Christian Charity and the Welfare State
- Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Editor’s Note: “When government confines itself to protecting each individual’s God-given right to be safe in his or her own person and property, then people are free to go about their business as long as they don’t trespass on the rights of others to do the same. By contrast, when man-made legislation … commands people to take specified actions, then a person may be deemed guilty of a crime just for sitting at home and minding his own business. Once the principle is established that government has the power to dictate what citizens must do in some cases, a society has started down the proverbial slippery slope toward tyranny.”
In “Christian Charity and the Welfare State” (6,116 words), faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College—Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson—explains, “There is near universal agreement among Christians of all political stripes that one of our great privileges and duties is to do charitable deeds. Where we disagree is on the question of whether the secular authority of the state should be an agent of Christian charity. To some, such an alliance seems logical; to others, it is a non sequitur to conclude that, because we are expected to perform acts of charity, we should enlist the state to help us.”
Exploring topics such as “Christ and government—the essential difference,” “biblical communism,” the “gospel, law, and legislation,” the “democratic temptation,” the “entitlement trap,” the “biblical model for charity,” and the “practical superiority of private charity,” Dr. Hendrickson points out, “The apostles practiced communalism, not communism. Communalism is entirely consensual. It includes only those members of the larger community who voluntarily decide to participate.”
Media Inquiries: If you would like to reach Dr. Hendrickson for comment, please contact him at MWHendrickson@gcc.edu.
Christian Charity and the Welfare State
by Mark W. Hendrickson, Ph.D.
Colleagues at Grove City College have advised me that some people might wonder why I, with degrees in economics instead of theology, would write a paper that puts forth a biblical exegesis. To put the shoe on the other foot, how would I like it if a theologian presumed to write an economic tract?
I have a couple of ready responses: First, if it bothered me whenever a theologian expressed an economic opinion, I would be upset quite often, because theologians do, in fact, address economic matters rather frequently. Many a priest (including my cousin Larry) and pastor (including my neighbor Jim) preach and propound economic theories from the pulpit. Theologically-based economic literature is common, with two of the more famous examples being Protestant Ronald Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger and periodic papal encyclicals from the Roman Catholic church.
I reject the notion that economists have or deserve to have a monopoly on economic commentary, and I reject the notion that we have a monopoly on economic wisdom. Actually, given some of the egregious fallacies entrenched in mainstream economic orthodoxy, I would say my profession suffers from an acute shortage of economic wisdom, so I say “Welcome!” to anyone, regardless of academic credentials, who can bring some common sense to today’s vital economic issues.
Now, to put the shoe back on the other foot again, just as I object to professional economists enjoying any sort of exclusive prerogative to address economic matters, I even more strongly protest the assertion that biblical commentary is the exclusive province of those with academic or ecclesiastical credentials in religion. Maybe it’s my Protestant upbringing, but I believe that the Bible is for everyone and that God communicates to each of us directly through His inspired Word. I may not have academic standing as a theological thinker, but I am a thinker who has spent a lot of time pondering the Bible, and I have as much a right to discuss biblical precepts as anyone does.
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