You Ain’t Gonna Make It With Anyone Anyhow

In this short piece, Michael Bird comes to the defense of N.T. Wright, nationalized health care, and all that is civilized. A good response to that can be found here, but one more thing needs to be said.

What the soft Christian left does not appear to understand is that whenever the offering plate is passed, and the collection officer is wielding a firearm and has big, block letters on his jacket, and looks at you meaningfully, the results, however remunerative, are not what you seem to be claiming. The large offering would not be an instance of Christian love, compassion, tenderness, thoughtfulness for the poor, or any of that glow-in-your-heart talk.

Statist redistribution depends upon coercion and violence, pure and simple. It is not love, it is not compassion, and it cannot be supported by appeals to all the Christian happy words. Put the guns away, and then let’s talk about Christian concern for the poor.

I mean it. Put the guns away. Take the guns out of the equation. Eliminate the jail time for Ananias and Sapphira, and let’s see what happens. And no fair pointing out that God struck them down for their lie — He did do that, but I can guarantee you that if they had been shot by a deacon instead of that, and the story had still been included in the Bible, the import of the story that we were required to carry away from the incident would have been entirely different than what it is now.

The left needs to stop its love affair with bossing people around, making people do things, fining them if they don’t, putting them in prison if they resist, and raiding their houses with SWAT teams if someone in authority suspected something. As Charles Krauthammer once put it memorably, liberals don’t care what you do, so long as it is mandatory.

If you take up an offering for the poor, and it is truly voluntary, you will find no more generous congregation in the world than American evangelicals. Haul out the guns, and you will find the most resistance in that very same congregation. Believe it or not, the presence of those guns distorts everything, including your definition of what it means to be a caring people. Europeans have been bossed around at gunpoint for so long that they have kind of forgotten what it is like to be free.

Chairman Mao expressed this outlook succinctly when he said that power grows out of the barrel of a gun. But as the Beatles taught us so memorably, if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao . . .

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31 thoughts on “You Ain’t Gonna Make It With Anyone Anyhow

  1. To equalize wealth by force inherently requires a non-equal Equalizer.  O’Romneycare didn’t hire doctors, but it did hire IRS agents.  So built into the very ideal of equalizing wealth by force is the necessity of making inequality worse in fact rather than better.
    And we know what Jesus said about those who sound a trumpet before them while giving away their won money.  Whaddya think He thinks of those who g sound a trumpet while giving away other peoples’ money and that of the next generation?
     
     
     

  2. This reminds me of that scene in “The Cross and the Switchblade” where Nicky Cruz (played by Eric Estrada) is an usher soon after he becomes a Christian, and he silently threatens a congregant into putting more money in the offering plate after he had only put a couple of bucks in initially.

  3. “If you take up an offering for the poor, and it is truly voluntary, you will find no more generous congregation in the world than American evangelicals. Haul out the guns, and you will find the most resistance in that very same congregation.”
     
    good point. one of my favorite scriptures is when Jesus said “render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s unless you don’t like how Caesar goes about that collection.”

  4. Several great points here Pastor Wilson, but I have an honest question. Enforced charity is not a bad thing per se, right? What about the tithes and taxes under the Old Covenant? Part of these were for the poor and were also enforcable under law. The motivations of The Lawgiver and the effects of His laws are certainly not the same as ours today, but the enforcement still amounted to “pay your tax for the poor or face the consequences”.// I’m 99% sure I know how you feel about this, but some folks might get the wrong impression if all they read is this post.

  5. The coercion issue is a red herring here. Fact is we live in a country where Doug’s idea of how to love the poor has simply not captured the interest of the majority, who have used their vote to endorse a much different idea of how to love the poor. In a functioning democracy the majority opinion will be enforced no matter whose opinion triumphs in the public square.

