Acton Institute Powerblog

Jesus Loves… The Welfare State?

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Via Best of the Web Today, an interesting comment from Senator John Kerry:

Democratic Sen. John Kerry called the Republican budget approved by the U.S. Senate “immoral” and said it will hurt cities like Manchester.

“As a Christian, as a Catholic, I think hard about those responsibilities that are moral and how you translate them into public life,” the Massachusetts senator said at a rally Saturday in support of Democratic Mayor Bob Baines, who is running for re-election.

“There is not anywhere in the three-year ministry of Jesus Christ, anything that remotely suggests – not one miracle, not one parable, not one utterance – that says you ought to cut children’s health care or take money from the poorest people in our nation to give it to the wealthiest people in our nation,” he said.

Kerry criticized the Senate spending plan, which would cut an estimated $36 billion over five years, saying it would reduce funds for police, after-school programs and children’s health care.

In one sense, Kerry is correct: one would search in vain to find any point in the Gospels where the Lord does any direct issue advocacy on the modern welfare state (“verily I say unto you, blessed is the Congress that slashes federal low-income health care funding, for they shall have much loot to pass on to their fat-cat special interest contributors…”). But the implied assertion that those who support such cuts in federal spending are anti-poor, or even anti-Christian, deserves more careful scrutiny.

What comments such as these reveal is a philosophy that, as Rev. Gerald Zandstra has noted, lacks “any real discernment about the proper role of government with respect to the issues of poverty and charity.” When the government assumes the primary responsibility for the care of the poor, it does not enhance a society’s morality (as Kerry and others like him would argue); rather, it erodes the moral foundations of the society:

To assign the problem of poverty solely to the government radically short changes the person in need. The poor, in surrendering them to the care of the government, are increasingly estranged from the family, church, charity, or local community who would benefit greatly by becoming involved in the life of someone who requires real help. There is a mutual benefit in all of these relationships that form the firmest foundations of civil society. In these relationships, we can care for the poor and, more important, see the whole person and experience the dignity that is inherent in the human soul.

Such a placement of responsibility is not only corrosive to society, but also harmful to the church, as Rev. Robert A. Sirico notes:

The specific problem this confusion presents to the church is that it disintegrates charity into an entitlement and collapses love into justice. If all relations are based merely on state-enforced justice, what becomes of the virtue of love? Especially when viewed from a religious perspective, the disadvantages of an expansive welfare state are sadly apparent. Promoting the government as the resource of first resort lessens the incentive of people in the pews to become personally involved in needed projects and relegates the church to the role of lobbyist. To the extent that the church functions as a lobbyist, rather than itself clothing the naked, feeding the hungry and performing the other traditional acts of charity, the church loses a rich source of its own spiritual nourishment.

This has, in turn, led to a secularizing of the social assistance systems (schools, hospitals, orphanages, health clinics). This development minimizes the moral influence of religious mediating institutions which are so critical in helping to stabilize troubled families.

The moral of the story? People of faith should think twice before using religious language to defend the maintanance and expansion of the welfare state. What seems at first glance to be a sound moral choice may be self-defeating in the long run.

Marc Vander Maas


  • John Kerry wanted to put all children under 25 years of age on the Childrens’ Health Insurance Program or S-CHIP for short. Currently, S-CHIP or “MI Child” in Michigan terminates all children on their 19th birthday regardless if they are currently diagnosed, it sad.

    We all know that terminating a sick child’s health insurance, that has lost their hair due to cancer, is very depressing. Depression and cancer is a deadly mix. Depression and suicide is a deadly mix in this age group no matter what the diagnoses is.

    Hillary keeps saying preventative medicine is the answer. She want’s the government to tell parents when healthy children see a doctor. What did Jesus say about healthy people and doctors?

    I pray John Kerry and Hillary get the pleasure of debating Jerry Zandstra in the Senate on health care. I trust Jerry Zandstra will not be fooled by those who desire to Socialize American’s largest industry, health care financing.

  • Matt Huisman

    In support of your post, I would only add that the use of the state to provide cure is enticing because it appeals to us on grounds of fairness and efficiency (no laughing). The overlooked problem, however, is that care is the precondition of all cure, and the state is incredibly inadequate on this issue.

    Since Sen. Kerry is interested in WWJD with social welfare, I would point out that while on earth, Jesus performed only a handful of ‘miracle cures’. And when we look closer at these miracles, we see that he fed the multitudes after receiving loaves and fish from a stranger in the crowd; that he did not return the boy of Nain to his widowed mother without having felt her sorrow, that Lazarus was not raised from the grave without tears. None of these miracles occurs without the personal acknowledgement and care from Jesus.

  • dlw

    I think the argument that welfare programs erode morality faults from the a correlation does not imply a causation argument.

    One can have fed’l level provision of greater security for income and health, without crowding out local initiatives.

    I think the best proposal out there for this is the [url=]Basic Income Guarantee plan[/url].

  • dlw,

    I think morality is pretty much up to the individual, but see no reason to press the individual to making tradeoffs that are not necessary.

