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by Special to    Mon, Jan 16, 2006, 01:27 PM

Rep. Bill Keffer
In a recent speech to folks gathered in support of the Austin Project, a program for at-risk youth, former Lieutenant Governor Bill Ratliff scolded Texas legislators for failing to raise more taxes in order to provide more funding for various government welfare programs and social services. He employed irony by suggesting that government indeed needs more, not less, religion and cited various biblical passages to support his proposition that a responsible Christian should always choose to raise taxes to fund government programs to help the poor.


Such a belief has been a common rationale for government welfare over the past several decades, with its first significant appearance in Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and later becoming even more expansive and institutionalized during Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. It is a frequently repeated proposition by those who profess the Christian faith and has even formed the basis for an allegedly Christian movement referred to as the "social gospel." As Governor Ratliff demonstrated in his speech, biblical language is routinely cited as prooftexts for the political proposition that it is no less than a divine instruction from God that Christians should never question and always respond to the government’s insatiable appetite for more and more tax dollars, as long as they are for government programs designed to help the poor, infirm, and elderly. Simply put, such a belief is a political misapplication of biblical doctrine and a politically convenient distortion of what Jesus Christ described as the most fundamental rule by which we should live our lives.


This theological error occurs when one mistakenly equates Jesus Christ’s commandment for us to love others as ourselves (and the corollary biblical theme of our individual responsibility to be charitable to those who are less fortunate) with a demand by government that its citizens should surrender their money in taxes, so that poverty, hunger, and illness can be addressed through government programs. It should not be debatable that "coercive charity" or "forced philanthropy" are oxymorons.


True charity, which is what the Bible calls us to, is voluntary and offered with a willing and joyful heart and animates the adage that it is more fulfilling to give than to receive. Government-sponsored programs funded by money forcibly collected from its citizens are, in fact, true charity’s antithesis.


Given the political realities and the evolving desires of elected officials and the citizens they represent, it might very well be the case that present circumstances demand the existence and funding of various government welfare programs to provide for the poor, infirm, and elderly. In those cases, it then becomes the policymaker’s responsibility to vigilantly and constantly scrutinize those programs for maximum efficiency and effectiveness.


But it is emphatically inappropriate and just plain theologically wrong to invoke the Bible and Christian doctrine to support the imposition and collection of taxes to fund government welfare programs. The Bible never contemplates such a proposition, but rather only calls on the individual to practice true charity. So notwithstanding the righteous reproaches of the well-intentioned, it remains a theological impossibility – and misguided public policy - to be charitable with other people’s money.

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