Dan Popp
Safety nets and other snares, Part 1
By Dan Popp
July 10, 2012

This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. — James 1:27, NASB

When I say that conservatives have principles and liberals have an agenda, I don't mean that all conservatives have chosen their views based on principle, or that conservatives necessarily understand their principles or apply them consistently.

Our professional talkers are fond of saying, "Of course conservatives believe in a safety net; but we don't believe it should become a hammock." But there's a self-contradiction in that trite byte. The distinction between a tiny, temporary federal dole for the very poor, and a crushing, totalitarian welfare state is a difference of degree, not of kind. If it's wrong in principle for government to do the work of religion (see James, above), then it's wrong whether government does a little of that, or a lot.

In a series of articles, I plan to argue that ostensibly charitable works done via the federal government are contrary to God's will, contrary to the Constitution, and contrary to reality. They should not be done, they may not be done, and they cannot be done.

To begin: Government charity should not be done.

If the phrase "safety net" means food, clothing, shelter, retirement income, various kinds of insurance, disaster aid, job training, loans, healthcare benefits, bailouts, subsidies or preferences provided by government, then a safety net should be hated by those who fear the establishment of an American theocracy. Religious works should remain the purview of religious institutions.


Christians should hate a secular safety net because we love the words and the will of God. As often as the Lord instructs us to help the poor, defend the orphan and bear one another's burdens, there's no place in the Bible where He instructs us to do any of that through government. Government has a different purpose, as we'll see later in this series. For now, let's look at some of the scriptures used to support the Marxist — and therefore contra-Christian — position.


Some people believe that the early Christian church was Communist — a myth that I addressed in an earlier article. There's no coercion in the sharing of resources described in Acts 4 and 5, so it cannot be an example of government redistribution. We could define government as legitimized force. Its essence is coercion. Where there is no violence or threat of violence to keep people in line, there is no government.


In discussions about God, government and the poor, often someone will bring up the Old Testament law of "gleaning." I mention "Old Testament" because we're told by some of these same folks that the Old Covenant is obsolete; what once were sins are now lifestyles. But of course if the moral law were obsolete, no one would have any moral obligation to help anyone, via government or any other means.

God told the children of Israel, "Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God." (Lev. 19:9,10 NASB — See also Deuteronomy 24:19-22)

The problem with this passage as a proof-text for sacred socialism is the same as with the Acts passage: government is nowhere in sight. This cannot be offered honestly as an example of a national dole. Where is the Gleaning Assistance Administration? Note that, under this law, the poor had to work to get their food (read the book of Ruth to see this in practice) — which is hardly similar to electronic deposits of transfer payments.

Food pyramids

I think a passage that comes closer to showing government aid to the needy is Genesis 41. Joseph, you remember, had interpreted Pharaoh's dreams and had been made Prime Minister of Egypt, proposing a 20% agricultural tax during the seven years of plenty, and storing this grain for the coming famine. I'll point out in passing that this extraordinary 20% tax during a boom was less than even the poorest Americans pay now during a bust, thanks to the hidden taxes in our "progressive" code. But this scriptural example does involve government, and it does result in feeding people.

So why doesn't Pharaoh's double-tithe support a case for SNAP? We read further: "When the famine was spread over all the face of the earth, then Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians; and the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. The people of all the earth came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the earth." (Gen. 41:56,57)

Do you see the fatal flaw? The government sold this life-saving grain; it didn't give it. The heathen of thousands of years ago were smarter than some Christians today: they knew that government must stay out of the free food business.


In our post-Christian culture there are still tiny snippets of Bible floating around in the disbeliever's head. Fragments like "brother's keeper," "the Golden Rule" and "The Good Samaritan" are often thrown up in these debates like magical charms to ward off reason.

I hope to tackle those next time.

© Dan Popp


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