The Daves On God, Poverty & Government

Radio talkshow host and author Dave Ramsey wrote an open letter to the Occupy Movement in which he argued envy is behind the desire to raise taxes and redistribute wealth. The Huffington Post’s David Dunn, PhD responded, making the case that a Christian who does not back tax-payer funded government assistance to the poor does not understand “the kingdom” and is not following Jesus.

So, if I agree with Dave I’m not a good Christian. If I agree with David I’m envious. Thankfully, despite the extremism, the two Daves serve up delicious food for thought, challenging me to think about the logistics of bringing Good News to the poor in America.

The Redistribution of Wealth

I do believe in wealth redistribution. Not because of my envy but God’s goal.

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 8:13-15

Our good God has rained down manna enough for everyone, and has commanded his children who have more than their daily bread to pass the extra biscuits. Our obedient generosity proves the goodness of God to the world – not just that we give but how, why and to whom we give.

The great redistribution is the charge of all God followers who voluntarily, without coercion or command, joyfully! give in response to God’s mercy.

That said, I sure don’t mind if those in government – even those outside the family of God – want to help us out. If their policies lead where the kingdom leads they’re worth considering. But…

Means & Ends Of Wealth Redistribution

This is the hangup for me. America is not a democracy but a representative republic. We citizens do not vote on every tax increase or every expenditure, only on the representatives who will cast those votes.

If I got to vote on such weighty matters I would need more than vague reassurance that the poor would be helped before I’d vote “yes” on a tax increase for that purpose. I love the poor and understand fully why the kingdom is good news for them, but perhaps I could love them better, bring more of the kingdom their way, by giving my money (and more) elsewhere.

Before they’d get my yes my government would need to prove the efficacy of its means, not just the compassion if its intended ends. If it could do so I would willingly, joyfully sacrifice to bring sight to the blind, release the captives and guarantee freedom for the oppressed.

But I do not believe such a case could be made at the moment. And I am not alone in my skepticism. Social science is not on the side of America’s social programs. They are not often enough developmental in nature and holistic in scope. Presently, there is not the capacity – and perhaps not the will – to investigate the causes of individual and community poverty, to move beyond pruning despair to digging it out by the roots.

Dependence and abuse has been claimed by social scientists as rampant in our one-size-fits-all programs over at least the last 20 years in America, while everyday heroes like Geoffrey Canada have proven that an emphasis on holistic more-personalized development can release a child, a family and a community from poverty. And with greater efficiency.

I’m not on Dave Ramsey’s side. He doesn’t express it clearly and thoroughly enough in his single blog post for me to even consider taking it. But I cannot agree wholly with David Dunn either. It is as potentially harmful to the poor to “just do something” about poverty as it is to do little or nothing at all. Our means matter as much as our hoped-for ends.

I’m thankful to both Daves for giving me reason to pause and think through such important matters. God, help us all help all.

Seek kingdom ends with effective means locally in Nashville by serving and giving to The Well Family Assistance Center, Nashville Rescue Mission or the refugee resettlement services of Catholic Charities of Tennessee. Invest in the most effective means I know of for ending the cycle of poverty around the world by serving Compassion International.