    The patently immoral portion of your proposition is taking money from people who may not want to give it to the government. That is outright violatin of the Eighth Commandment.


  • Believe it or not, that was the accusation made recently by Senator John Kerry. In a stump speech last weekend in New Hampshire, Kerry lashed out at “Republican ‘fakery’ and religious hypocrisy.”

  • dlw

    The gist of the law is love of God and Neighbor. The fact that many do not want to help out their neighbor through the provision of extra income security, does not mean that it is wrong. Loving our neighbor includes participating in the reformation of the rules of the game on account of more than just our own self-interests…

    And morality is never just up to the individual. If that were true, we could get away with all sorts of evil deeds….


  • Patricia Gleason

    There’s another aspect to assigning primary responsibility for the needy to the government, and it’s an argument made by Dinesh D’Souza: If I have a sandwich and you are hungry, and so I share my sandwich with you, that is moral charity. The action uplifts both giver and receiver, as the gift is both offered and accepted in a willing spirit of love. But if a third party robs me under threat of imprisonment or other coercive measures (and failure to pay my taxes would ultimately result in such measures), even if it is only to give my half a sandwich to a needy third party, that is immoral. The ends don’t justify the means, and the introduction of a coercive third party removes the moral dimension of charitable giving and replaces it with what is essentially theft.

  • dlw,

    Not following you, doesn’t self interest feed people, house people, clothe people? Does the butcher cut my flank steak because he loves me as a neighbor or because he is self interested?

    Didn’t God make us self intersted so we could provide for others, rather than take from others?

    The wrong part is not campaigning for others to be generous, under there own free will, it is forcing others to be generous, despite their free will.


  • Steve Daskal

    I recall that when the apostles told Jesus after one of His large outdoor “revival meetings” that the people needed to be sent away to find food, He did not suggest they send the people to the Priests for food, nor to the Romans, but “you feed them” — and He provided the means. When Jesus was confronted with the issue of Imperial taxation (which in Jesus’ day did NOT provide for the poor — unless they were Roman citizens) He told them to give Caesar’s money to Caesar, and “give to God what is God’s” — namely to love and obey with all their heart, mind, and strength (re Deut6:4-5). So what? Christians should not bring or leave the issue of charity to government, nor rely upon it, but help the poor themselves through the church and individually. When Jesus and later apostles Paul and James, speak about government, it is due obedience and respect because it protects life and property and sustains order — not because it is expected to do what the church should be doing — showing love for the needy (in all senses of the word).

  • You have a tough job dlw. I went to your website and it is dark and red. My I suggest more light. Look at the *contrast* between yours and mine. For example, you support Democrats and I support Republicans. I notice you did not respond to my post about Democrats putting poor children on dangerous S-CHIP health insurance which automatically terminates on 19 year old children with cancer. Trust me, S-CHIP is a way to funnel rivers of taxpayer dollars into Poltically Connected (PC) insurance companies that support Democrats. This is too evil for you to justify. Remember, when it comes to children security is Job One.

    The Democratic Party speaks to America’s children and says, *”Welcome to my nightmare.”* I know you will try and justify dangerous over-priced tax-supported S-CHIP like Hillary. Hillary wants the government to decide when children see the doctor and not their parents or guardians. Hillary justifies this by throwing around the term “prevention.” I ask you again, what did Jesus say about doctors?

    My I suggest you don’t even try and justify the government and *Socialized Medicine*. Your knowledge base is entirely too…..

    The *truth* is like Katrina and blows all the lies away.

  • Kate Sanderson

    I don’t understand your American fear of socialized medicine. In Canada, we’ve paid for our medical care through our taxes since the ’60s. Yes, there are problems; no system is perfect. However, we don’t have to pay the administration costs of hundreds (thousands?) of individual insurance companies. Nobody in Canada has to dedlare bankruptcy because of a broken arm. Nobody in Canada has to put off getting medical treatment because it’s too expensive. Working poor people don’t die here because they can’t afford to go to the doctor. Yes, some of our waiting lists for treatment are too long, and yes, some rich people go to the States for treatment rather than wait their turn here. No, this does not let the individual or church off the hook. We have an obligation to help the poor. On balance though, I don’t think that government provided (in other words, taxpayer paid for) medical care is the big bad boogie man that some American commentators say it is.

  • Kate, the US can’t have a Single-Payer system like Canada. It would be unconstitutional in the USA. US taxpayers are already paying for over half of all the health care in the country. We have a program called Medicaid for the poor. We have Medicare for citizens over the age of 65. But to outlaw all private health insurance in the US, like you did in Canada and Castro did in Cuba, simply can’t be done here. The Canadian courts have just ruled, a couple of months ago, that the Candian Single-Payer system may violate your own Constitution. President Bush supports tax free HSAs in the USA. In the free and open market HSA health insurance may be purchased for only $33.53 a month for a 30-year-old male in Lansing, MI. Medicaid, a government program, costs over $10,000 per year, per person in New York. I’m glad you are happy with your system but in the USA we must seek a Constitutional solution. (HSA-Health Savings Account)

  • Marc Vander Maas


    More on the opposition to socialized health care [url=]here[/url].