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A Biblical View of Work and Welfare

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“Christians are supposed to be at the tip of the spear in alleviating poverty, especially when it comes to other believers. That doesn’t mean, however, that we are under any obligation to help indolent bums.  Such people are not entitled to our generosity. They have chosen the path of poverty.”

–JASON MATTERA

Have you heard that requiring able-bodied adults to work as a condition for receiving taxpayer-funded welfare is “despicable?”

True story, according to Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

That’s not all.

Apparently tying government welfare to the prospect of work is also “profoundly destructive” (Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez) and will “take food out of the mouths of kids” (Rep. Pete Aguilar of California).

It could be racist, too, declared Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Seattle: “All of these things disproportionately affect poor people, people in rural areas, Black, Brown, indigenous folks.”

Take a deep breath, libs.

Are conservatives on Capitol Hill really advocating for policies that would undermine the republic, snatch mac and cheese from the forks of hungry toddlers, and target minorities in the process?

Hardly.

To catch you up to speed, House Republicans and the Biden administration finally agreed in principle to increase the nation’s “debt ceiling,” meaning that the United States government would be authorized to accrue new “debt,” at least until 2025, when we get to go through this entire ordeal all over again.

Lucky us!

Basically, the deal keeps discretionary government spending “roughly flat” in the short term and merely cuts the rate of such spending after that. Considering that the country’s debt hovers at $31.8 trillion (and counting!), this pending agreement is hardly a heroic display of fiscal leadership by either political party.

That said, House conservatives were able to bolster work requirements as a pre-condition for receiving public support, which is a victory of sorts.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, the “tentative deal would largely require able-bodied, low-income adults without dependents between the ages of 18 and 54 to work to receive food aid, up from the current top age of 49.”

Just to underscore the point, existing federal welfare law mandates that adults under 50 years old must punch in at least 20 hours a week at an office or attend a job training seminar if they are physically capable of doing so.

The proposal under scrutiny would bump that top-line age to 54.

This meager expansion is what all the fuss is about.

Exceptions to these proposed rules abound, by the way. They reportedly wouldn’t cover “veterans, homeless people, and young people leaving foster care,” among the myriad exemptions that are already in effect.  

The suggested debt-ceiling deal would also update obsolete calculation methods when it comes to welfare data, while shining a light of transparency on the states that get trigger-happy in issuing “waivers” to work requirements.  

Like with the spending side of the ledger, we’re not talking about sweeping reforms here.

Whatever the word is that describes an action a notch below modest, that’s what this compromise bill is.

It’s unsightly… but at least we’re not moving in the wrong direction, particularly with welfare policy.

In fact, there are clear worldview implications for Christians to consider on the topic of work and welfare.

For starters, the Bible endorses the ethic of work as one visible demonstration of a virtuous Christian life. For instance, when addressing the fledging church community in Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul explicitly warns them about lazy behavior:

“For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”

–2 Thessalonians 3:10-12

Notice how this passage isn’t framed as a suggestion; it’s expressed as a “command” if we are going to emulate godly character.

Of course, Christians are supposed to be at the tip of the spear in alleviating poverty, especially when it comes to other believers. That doesn’t mean, however, that we are under any obligation to help indolent bums.

Such people are not entitled to our generosity.

They have chosen the path of poverty, to paraphrase Proverbs 10:4.

There is another reason, though, why Christians should promote a culture of work: Work is central to man’s makeup.

There’s a misconception that humanity is required to work because of sin.

Yet that’s not true.

Work is now a labor-intensive grind due to the curse of sin, yes, but prior to the fall, God “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).

Work, it turns out, was always part of the original plan. Indeed, the very first commission given to man was to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28).

Christians, then, should be vocal proponents of fostering a culture of work in civil society. Not only are we charged biblically to “earn our own living,” as Paul put it, but the ritual of work is the method by which God intended for us to cultivate His creation.

It’s part of our DNA.

Today’s leftists, on other hand, are fundamentally opposed to fostering a culture of work. Instead, politicians like Elizabeth Warren and AOC are zealously engineering a culture of dependency where citizens are rewarded with government cash for sitting around on their duffs.

It’s a governing philosophy that’s in conflict with Scripture, as author George Grant sums up nicely:

“The whole idea behind Biblical charity is to get the poor back on their feet, working again, independent and productive. It seems that the whole idea behind government welfare is exactly the opposite. It knocks the poor off their feet, keeps them from working, creates long term dependencies, and makes them completely and entirely unproductive. Government welfare expects next to nothing from its beneficiaries. It extends its privileges as unquestioned and unquestionable entitlements. The poor are not obligated in any way to meet the social demands of citizenship.”

Bottom line: Welfare reform is biblically sound and economically necessary.

And Christians should have no problem backing it.


Follow Jason on Twitter! @JasonMattera

Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.

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