  6. This is somewhat riffing off of what jigawatt posted, and perhaps it is a bit off topic of your main point here. Since we aren’t taking the stance of absolutely no coercion or eliminating taxation, could you make some distinctions between what healthy government coercion looks like over against unhealthy government coercion? I don’t take it that you are saying we should eliminate taxation, since, if I remember correctly, in another one of your posts you advocated for an 8% flat tax. So it seems like there must be some form of forced behavior and taxation for the benefit of society. Is it simply a matter of percentages; if so, how do we determine those? Or would you make distinctions between sinful uses of the taxes gathered by the government? (i.e. the government should never use taxes to provide for the poor, but should use taxes to provide for police and national defense.) I agree that the overall attitude currently of ‘setting apart the government as Lord’ is extremely troubling, but in what forms/to what degree should we encourage such coercion?

  7. The tithe is obligatory, certainly, but God is the one who enforces it. There was no civil penalty in the OT for the one who did not tithe.

  8. You are right in that this cheats Christians out financially acting in love to their neighbor.    The Good Samaritan provided healthcare out of his savings.  He also made the choice that the life was worth saving.  We may not be able to do either of those under our new system.  It may be that the government is still of the people, but it does not feel like it.  

  9. But still, what about coercion? Maybe not with regards to taxation for “charity” (I get the point there) in particular, but that not bearing the sword in vain. Who’s going to pay for the sword?

  10. John M: It’s consistent to believe that taxes can and should be gathered for some things (if nothing else, to pay for justice and military self-defense), and to also believe that healthcare is not one of those things.

  11. It is about both the amount of tax, and how the government fulfills its role. / / It seems that government is best to limit itself in providing short term food and water for large scale adverse events such as natural disasters or famines. / / As to this mockery “render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s unless you don’t like how Caesar goes about that collection.” Doug is speaking to the issue of Caesar over-reaching his role, not to the subjects obeying Caesar. Jesus told men to obey the scribes and the Pharisees as they sit in Moses’ seat, that this does not justify them can be seen by Jesus’ stern words to them.

  12. Nathan, 
    I don’t necessarily disagree with the not one of those things part, I just want to see Christians acknowledge the can and should be for some things part.  
     

  13. I’m not sure that this response will entirely dispel the sense of bemusement that Canadian, Australian, English, and Continental Europeans have when they read what US evangelicals have to say on these issues. No doubt there is an argument saying that the Matt 25:36 mandate should not be outsourced to government. But shouldn’t the churches be offering health care in that case, as organisations like the Church Missionary Society have done in places like Africa? What health programs does your denomination provide to the poor?

    And, on taxes, what about Romans 13: “… there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement… For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.”?

    For that matter, what about the radical “statist” redistribution of property in Leviticus 25?

  14. Doug, tomorrow I need to pull weeds in my yard.  So frustrated.  Third time this month. Those people down the way have a gardener.  I want a gardener.  In a Christian nation such as this, I ought to be entitled for one.  we should have guvment provided lawn-care. My kids don’t like to do it with me so they don’t get to see their dad. It shouldn’t be my responsibility to do this hard work every weekend.  Can we all be a little more compassionate, please?

  15. Doug – I’ll stipulate that the “redistribution” of wealth depends on state coercion. But aren’t all property rights dependent on state coercion?
    If I come to Idaho and stake a claim on your front yard, Idaho courts and law enforcement would coerce me off your lawn. Since Idaho law states that you own your front yard, presumably you would support this instance of government coercion. But if the Idaho legislature changes the property laws and grants me your front yard, I could then use government power to coerce you off of the property.
    Your critique of tax and spend legislation is that it’s coercive. But your view seems to depend on arguing that the first “distribution” – where you own the land or wealth – is just, but the “redistribution” – where I own the land or wealth – is unjust. Why? Isn’t every right we have to property or wealth defined by the state?
    To bring this closer to O-care, why is it okay for government to coerce someone who tries to take money out of your bank account, but not okay for government to coercively raise your taxes and give it to someone to buy health insurance? It seems to me your legal claim to the money disappeared when the tax law changed.
    Is there a natural law critique of American property law that would help us sort out the initial, just “distribution” of property and wealth so we can get back to it by undoing all subsequent unjust “redistributions”?

