Editorial: Christians, it’s time to knit safety nets

President Donald Trump confers in the Oval Office with Vice President Mike Pence (left) and Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget. (Photo: WhiteHouse.gov)

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The next few years could be a grand time for Christians who think the church alone should meet people’s needs, without any help from government.

knox newMarv Knox

President Trump’s new budget proposal would slash the federal government’s safety net programs by $1 trillion across the next decade. So, congregations could have the opportunity of a generation to prove their gracious generosity is sufficient.

But the stakes are high, of course.

Evangelical Christians provide the core of the president’s base, and people will identify them with the results of the Trump presidency. Consequently, when people free-fall after the president removes their safety net, if the evangelicals who propelled him to office don’t help out, people who only know Christians by their actions will give God the blame.

Three scenarios

Christians who touted their faith as a reason for backing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign have put God on trial, with two ways to win and one way to lose.

Win Scenario 1: Trump is correct, and his budget works.

His plan doesn’t merely balance the budget, but also wildly stimulates the economy, brings coal back in vogue, reopens industrial jobs and ensures near-zero unemployment with good-paying jobs. People don’t need a safety net, because they’re getting by on their own.

Beyond that, they feel better about themselves—“great,” even—because they’re working and making their way. Christians helped Trump win; life is good; God is great.

Win Scenario 2: Trump is not correct, but the church saves the day.

The federal safety net shreds, but the church shows up on time. Christian benevolences of all kinds flourish. The church feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, houses the homeless. Christians provide so much money to their hospitals and health clinics, even people who cannot afford insurance can receive highly specialized and expensive cancer treatment, surgery and every other medical need.

Christians sacrificed to take care of others, who thrived because of their loving benevolence. God gets the glory for their gracious spirits. America experiences a revival it has not seen in many generations.

Lose Scenario 1: Trump is not correct, and the church fails to show up.

The federal safety shreds, just as the president has planned. Meals on Wheels collapses. Parents can’t find work, and so they not only can’t bring home a paycheck, but they can’t meet the president’s stringent requirements for supplemental assistance. Their children go hungry. Their older cousins can’t continue their education because they can’t get student loans. Other calamity ensues.

Meanwhile, the church continues its current course. Less than 20 percent of members tithe, and congregations spend most of the money they take in on themselves, particularly buildings and staff. Food pantries and clothes closets can’t keep up with burgeoning need. Health clinics meet only a fraction of the demand. Expensive care from hospitals is out of the question.

Hurting people—the chronically ill, children, the elderly, even veterans—suffer without alleviation, either from the government or from the church. They can do math, and they realize 81 percent of evangelicals put the president in office. And now their safety net is gone. They can see the landscape, and they don’t see nearly enough congregations even trying to knit a new one. You can understand why they blame God. Either way they look at it—politically or religiously—Christian people did them in.

Churches & safety nets

So, God’s reputation is at stake. And just in case the president’s new budget doesn’t do the trick and stimulate the economy so nobody needs a safety net, Christians better get busy building a bunch of them.

This is what many Christians have said they will do. For years, they have responded to pleas for support for government safety nets with a consistent reply: “It’s the church’s job.”

So, now we’ll see if the church is sufficient to the challenge. To this point, no one has documented even one congregation that has been able to do its share to meet the needs of its community in place of government aid. To this point, the debate has been relatively hypothetical. But now we have a president who wants to shred the safety net to the tune of $1 trillion.

Two options

The church faces two options:

First, live up to the promise of Jesus’ admonition about ministering to “the least” as recorded in Matthew 25. Prepare to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in the stranger, clothe the naked, heal the sick, look after the prisoner. The president—along with many governors and legislators—don’t want to do it. So, it’s the church’s chance. Business as usual won’t get it done. Meeting the mammoth need will require individual sacrifice of First Century proportions.

But think of the possibilities: Out of such calamity could come the greatest opportunity for evangelism in centuries. If government says, “Not my job,” and Christians say, “We’re more than happy to do it in Jesus’ name,” then that name will be glorified.

Second, the church also can take seriously Jesus’ mandate to be “salt and light.” In addition to what we do on our own, we can be advocates in our culture for the greater good. We can demand our society as a whole care for the most vulnerable among us. We can both model and set a high bar of expectation for compassion. And we also can do that in Jesus’ name, and he will get the glory.

The president has proposed a budget. What’s next?

Follow Marv on Twitter: @marvknox

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