The conditions under which the government transfers wealth are different than the conditions under which the church transfers wealth, says James R. Rodgers. Yet many Christian leaders are tempted to use the power of the state to do what is required of the church:

Ginning up donations, however, is the hard road. Given the imperative that the needy should be fed, how much easier it is to step around the church and the power of the Gospel, and instead to make a friend of violence. It’s all in service of a good cause, after all. With the magisterial sword, no need to change hearts and actions. We only need to threaten. What a temptation it is to call on magisterial violence to accomplish God’s work. I am not a pacifist, and therefore do not object to the sword in principle. But as with war, I think that use of the magisterial sword needs justification.

There is also the impact on the church. Once the move is made to the domain of the civil sword, it’s difficult for the church to go back. If the church has ceded responsibility for the needy to the state, then what’s the point of increasing contributions to the church? To be sure, there will always be interstices in government welfare, but filling in the cracks of the welfare state is hardly a stirring call.

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  • juliusstahl

    I cannot thank you enough for this article. The bishops have ignominiously avoided these issues. They have failed to take into account the $16 trilllion we have in debt and the fact that every Catholic child comes into the world already $50K in debt, $15K courtesy of President Obama.

    They have adopted wholesale the liberal orthodoxy that more $$$ self-evidently mean greater aid and service to the poor. It is completely irresponsible and a disservice to the poor for them to avoid the issues you and Paul Ryan have raised. Keep at it, and Happy St. Rita’s Day!