When Should the Able-bodied Poor Be Helped?


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Should Able-Bodied Poor People Receive Welfare?

Should able-bodied people who aren't working should receive welfare?They shouldnít, as is explained below, but it's not merely because of what Paul taught.


Now Paul clearly taught that the "unworthy poor" shouldn't be given handouts from others.  That is, those who are willingly irresponsible and lazy.Notice II Thessalonians 3:10-12:  "For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order:  if anyone will not work neither let him eat. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.  Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and to eat their own bread."Likewise, the poor in the Old Testament had to go gather leftover food in the field through gleaning (Leviticus 19:9-19).They didnít have that food delivered to their doors, but had to work for it.Notice that the landowners had to allow them to enter their fields to pick up the leftovers that the landowners could have taken for themselves. 


So it's clear that people who are willingly lazy shouldn't be helped.  The "worthy" poor, to allude to the old Victorian social worker's terminology, are those who are poor because of factors beyond their own control, such as not being able to work because of bad health and serious illness or even just old age.  The "unworthy" poor are those who are lazy, chronically alcoholic, etc., who wreck their lives economically by their own free will.  (Another such class of people, although it's somewhat more ambiguous at times, concerns those who have babies out of wedlock and/or are divorced; a great deal of current poverty in America, Britain, and other developed countries is caused by what is politely called  "family instability."Itís caused mainly by a lack of sexual discipline and/or a lack of relationship management skills and self-restraint).


Now there is another class of people, which became very obvious during the Great Depression:  Those who wish to work but simply can't find any jobs.  Even if they moved to another city or state, they would still have trouble finding anything to work at when unemployment (at one point) was around 25% in 1932 or 1933.  Such people aren't poverty-stricken because of their bad habits in life, but because of economic factors beyond their control.  In order to help such people the original "relief" programs, not just make-work programs like the WPA and PWA, were established under FDRís ďNew Deal.Ē


However, thereís another principle here to consider.Of course, Scripture of full of statements, in both the Old and New Testaments, about the need to help the poor.The Parable of the Good Samaritan is just one of the best known examples of this.The main problem, however, with using the government to help the poor results from trying to accomplish a good moral end by an immoral means.The duty of Christians to help the poor, such as commanded in Matthew 25:31-46 in the parable of the sheep and goats, should not be accomplished by an immoral method.  The government has to forcibly confiscate other people's wealth through taxation in order to fund "transfer programs."  In Christian ethics, the end never justifies the means.  Therefore, it's immoral for the state to dispense charity to truly needy people when looted funds paid for those alms.  Surely all reasonable people would condemn (say) a Salvation Army officer who robbed banks in order to feed the homeless.  In actuality, when the government uses its power to tax to transfer wealth from one set of people who earned it to another set who did not, this collective entity has no more moral standing to do so than private individuals.  Democratic political processes are perverted when poorer people vote for statist politicians who promise to transfer their richer neighbors' income into their pockets.  Majority rule does not morally sanitize the theft committed.After all, taxes arenít voluntary, but altruism should be or it can easily become an excuse for tyranny.  The Eighth Commandment (Exodus 20:15), "You shall not steal," should not be overridden when some people have urgent needs for help.  In short, Robin Hood, who legendarily robbed the rich to give to the poor, was wrong.


So although Christians are commanded to help the poor who live in poverty for reasons completely beyond or partially beyond their control, it shouldnít be done by government action.


Eric Snow



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