The term “welfare” often gets tossed around negatively to mean any number of social programs. To solve this vague issue, definitions must be identified.
Current welfare programs include the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid and housing assistance. These programs are designed to provide economic support and other needs to low-income families and
TANF provides direct cash income to poor families, although the program has been decaying in recent years and less people in poverty receive benefits. SNAP, commonly known as food stamps, provided food vouchers to 39 million destitute people in 2020, an average of around $125 a month per person.
Medicaid provides healthcare for more than 70 million low-income people in 2020. Housing assistance provides rent support and opportunities for inexpensive housing. These programs compile what can be considered welfare in the United States government.
Social safety nets are intended to lift people out of poverty — a desire Christians should seek under the command to help the poor. Many of those listed programs provide people with needs rather than cash alone.
However, welfare should be a helping hand, not a handout.
Although welfare can assist in meeting the needs of those who need it, the line between poor and lazy must be made clear and bold. On the one hand, low-income people need economic assistance, but to whom much is given, much is expected. Those on welfare, specifically Christians, have the biblical responsibility to be diligent in their efforts and work toward self-reliance.
Having a safety net can be beneficial until dependency becomes a temptation. Christians must be careful to both help the poor and accept help if needed, but not to rely solely on others, because the Bible teaches a diligent spirit.
2 Thessalonians 3:11-12 echoes this principle, “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.”
The issue with welfare that seems to have gone unnoticed is the failure of the church to address the needs of the poor.
The Bible directs Christians, not the government (Romans 13:3-4), to care for the poor. Because Christians have failed at this task, the government has had to step in and do the job that the Church should be doing. The Israelites were commanded in Deuteronomy 15:7 to “not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother”. Paul encouraged the church in Acts 20:35, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
The Church has seemingly forgotten these commandments yet often proudly preaches against welfare programs. The government is doing the job of Christians, and we must first look at ourselves before we critique a system that would not be necessary in an ideal situation.
The Church, in many cases, has dropped the ball in its commandment to help the needy. For example, a 2017 study by the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving explored the budgets of 1200 churches. They found that churches spend $5 on wages for staff for every $1 that goes to the needy. The church’s focus has shifted away from community outreach in favor of corporate behavior. If we as Christians continue to ignore our calling to help the disadvantaged, then our argument against welfare will continue to lose its validity. The problem lies within ourselves.
Welfare should be no more than a lifeline to pull people out of poverty. The Church should spearhead caring for the needy as biblically directed instead of the government, which in the meantime has filled the role as needed. Long term, we must work to keep welfare for those that truly need it but also out of the government’s hands as our biblical responsibility.