Any Christian would want to encourage people to lift themselves out of poverty. The LDS church for example helps millions lift themselves out of poverty through work training programs and relief assistance programs that offer the dignity of helping others when you yourself receive assistance. The church has a perpetual education fund which provides the means for people to receive education who find themselves in poverty. They later can contribute to that fund so others may receive the same benefit. Helping a person get out of poverty is far more Christian than simply giving him the means to safely remain poor. Do I believe in helping the poor? Yes. I do it on a regular basis. So yes give them a fish if they truly have a need but if you do not also teach them to fish you have not really helped them that much. Helping them right now helps them only right now. Helping them reach their potential helps them forever. I see nothing unchristian about that.
Many of the people who are helped by the LDS church (as one example) are not LDS. In Utah many ex-cons (of all faiths or no faith) get their first post imprisonment employment opportunity in LDS thrift stores (Deseret Industries). These are work training programs designed to not only give them employment but to assist them in attaining future employment. They receive training in job search skills, resume writing and other skills necessary to get and retain employment. The church also has many programs that offer food to those in need. These programs are worldwide. The church also has established wells to provide safe drinking water that is adequate and near population centers throughout the world. They do not just put in the wells and leave they give training and equipment to the locals so these wells can be maintained. There is no you must join us attached to these relief efforts (though they are welcome to join us). In addition at any disaster around the world almost always among the first to be there are LDS volunteers and supplies. I would love to help as the church does on my own but I simply do not have the means or infrastructure. I gladly assist as I am able though. I have no problem in contributing of my means to these efforts it is a very efficient way for my money to help the most that it can.
Government aid programs are kind of like the father or mother who gives his/her kids money just to get them off their back. The kids like the money even though they know the parent doesn’t really care about them they just want to get the kid off their back or buy their affection. We saw a good example of that in the last election. Trust me a lot of affection (and votes) was bought and now many of those people are saying give us our cut now. Government programs are often of the feel good help me right now variety. They do not provide long term solutions for our society or the people they ostensibly help. Like putting a band aid on an arterial bleed….it’s a nice gesture but the patient still dies.
Government programs should be designed to give people incentives to get off them rather than encourage people to remain on them. I’ll give a couple examples. Early on in our marriage my wages were not that great. We still managed to save some money (through frugality and wise use of funds mainly by my wife) but my wages were still small. I applied for food stamps to get us through this rough time because I did not think it wise to go into emergency funds. When I applied and they found out I had savings they encouraged me to spend them so I could get the food stamps. They also told me how to hide the money if I wanted to. I never went on food stamps. My point is had I not been responsible with my money I would have been rewarded for that behavior with food stamps and other programs. People who actually made more money than me and had fewer children were collecting food stamps on a regular basis. Frugality punished, spending in excess rewarded.
Another example: I have personally witnessed families who got a divorce (but stayed together anyway) because more money and benefits went to a single mother than a married couple who were struggling. Divorce rewarded, intact family punished. Our welfare system is broken. It needs some fundamental changes to actually reduce poverty and truly help the poor. Church charities could do a far better job of managing this. Local assistance is the most efficient. Before we had a public welfare system we had a welfare system in place. It was called the church and charity. Since we have had a public welfare system it is arguably true that many who would receive assistance and move on in the past are now remaining on assistance because of the anonymity of the public assistance programs.
Perhaps a more balanced approach would work, government assistance that worked towards independence rather than dependence. Aid programs that required something from the individual receiving aid (when they are capable). Maybe volunteer service helping others who need assistance as well, working hand in hand with local communities as we habilitate those who do not have the appropriate job skills. The government could learn from and work with local churches and other volunteer organizations whose aim is to restore dignity and self-sufficiency to the individual. One thing is certain we cannot keep adding to our tower of aid programs indefinitely. At some point that tower will topple. When it does we will see one of two things. We will either see suffering as we have never seen it before or we will see that many of those people on assistance really can get by on their own. I think we will see a little bit of both if we do not act to fix those programs soon.
I am not advocating a cessation of aid programs we have come too far for that. What I am advocating is that we re-think our approach and truly help those in need over the long term. This will help them, our nation and future generations. A balanced approach that addresses the short term and long term needs of assistance (self-sufficiency) seems the best to me. Aid to those who are disabled and incapable of taking care of themselves should not be discontinued. However even some seemingly disabled people should be encouraged to provide for themselves to the extent they are able. Some have said that requiring a person to work for the relief they receive somehow makes that person a slave. If that is the case then anyone who has ever been employed is/was a slave. Working for what you get (no matter who you get it from) does not make you a slave. It makes you a person of dignity. It helps you attain self-worth. Peace.