Public Square

What If the Welfare State Is the Result of the Church?

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Approximately $100 billion is donated to the American church annually, yet America is still plagued with homelessness, poverty, poor education systems, inadequate health care, and more. People often complain about the government’s misallocation of money (particularly regarding entitlements), but there seems to be a double standard in play here.

Nearly half of a church’s budget typically goes directly to staff for salary and benefits. Likewise, one of America’s largest Christian denominations reported spending $637 million in 2014 on foreign missions. This is a drop in the bucket compared to the church’s annual income (via donations/tithes), which could completely fund government food stamps and still have $30 billion left over.

Similarly, the church could single-handedly carry out housing and homelessness initiatives—which are currently provided by the government—and still be left with $49 billion. What could the American church do to help the country, if they truly dedicated themselves to these causes?

What Should the Church Do with Its Resources?

Some organizations have proposed forcing churches that violated their 501(c)(3) status to pay taxes, claiming it would produce around $17 billion. If churches in general paid taxes it could generate upwards of $71 billion. However, there is a preferable solution to this problem of misallocation of resources and poor stewardship in the church that will simultaneously combat poverty, food and housing deficiency, health-care inadequacy, and more.

My proposal is simple obedience to what Scripture commissions the church to do with its resources. Pastors, evangelists, and Christian organizations, in general, have no reluctance teaching from 2 Corinthians 9, where Paul states that “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully…for God loves a cheerful giver,” but it seems that the church as a corporate body is hesitant to be generous to others through its giving.

Do we truly believe the Bible when it says, “whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed” (Prov. 19:17), or “Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven’” (Matt. 19:21), or the author of Hebrews when he claims, “do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Heb. 13:16). If we believe these words, then we will give our money to those in need in order 1) to display the grace and generosity of God to others, and 2) to honor our God with our obedience.

Where Does the Great Commission Begin?

Roughly half of the church’s money goes to paying staff and billions more is sent overseas each year.

As to the former, if a charitable organization treated money this way, it would be considered fraudulent, so we must not add exceptions for ourselves; rather we ought to be examples of Christ’s generosity in our communities.

To the latter, it is understandable that we desire to make a global impact, but by doing so our fellow countrymen are suffering tremendously. We traverse the world with our talents and resources in order to bring about a better life for people, to provide services that people otherwise would not have, and to fulfill the Great Commission, but all of these can be accomplished here at home. We must remember that the Great Commission begins in our own communities and ends in the outermost regions of the world (Acts 1:8).

The local church and the American church as a whole should reallocate its resources, talents, love, and generosity to those in its communities. We build schools and makeshift hospitals for our neighbors around the world, but we neglect our neighbors across the street. We build houses for impoverished people groups, but we abandon the 41.3 million people in poverty here in the United States.

Let us show those in need in our own communities and country as a whole the love of Christ by providing health-care facilities, education, food, and housing (and at an affordable price for them). Further still, let us do this so that they might have the basic necessities of life, that they may know God and that he may be glorified, and in order that we may honor God and love our countrymen.

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  • Gary Henline

    While I appreciate the candor, I think the writer is misunderstood. For example the church does pay taxes. Billions of dollars come out of the paychecks of those who worship across this nation. On top of that the faithful of the body of Christ give above and beyond that to do all the church does in our local communities and abroad. I gets the sense that the writer is anti mission outside the United States, or at least he would carve way down the amount of money that is sent for missions out of the country. The conflict is that the money is going to where people are coming to Christ, not just to invest for a 3rd time ( our taxes, tithes, local benevolence) in our own people who have heard it all before, and still refuse to bend a knee. Those same people are still quite happy though to continue to take a hand out. I don’t think the answer is found in your solution, I think it is found in continuing to teach people to work and worship as they live their daily lives. One final thought, the authors aspiration is to be a religious professor. Great, but certainly the cost of that education could be used in better ways than preparing someone to be in an ivory tower writing books and expounding doctrine to a mass of people in this nation, who are the very people he indicts in his writing.

  • Great points! I personally am glad that the support of foreign missions is still happening but the reality is even foreign missions work is declining as a priority funding area in the church of America. Sadly home missions outreaches are not having much impact to helping people change their lives locally. The neglect of the poor who live around us is not because it’s someone else’s job, but rather it’s our role and function to minister life in tangible ways. We still tend to put our money where our mouth is, and therefore we’re busy consuming much on ourselves and our own comforts. Furthermore, we are primarily focused on our eternal security (and internal security) rather than our community impact that so much of our budget goes to getting people to pray the sinners prayer rather than changing their lives. Naïvely we leave the changing of hearts to God whom we have introduced souls to, rather than being engaged and involved in the process of making disciples, creating jobs, and helping to father fatherless generations.

  • docrings

    Our church has a “Be Rich” (in good deeds) campaign every year and raises millions to give to charitable, vetted, local organizations in direct help for the poor and hungry in our county. It is amazing to see Christ’s church in obedience to loving its neighbor. 🙂

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