  16. Brian’s example sounds a little facile when we remember we are talking about letting children die because their parents can’t afford medical care for them. 

  17. The large offering would not be an instance of Christian love, compassion, tenderness, thoughtfulness for the poor, or any of that glow-in-your-heart talk.
     

    I used to think this, but not anymore.  It’s true that no one looks at their tax return and thinks about all the charity they’ve contributed to, but this is because charity has become so integrated into society that no one thinks about it anymore, and it is now part of the institutional fabric of the developed world.  Fact is that everyone in a society, especially a representative one, consents to some degree to what the government does.  And it is charity, make no mistake, even though it doesn’t necessarily represent a conscious choice every single time.  Welfare supporters have generally done a poor job of selling this though, preferring to browbeat skeptics as monsters rather than make an earnest attempt to enlist their support.

  18. Matt,
    It depends upon what you mean by charity, that is what sense of the word you  intend. Yes, some of the social welfare programs integrated into society are charity (and some are more in the way of a social contract) in the sense of provision for a need or cause with nothing received in return by the providers or contributed by the recipients.  I’m not one to argue that is always and altogether wrong, even when contribution is non-voluntary, – though there is a point at which it is wrong, it doesn’t take long to reach that point, and we have reached that point. And that has as much to do with the damage done to recipients as it does the wrong done to contributors.  
    In any case compulsory, unintentional contribution is not charity in the best sense of the word, it is not loving one’s neighbors, it is not 2 Corinthians 9:7 charity.  In fact, entitlement is  the death of charity.  I think that was the point here.
     

  19. In any case compulsory, unintentional contribution is not charity in the best sense of the word, it is not loving one’s neighbors, it is not 2 Corinthians 9:7 charity.  In fact, entitlement is  the death of charity.

    But that’s where I disagree.  It certainly does reflect love of one’s neighbors to give up a part of your wealth to provide a safety net.  This is true even if part of the reason for doing so is the realization of “There but for the grace of God go I”.  In fact, social safety nets were originally wrapped up in a lot of “we have to stick together” nationalist mythologizing.  Also, while entitlement is the death of gratitude, I’d say resentment is the death of charity.  It’s a fair criticism of welfare programs that they can engender resentment in the taxpayers.  Clearly ours has, and it’s all too easy when you hear stories of welfare queens.  But two things here.  One, voluntary charity schemes can engender resentment as well when social obligation comes into play.  How many people contribute just to be seen doing so, and because that’s what they are expected to do?  Second, the safety net isn’t intended to induce a platonic ideal of Christian charity in people, but rather to alleviate real suffering among the poor.  The welfare state in the US has worked so well that extreme poverty has been largely eradicated.

  20.  “It certainly does reflect love of one’s neighbors to give up a part of your wealth to provide a safety net.”
     
    Matt, you’re missing the point there.  We are not giving up anything in our contributions to the safety net, whatever the merits of that safety net may be.  It does not amount to you  giving anything when it is  taken whether you will or not. The real reason we end up contributing to the government/society provided safety net is not because we recognize  “There but for the grace of God go I” but because the law says we will and makes us do it, and for most of us the money is taken without us ever seeing it or having any control over it.  Whether it is justifiable or not, it is not the same as Christian charity.
     
    Part of what I mean by “entitlement is the death of charity” is that whatever I am entitled to is already mine by right, if I really am entitled to it. It is something owed to me. You are doing nothing charitable by relinquishing it to me.  Where benefits are understood as an entitlement the provision of those benefits cannot properly be understood as an act of charity in any sense. 

  21. Matt, you’re missing the point there.  We are not giving up anything in our contributions to the safety net, whatever the merits of that safety net may be.

