During the early history of the Christian church and even well into the Middle Ages and beyond, Christians assumed the burden for helping the poor. Government aid, as we understand it today, simply did not exist, and the church would not have expected it otherwise. However, with the so-called "war on poverty" that began in the Johnson years, the general assumption now is that the government has a primary responsibility to care and support the poor. As the years have gone by the church has taken a step back and like everyone else looked to the government more and more for answers and solutions.
According to a ChildFund International Survey, Americans believe that childhood poverty is an urgent problem needing to be addressed, yet they rank faith-based groups last when asked who should be responsible for meeting that need. 66% of those surveyed believe that the U.S. has an obligation to help poverty-stricken children around the world. Almost 3 in 10 of those surveyed felt that international nonprofit organizations should offer relief, followed by 25% who looked to the governments where these children live, and 19% looked specifically to the developed nations. Only 16% felt that faith-based organizations should be tapped for this need.
Should the church reevaluate its own participation in this area and possibly contribute more of its own resources so as to relieve other organizations, thus reassuming again our traditional role? And how should we evaluate poverty as a need? Different definitions exist, not to mention measurements. Should we concentrate only on abject poverty, or do we have an obligation to those who are simply among the "working poor"? And to what extent to we assist? It would appear that the modern approach to this problem has largely made the issue worse by creating a virtually permanent "poverty class," left dependent on government handouts. Ancient aid was just that, "aid," not a substitute for that person's own efforts. The goal was to assist people through a difficult part of their lives, not leave them dependent on the aid they received. Many questions remain here to be answered. What do you think the church should do?