As the number of welfare recipients in the United States continues to grow over time, many Christians are increasingly concerned that the vast majority of taxpayer-funded governmental assistance programs are doing more harm than good.
The data shows that these concerns are not misguided. A recent report by the House Budget Committee, titled “A Growing Culture of Government Dependency,” demonstrated that “More people are receiving welfare benefits today than at any time in our nation’s history.”
It noted: “In 2022, 81 million people were enrolled in Medicaid (24.3 percent of the population) and 41 million received Food Stamps (12.4 percent of the population). This is even higher than at the height of the pandemic and government lockdowns.”
Another report by policy experts at The Heritage Foundation estimated that spending and welfare policies contained within the misnamed “Build Back Better” Act, signed into law by President Biden on August 16, 2022, would be “by far the largest increase in means-tested welfare spending in U.S. history, piled on top of the existing welfare system that costs $1.16 trillion per year.”
Far from empowering welfare recipients to find and secure stable jobs and free themselves from relying on the largesse of the federal government, they concluded: “Expanding government benefits and support to over $76,400 per family while scrapping work requirements would trap many families in costly and harmful dependence.”
Conservative, Bible-believing Christians believe in the importance of caring for the poor and vulnerable in our society. But the Bible clearly teaches that mankind is made to work — because by doing so, they rightly display the image of our creating and working God. Also, Christians know that there is inherent dignity in gainful employment. Furthermore, the Bible teaches that each person must take responsibility for themselves and their families.
However, the current welfare system in America works against each of these biblical tenets. This article will provide a Christian critique of the welfare system by discussing how it degrades the dignity of work, rewards idleness, undermines marriage, and fosters dependency on government support. I will also explore what the Bible truly says about caring for those in need and the moral implications of the current welfare structure.
The Bible places a strong emphasis on work. In Genesis 2:15, we are reminded that God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden “to work it and keep it.” Work is not only a means of providing for oneself and one’s family but also a source of purpose and fulfillment. The Apostle Paul underscores this in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 when he says, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
The current welfare system, with its generous benefits and limited work requirements, can inadvertently (or perhaps intentionally) undermine the dignity of work.
In an article titled “Surprise: Welfare Incentives Discourage Work,” The Foundation for Economic Education reports that a study at the University of Chicago,
“…attributes much of the startling drop in labor force participation to the expansion of federal transfer payments. Disability benefits and food stamps, in particular, are quickly phased-out if nonworkers take a job, or part-time workers switch to full-time work, or single-earner families become two-earner families. In other words, higher tax rates on work and more generous subsidies to leisure leave the economy with fewer people seeking work and therefore less production, lower tax revenue and greater federal spending on transfers from those who earn income to those who instead rely on government.”
When individuals are provided with financial support without any expectation of work, it creates a “culture of dependency,” where the value of labor is diminished and God-given human agency is degraded. This contradicts the biblical principle that work is an essential part of human life and a means of contributing to society. God made man to reflect Him in this world, and as a creating God, God intended for the pinnacle of His creation, mankind, to display His character by being creative — to strive, build, discover, explore, and, yes, to work.
Proverbs 10:4 reminds us that “a slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” The Bible consistently encourages diligence and hard work as a path to prosperity. However, the current welfare system has faced criticism for discouraging self-reliance and rewarding idleness.
Proverbs 18:9 teaches us that “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.” But our welfare system encourages “slackness” in work, which is destructive. Because of their welfare-funded idleness, people are tempted to eat poorly, use recreational drugs, consume more alcohol, live unproductive lives, and waste their God-given gifts and potential.
As demonstrated above, when individuals receive financial assistance without actively seeking employment or self-improvement, it can create a disincentive to work. This is not only detrimental to the individual’s self-esteem and sense of purpose but also places a burden on taxpayers who fund the welfare system.
Thus, the modern American welfare system acts in direct opposition to this proverbial wisdom from Proverbs 10 and the clear command of Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:10. Biblical scholar George Grant provides a sharp critique of welfare and explains how it works against these biblical principles, writing:
“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.”
Marriage is a sacred institution in the eyes of God. In Genesis 2:24, we read, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The Bible emphasizes the importance of a committed, loving relationship between a husband and wife as the foundation for a stable family.
