World Vision President Richard Stearns opines in the Wall Street Journal concerning the falsehoods Americans believe concerning how much aid the government provides the poor around the world. Many believe that 25% of the federal government goes to foreign aid when the actual number is 1.5%. Of that 1.5%, 0.5% is poverty focused. In addition, a Pew Research Center survey revealed 56% of evangelicals think “aid to the world’s poor should be the first thing cut from the federal budget.” Stearns also points out a Baylor University survey found that Americans who strongly believe that “God has a plan” for their lives—as evangelicals do—are the most likely to oppose government intervention on behalf of the poor.
One of the great mysteries of our present state of Christianity is how clear Scripture is concerning our role in helping the poor and how often we divorce that thought from our value set. How can one read James 1:27 (“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”) and then come to the conclusion that it is a bad thing to help the poor? As they say in the text world SMH.
One common argument of being against government providing poverty focused aid both domestically and internationally is that its the church’s job to take care of the poor, therefore government shouldn’t interfere. Besides, the narrative goes, in order for ministries to effectively carry out their mission if the government is involved financially the possibility rises of ministry being controlled by government regulation.
Really if we call a spade a spade what such skepticism is rooted in is not Scripture but political leanings. The fear of being “controlled” by government is understandable. However oftentimes the same people who express this fear applaud when corporations get involved in aiding the poor. Where then is a healthy skepticism of being “controlled” by corporations who give aid to ministries? Furthermore, when one realizes the common good that government plays in providing poverty aid (especially for many people of color) such skepticism between government and corporations needs to be justified, not merely accepted as government aid=bad and corporate aid=good.
This is not an partisan issue. We as the church need to take the biblical imperative to take care of the poor seriously and accept all the help we can get from the outside.