Coral background

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How Welfare Came About

While everyone's recovering from electoral madness (be that excitement or disappointment), I thought I'd write on welfare. Obvi everyone's favorite topic!

This funny image is from this website.

Moving to Durham has been a reality check in how I relate to and think about welfare. Before moving here, I thought (or maybe more realistically I was told) that people who are on welfare just need to get off their lazy butts, get a job, provide for themselves and their family, and have some pride in themselves. While parts of that statement undoubtedly are true, I've come to realize that welfare isn't the only big bad wolf that's sucking our government and economy dry. On the other hand, I've also realized that there are well-bodied, able people who could work but choose not to because they're on welfare. Welfare as a system seems to help people, but ends up making them feel overbenefitted and incapable in the long-run.

When thinking about welfare, I've often talked about the need for the Church to help their impoverished brothers and sisters, not the government. It wasn't until I read When Helping Hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor... and yourself that I realized the Church's large role in the beginning of the welfare state. Allow me to explain...

Apparently there's this period of time called "The Great Reversal." It took place in the twentieth century. Prior to this time, "evangelical Christians played a large role in ministering to the physical and spiritual needs of the poor" (When Helping Hurts, page 43). At the beginning of the twentieth century, a movement called the social gospel movement started cropping up. Basically evangelicals saw this movement as liberal and unbiblical, when, in reality, it was biblical as it sought to further God's Kingdom on earth*. Evangelicals started separating themselves from this movement, which "ended... in a large-scale retreat from the front lines of poverty alleviation" (page 44).

This Great Reversal happened during the early 1900s (1900-1930ish), which was BEFORE the rise of the welfare state in the 1960s. This retreat from poverty alleviation "was fundamentally due to shifts in theology and not-as many have asserted-to government programs that drove the church away from ministry to the poor" (page 44).

Interestingly, this same Great Reversal thinking is something I have to constantly battle against. Although I never knew why I equated Christian based social justice with political liberality and theological wavering, I did. And to some degree still do, despite knowing its not right (and honestly sinful).

May we, as the Church, long for God's Kingdom to be established on earth. May we lay aside politics and untrue theological doctrine and pursue people in the name of Jesus, not a politician. May we repent of sinful thinking that has been ill-justified for decades in order to bring His glory on earth.

*This being said, the social gospel movement didn't necessarily seek to share the gospel in word, but simply in deed (which obviously isn't okay). I'm not saying their theology was super solid and we should all go by it, but I am saying that this theological shift caused many Christians to retreat from poverty alleviation (rather than combating this movement in a positive way - without neglecting the poor).

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