Sjolander Road Fellowship




Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

benevolence- Individual or collective

7/13/13

 

Matthew 25 teaches an important concept- how we treat each other as human beings is vitally important in our relationship with God. Typically, different interpreters reach different conclusions about how to apply this teaching. One important aspect of that difference involves the issue of how, or if, public policy, through the actions of human government, should be a tool through which benevolent support is offered to the less fortunate members of our society.

 

Some see government sponsored benevolence as costly, wasteful, and improperly coercive in re-distributing wealth. This same group, in acknowledging the Christian mandate to support the less fortunate, largely see benevolent activities as rightfully emanating from churches and other charitable institutions on a strictly voluntary basis. They favor the idea that such non-governmental agencies are more efficient and allow each contributor to decide more directly whom they choose to help. Part of the inefficiency of government programs, as perceived by this group, is a suspected number of recipients who are not legitimately needful, either because they are not actually disadvantaged or are disadvantaged due to their own malfeasance.

 

A second group proposes a large collective effort in response to Matthew 25, fully utilizing the mechanisms and resources of the government. They perceive that the issues associated with helping the unfortunate are just too big and complex to be handled in a haphazard fashion by uncoordinated NGOs. They see efficiency in having dedicated management and coordination of efforts and the availability of a consistent source of revenue to support benevolent activities. Efficiency in their view is measured by the impact of programs in maintaining and elevating the disadvantaged, more so than considering whether some resources may be wasted on the possibly ineligible.

 

I suspect that people in both camps see the admonition of Matthew 25 as presenting a great challenge to any who consider it seriously. The number of people worldwide who would logically require outside assistance to simply survive is enormous by anyone's accounting. Even, if we conclude that our responsibility is confined to our own society, as many apparently do, the task is still daunting.

 

The problem I see personally with denying a public policy role in addressing the admonition of Matthew 25 is that public policy has in the past and does yet contribute to disadvantage. Some may want to deny that or at least minimize its significance, but I don't think serious minded students of history or even casual observers of our society and its evolution during their lifetime will do so. The workings of our government are just too obvious in their protection and promotion of the well off. As long as money drives politics, public policy will focus its attentions on those with money and influence. One could hardly claim otherwise. This reality has dawned on any number of rich and powerful individuals who then have voluntarily devoted large sums to benevolent efforts worldwide.

 

The undeniable challenge for any effort to address poverty, hunger, and disproportionate opportunity in our societies is how to mange that effort, including how to obtain resources. No one has the complete answer to that question. Some honestly conclude that the problems of the less fortunate when considered on a worldwide scale are insurmountable, meaning that we can agonize over that reality and grow sick in the process or just accept it as inevitable and be content to do individually what ever we see as practical. In so doing they essential say that the problem is inherently unmanageable in aggregate. All anyone can do is make a small contribution locally and forget about the bigger issues. Certain tenets of prevailing theology are cited in support of this conclusion.

 

Others, see the great challenge as a moral imperative which cannot be ignored, regardless of cost. It therefore must be met and that means the efforts must be managed, coordinated, and funded. Witnessing the course of human history to this point, these conclude that individual efforts alone will never reach the scale to effectively deal with the scope of the problem. For them, the imperative of Matthew 25 demands a collective commitment. Admittedly, that proposed collective effort involves coercive funding in the form of taxes and an inevitable abuse of the systems and programs by certain individuals. The proponents of the collective approach cannot dismiss that fact but can view it as just a part of the cost of doing what must be done, regardless.

 

The US Declaration of Independence identifies certain inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These inalienable rights are said to be divinely endowed, implying seemingly universal applicability. The right to life would apparently include the right to nourishment and health care. Others may rejoin that the right to liberty should include the freedom from coercive redistribution of wealth through taxation and government giveaways. In rebuttal some may respond that the pursuit of happiness should guarantee equality of access to those aspects of society which promote that happiness: education, employment, economic security, etc. Most likely the framers of the constitution did not see these inalienable rights as applying so broadly; but, then again, maybe they were unconsciously prescient in identifying what they claimed as divinely ordained and enshrining these words in a document defining the purpose of human government and its policies.

 

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