The current welfare system significantly undermines and discourages marriage by providing financial incentives for couples to remain unmarried. This is known as the “marriage penalty.” For example, some programs offer higher benefits to single mothers, creating a financial disincentive for couples to marry. This, among other factors, has led to the breakdown of families and harms the well-being of children who are raised without the stability of a two-parent household.
The biblical design for families is for one man and one woman to join together in a permanent, monogamous, covenantal marriage with a commitment to care for any children that they have. This is God’s good plan — for children to be raised by both their mother and their father. Unsurprisingly, God’s plan is best — and it works.
Robert Rector, a welfare expert with the Heritage Foundation, explains:
“Historically, marriage has played a critical role in the raising of children. In most cases, the economic benefits of marriage are substantial. Marriage among families with children is an extremely powerful factor in promoting economic self-sufficiency: the ability of families to support themselves above poverty without reliance on government means-tested welfare aid. The reason for this is simple and straightforward. In most cases two parents working together can support a child more efficiently than one.”
However, Rector goes on to state that the massive expansion of the social safety net and welfare programs have not only undermined marriage but also promoted single-parent households over the last many decades:
“As means-tested benefits expanded, welfare began to serve as a substitute for a husband in the home, and low-income marriage began to disappear. As husbands left the home, the need for more welfare to support single mothers increased. The War on Poverty created a destructive feedback loop: Welfare promoted the decline of marriage, which generated a need for more welfare.”
It’s bad enough that welfare has contributed to the decline of marriage in general. Even worse is how it penalizes marriage. Rector explains that the “means-tested welfare system actively penalizes low-income parents who do marry. All means-tested welfare programs are designed so that a family’s benefits are reduced as earnings rise.”
Christians with a biblical worldview will always promote, and never penalize, marriage. Therefore, we must be opposed to these family- and society-destroying features of the American welfare system.
Dependency on government support can also be a form of enslavement. In Galatians 5:1, Paul tells us,
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
While this verse primarily refers to spiritual freedom, it underscores the biblical principle that dependence on anything other than God can lead to bondage.
The welfare system, when not structured carefully, can create a cycle of dependency on government assistance. Individuals who become reliant on these benefits may find it difficult to break free from the system, trapping them in a state of perpetual reliance on the government rather than trusting in God’s provision and their own abilities.
The Bible does indeed command Christians to care for the poor and vulnerable. In Matthew 25:35-36, Jesus says,
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”
This teaching, while in the immediate context is speaking to how people respond to Christ and His followers, emphasizes the importance of personal charity and kindness.
However, the biblical model of caring for the poor differs significantly from the modern welfare state. In the Bible, assistance to the needy is primarily a personal and communal responsibility, with families, churches, and local communities playing a central role. There is a sense of accountability, relationship, and moral responsibility attached to this care.
Furthermore, Jesus also makes it clear that poverty is not something that can ever be “eliminated.” He clearly states in Matthew 26:10, “The poor you will always have with you.” Any effort to eliminate or eradicate poverty is ultimately a fruitless pursuit of a utopian society.
The biblically prescribed support system for those who are destitute or needy begins first with the family. 1 Timothy 5:8 teaches that “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
For those in need, the first place they should turn is to their own relatives, not the government. If they don’t have any family, then they should turn to the Church. After those two options are exhausted, then the next best place for help should be the local community and state governments, not the federal government.
Conservative, Bible-believing Christians must balance the biblical mandate to care for the poor with the principles of work, self-reliance, and the sanctity of marriage. The current welfare system in America fails the test of a biblical worldview analysis since it penalizes marriage, rewards idleness, undermines the dignity of work, and results in a cycle of dependence on — and even enslavement to — the federal government.
Christians should strive for a welfare reform in America that significantly reduces the size of our welfare programs and reorders them such that they encourage individuals to seek employment and self-improvement, uphold and promote the sanctity of marriage and family, and foster a culture of personal responsibility and accountability. Our faith calls us to a holistic approach to caring for the needy, one that combines compassion with wisdom, recognizing the unique and God-given dignity of every individual. Through this approach, we can better align our social policies with the timeless values and teachings of the Bible.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and politics? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page, where we’ve published several long-form pieces to help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.