“Who’s to blame for the shutdown? I say, whom do we credit with the shutdown!”
This is the sentiment of many small-government conservatives and libertarians who are not at all upset over the government shutdown. The government’s designation of “essential” versus “non-essential” personnel just adds fuel to the fire. “If they’re non-essential, why not just fire them?” Forty-three percent of federal workers are considered non-essential. The Environmental Protection Agency reported that a whopping 93% of it’s employees are non-essential. The entire Office of Government Ethics was, ironically, closed because it is non-essential. What’s the point anymore, right?
What is exasperating about the entire shutdown drama is that none of it is about actually passing a budget. Closing needless, wasteful, counterproductive government agencies is not up for discussion. The only government program on the table is Obamacare and the Democrats are refusing to negotiate any part of the Affordable Care Act. The waivers, subsidies, and delays offered to the powerful and politically connected will not be made available to the average American.
The size and scope of government is certainly out of control. Government spending and debt is far beyond sustainable levels. At the time of the last government shutdown in 1996, the national debt was $4.9 trillion. It is triple that figure today. Instead of cutting expenses, the federal government is actually looking to raise the debt ceiling before an October 17th deadline. Raising the debt ceiling to help our financial predicament is like raising legal blood alcohol levels in order to solve the problem of drunk driving.
But, what if those us who consider ourselves to be smaller-government Christians had our way? Stop the bailouts, let the market work. End government subsidies. Cut taxes and cut government programs. Privatize, privatize, privatize. Overturn Roe v. Wade. The list could go on and on. If conservative Christians were to gain these victories, what exactly would we be prepared to do? It would not be the Church’s mission to take on all of these tasks but what role would we play?
“[The LORD] vindicates the oppressed, and gives food to the hungry. The Lord releases the imprisoned. The Lord gives sight to the blind. The Lord lifts up all who are bent over. The Lord loves the godly. The Lord protects those residing outside their native land; he lifts up the fatherless and the widow, but he opposes the wicked.” Psalm 146:7-9 (NET)
An undeniable truth of Scripture is that the Lord empathizes with the weak, poor, and powerless. One implication of this truth is that those who claim to be His servants, and especially those who like to use the superlative “slave” of Christ, ought to identify with these vulnerable members of our society, too. Christians ought to care for the poor regardless of whether the government does or not.
“[Jesus] said also to the man who had invited him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just‘” (Luke 14:12-13).
We are to give without expecting repayment. Does giving have to be in the form of feeding the poor and homeless at our churches or in public places? No, but Jesus’s words in Luke 14 are actually more radical than that. Jesus talked about opening our homes. He’s talking about building relationships over a meal. Opening our homes to the poor is radical but if we’re not inviting the poor into our homes, surely we can invite them to our churches.
Those of us who oppose the never-ending expansion of government and seek to defund or eliminate many of the welfare and social service programs of the government are obligated to provide alternatives. Many of our church buildings in America sit empty and unused five to six days a week. Why not put them to good use? Coming up with creative solutions that actually help people rather than hurting them is the long-term goal but meeting immediate needs like giving a meal to a hungry family is not a bad way to begin. If we want government to shrink, let’s be prepared to expand the impact of the Church.