    No, I understand the point.  I drank from this pool for years.  I just disagree with it.  The government isn’t an alien force that shows up one day out of the blue and dictates what you will do.  Even in a monarchy, there is some level of popular support for the government’s actions, and in a representative system like we have there is even more.  The safety net has broad, probably overwhelming support.  On a societal level, contributions to welfare (some, not all) spending are every bit as voluntary as donating to the salvation army or whatever.  On entitlement, I agree with what you’re saying, but was only pointing out that entitlement is a distortion in the recipient rather than the donor.  Even a charitable act of altruistic perfection can be received as an entitled privilege.  The missing link is the resentment engendered in the donor when their sacrifice is unappreciated.

  22. True, not even the most unjust, corrupt, or abusive of  governments (and no, that does not describe ours) can long exist without support by some portion of the governed. But “some level of popular support” may reflect no more than acquiescence for lack knowing what to do about it, or even a sense of “if you know what’s good for you”.  After all, it is still the case that you’re going to “support” social welfare spending, whether you support it or not. In any case, maybe you do get the point, but I still have to wonder, and feel compelled to repeat it: It does not amount to you giving anything when it is  taken whether you will or not. Even if you agree with what is being done.  No, it is not “every bit as voluntary as donating to the salvation army or whatever”.  Anyone who schemes to evade paying taxes risks finding out how not voluntary, how not like giving to the Salvation Army, it is.  And I’m not even arguing against any and all social welfare spending. Perhaps there is some measure of charity in deciding not to protest. I do agree “entitlement is a distortion in the recipient”, depending upon what the supposed entitlement is based, but it can entail an injustice to the donor as well.

  23. In America there is indeed popular support for the expansive socialism (and debt) we are suffering.  We have turned the corner; at least in the democratic “tyranny of the majority” sense.  We are now a culture of entitlements, and we support the politicians that will give us more.  Politicians have figured out human nature (even if N T Wright hasn’t).  For this reason, the people are complicit, and the federal government really does represent us collectively better than many would like.

     

    But whether we support or resist the socialistic use of the “treasury” is irrelevant to what is rightfully within the jurisdiction of the State.  I understand that unbelievers and “progressives” have no regard for honoring God with limited government or separation of Church and State spheres, but they seem to be firmly in control.  They are providing us all with a live demonstration of runaway debt, unsustainable handouts, and wealth redistribution upward (not downward as they claim).  When we default, I hope God will be merciful to His people and that it will be a lesson learned for many generations.  There will be many exchanges of “I told you so”, but I hope to survive and help rebuild a stronger Church which will own its God-given roles in society, and not surrender them to the State.

  24. Absurd, Mr. Wilson. In your ideal soft theocracy (because, contrary to Moses, you once said homosexuals could be exiled instead of stoned, correct?) the church leadership would be the collection officer. 

     
    Or were the Year of Jubilee and the ungleaned corner each just a suggestion Moses never intended to be enforced?
     

  25. “It certainly does reflect love of one’s neighbors to give up a part of your wealth to provide a safety net.” – Matt

    So if I have the choice of a.) pay higher taxes to an expanding welfare state, or b.) face jail and/or fines, my choice of “a” made out of pure self-interest clearly shows that my heart is generous, loving, magnanimous, and compassionate as to give to the poor?? Pray tell how that logic works.

    “The welfare state in the US has worked so well that extreme poverty has been largely eradicated.” – Matt

    While I grant that welfare programs have allowed most living in “poverty” (as the U.S. Census Bureau defines it–not just true deprivation) to afford air conditioning, cable TV, Xbox, and Starbucks (paid for by the tax payers, of course), the soaring numbers of those on food stamp usage alone indicates broadening dependence. This is not the eradication of poverty, but the deliberate increase of America’s version of “soft” poverty.

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-06-08/american-households-foodstamps-climb-new-record

    http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/07/what-is-poverty

    http://benswann.com/you-can-now-pay-for-starbucks-with-food-stamps/

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