Who Is Responsible?

15 Feb


We are in the season of budget cuts.

Our governor just presented a budget that includes some tough cuts.

Our president also just presented a budget that includes some tough cuts.

In both cases, those impacted by these cuts will be disproportionately the already under-resourced poor, elderly, unemployed, disabled and children.

(For the record, I have also just presented a personal budget to myself, and it also includes some tough cuts… but that is another story.)

At the same time, non-profits, churches, faith groups, and charities are all trying to operate within the confines of reduced giving by both individuals and foundations.


Some say: THEY ARE.  It is all about personal responsibility. Others say: GOVERNMENT. It is the role of government to care for them.

So what do you think?

As a Christian, I always approach these ethical questions the same way: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?

I want to suggest three principles that emerge from the scriptures: (1) Individual Responsibility; (2) Corporate Responsibility; (3) Family Responsibility; (4) Primacy of the Church


We cannot escape the reality that inidividuals are responsible for their own decisions, mistakes, etc. The wisdom of Proverbs certainly points this out — especially as in regard to money.  For example, “The debtor is slave to the lender” (Prov 22:7).  In other words, if you get into debt (credit cards, car payments, student loans, etc) and end up bankrupt and owing everything to Capital One… YOUR BAD.  And really throughout the Bible, we are never let off the hook for personal responsibility.  While no one lives in a vacuum and not everyone gets an equal shake in our society, we cannot play the victim card and should not shirk our own responsibilities.


However, the Bible also frames economics in terms of justice and injustice.  God has a preferential option for the poor.  Don’t believe me?  Read the Old Testament prophets.  Read the Gospel of Luke. Watch who Jesus spends time with and what he does.  Listen to his words.  

As theologian Abraham Kuyper warns, “you do not honor God’s Word if … you ever forget how both Christ, and also just as such His apostles after Him and the prophets before Him, invariably took sides against those who were powerful and living in luxury, and for the suffering and oppressed.”

God’s judgement against economic injustice and the neglect and abuse of the poor was not limited to just religious people or institutions. The picture we get is that the entire community is responsible for caring for those in need.

In our day, I think we should think about this as a 3-legged stool — you need all three legs for the stool to stand; take one away and it falls.  The three legs are GOVERNMENT, CORPORATE, FAITH-BASED & NON-PROFIT.

The government has a role.  There are some services that you need a centralized government to organize and implement.  You also do need some regulation. In our day, programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Stafford Loans, etc, are all examples of appropriate and necessary Government programs.

The corporate world also has a role.  Through charitable giving, but also through job-training, fair wages, in-kind support and gifts… I think for-profit businesses and corporations have a moral responsibility to help create a better community.

Finally, churches, para-church organizations, and other non-profits have an important role in caring for and supporting the under-resourced.  This is true both in crisis (the church was better at meeting the immediate needs of people after Hurricane Katrina than either government or business) and in long-term systemic support (job-training and advocacy, feeding programs, housing programs, etc).

But it takes ALL THREE.


And by family here, I really mean “church family” or “faith family”.  The teaching and model of the early church (found in the Book of Acts and reflected in Paul’s teachings) is that, when it came to those “in the family” (that is, “in the church”) it was the church community that cared for their own.  In fact, making sure that no one in the church was in need was a priority in the early church — a priority even over chable acts to those outside the church.  It is my personal opinion that Christians should care for the needs of other Christians and that no one who is a member of a church should have to be on welfare, getting food stamps, etc.  The church is to care for its own. (And, for what it is worth, when this starts being practiced by the American church, I will then become an entusiastic supporter of tax cuts, etc — but as long as the church abdicates its responsibility to government, calls by the religious right to reduce the size of government are frankly laughable… if not immoral.)


I fully believe that the local church is the hope of the world and is the primary agent God uses to build his Kingdom and bring forth peace, justice and reconciliation in the world. Not only must the church be on the frontlines of these issues (fighting corruption, poverty, pandemic disease, illiteracy, etc), but we must be the pace-setters for others including government and business.  The church should be the catalyst and the clarion voice for the cause of justice.  And we must provide the hands, feet, heart and soul of a movement committed to economic justice — that is the call of the scriptures and the model of Jesus.


1 Comment

Posted by on February 15, 2011 in Uncategorized


One response to “Who Is Responsible?

  1. Ben Dubow

    February 26, 2011 at 3:56 am

    Pretty much agreed Nancy…. but it is the for-profit sector I am not willing to let off the hook. I think that often private business — partnered with the non profits — can mobilize faster and more effectively in a crisis than government can.If you need one million bottles of water distributed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina I would bet on WalMart and local churches to get it done more effectively than FEMA… but longterm re-building will need government coordination, money and resources.As for faith-based programs and public funding, I share your concerns and used to be pretty opposed. But I will say that MACC has shown me a model that really works. I think it is because the only agenda is to feed, clothe and care for people. The motivation for us an organization is clearly based in Jesus and the Gospels — but there is nothing overt about faith in any of the programming and this is by choice on our end.That said, I think if the American church really stepped up — and all Christians tithed, for example — we wouldn’t need any government funding for programs like MACC…. and I think that would be a really good thing.But currently, MACC is the largest and most effective social services agency in Eastern CT… why would Manchester want to re-create and duplicate those services? It is far more efficient, fiscally sound and effective to invest in NGO’s and non-profits who are getting the job done… and I don’t think we should be punished because we happen to be faith-based.



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