, it should be up to Christians. That's a nice sounding argument, but Christians had the opportunity to do this in the 19th century and the Great Depression, and millions of people died and lived destitute. Is that what we want to happen now? It may be "the role of religion" to be doing this, but religion didn't do a good job the last time it was left to it. The government is the servant of the people, and if the people want to do the right thing - the Christian thing - and support the poor, is it really the place of Christians to oppose that?
  4. Some claim that making a thing mandatory removes the ability for people to make a moral choice to do the right thing. That's true, but remember that at the same time as you would be getting your brownie points by doing the right, voluntary, thing, people would be starving without welfare. Is that the calculation you want to make? Your moral righteousness is more important than someone else being fed? If so then you may have lost the plot somewhere. You may also want to consider that you can "do the right thing" by voting to approve welfare. That's as much a moral choice as giving.
  5. Some claim that there is no mandate to create government programs for welfare. That may be, but Christians do a lot of things that don't have a direct biblical mandate - vote, drive a car, use the internet. It is pretty clear that Jesus wants us to use whatever power we have to help the poor. One of the powers we have is to vote, and if by voting we can help people we should do it.

One final note - I haven't used the word 'hypocrite' anywhere in here. it's much to strong a word. There are many reasons why people do things we think are contrary to God's will, and I do as many as most. I wouldn't give the label 'hypocrite' just for that. And I' certainly not saying that Christians must support ALL welfare programs.

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+1 from me. However, I'd like to see the downvoter(s) explain themselves. Just because you disagree doesn't mean that this answer doesn't contribute a valuable perspective on the conversation. –  swasheck Jul 5 '12 at 21:17
    
For point 3, you haven't addressed the argument that the shift from religion to government has resulted in people being worse off, because a holistic view of the person's welfare counts spiritual needs at least as important as the physical needs (as Christians, we might say even more so), and the shifted responsibilities have neglected the former. People are fed physically, but starved spiritually. The church may have failed part of it's job in the last century, but are we really any better now? –  Joel Coehoorn Jul 6 '12 at 17:05
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An interesting point, but I'm not sure it makes any difference. Since Christians no longer have to spend a lot of time ensuring that people don't starve (sine that's now the government's responsibility), they should have more time to spend addressing people's spiritual needs. –  DJClayworth Jul 25 '12 at 20:09
    
+1 From me. It is incredible that these answer has so few up-votes. –  Giorgio Dec 16 '13 at 9:20

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