A Biblical Response to Welfare and Poverty

Many discussions of poverty and welfare often contrast the choice of individuals to take ownership of their own lives and actions thus assuming responsibility for themselves and their own needs as compared to those who would asset that society has a responsibility to the vulnerable among us and that each member of society should have a “reasonable chance at a decent life” (Ripstein, 1995) and society should play a role in making sure people have a fair share of resources and opportunities.  For those who value personal responsibility welfare is seen as placing an undue burden upon responsible citizens.  For those who value societal engagement welfare is seen as a safety net of compassion for the weak and vulnerable who would otherwise be at a disadvantage in an unfair society and the cost is the responsibility of those who have succeeded in said society.  I assert that there is a third, and vitally important, issue that is often left out of these discussions that being the impact of people of faith on society as a whole.  The Christian faith in particular has much to say regarding not only our individual responsibility before God but also our social responsibility to other members of God’s creation.  The transformational work of God in the hearts of those who are followers of Jesus exert an upwardly mobile thrust in individuals lives and society as a whole providing a framework for meeting both the need to be individually responsible and to care for the needs of societies weak and vulnerable.  An example in point is the Wesleyan Revival led by John Wesley in the 1700’s which was attributed by some as having spared England the bloody revolution endured by France.  Out of this revival came such groups as the Salvation Army which saw social responsibility to be linked with evangelical fervor.  If our society is to have an opportunity to find an answer to the problems of the welfare debate those who believe in Jesus must be a part of the solution not just the debate.

Ripstein, A. (1995, April/May). Undue burdens. Retrieved from http://www.bostonreview.net/BR20.2/Ripstein.html