A Compassionate Response to the Government Shutdown

A Compassionate Response to the Government Shutdown

by Beni Wilson, Culture Shield Network’s Guest Blogger

 As most Americans know, our federal government has partially shut down due to political gridlock in Washington. In the midst of arguing over whose fault it is, we shouldn’t lose sight of a unique opportunity for the church and for the conservative movement. I believe that the government shutdown, along with sequestration cuts, give us the chance to show that the church and private charity can effectively take care of the  poor—without the help of government.[1]

The shutdown has caused several federal government programs to be temporarily suspended[2]. A key one that I would like to address here is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which supplies pregnant mothers and mothers of young children with money to buy healthy food if they can’t afford it.[3] Similarly, the across-the-board spending cuts earlier this year (usually referred to as ‘the sequester’) also reduced government food assistance, especially for the Meals on Wheels program for seniors.[4] As a result, both WIC and Meals on Wheels are scaling back, decreasing government involvement in caring for the poor and elderly.

Many Americans—especially Christians, conservatives, and libertarians—believe  that social welfare services are best provided by private charity (including churches, extended family members, philanthropists, and charity organizations) and that the federal government should ideally have little to no involvement in that area. Furthermore, I’m sure that everyone, especially Christians, can agree that we should look out for the poor and provide them with food if they are unable to provide for themselves and we have the ability (Deut. 15:7-11).

The recent cuts in government food programs give us a rare opportunity to show that private charity is capable of replacing government assistance in this area. If conservatives act now, we can show our country that we really don’t need an impersonal welfare state in order to ensure that everyone has food. If Christians act now, we can show our country the love of Christ and be a witness for the gospel (Matt 5:16). If Christians and conservatives fail to act, it will only lend support to the accusations that we are greedy and uncaring.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide what exactly you can do in your community and how to ensure that your aid actually goes to people who really need it[5]. It might mean giving food or money to existing WIC and Meals on Wheels programs[6] or other charity organizations. Or it might be giving extra to enable your church to increase its involvement in helping the poor. Or it could be taking less ‘free’ government money or services ourselves. Or it could be as simple as making a few meals a week to share with a neighbor or friend who is struggling financially.

What I will say for sure is that the sooner we act the better[7]. When people suffer because of government cuts, they will think that government is their only real source of help. But, if they don’t feel the impact of government cuts because of an increase in private charity, then they—along with the rest of the country—will realize that government isn’t the answer to everything, while also having a positive impression of whoever contributes to those programs.

Nobody likes taxes or a government that has unmanageable debt. But, we can’t really convince America to cut back on government spending until we prove that we can effectively take care of each other through private charity, without government bureaucracy as a middle man. This is a fabulous opportunity to do exactly that. Let’s do it!

[1] While this article focuses on food aid, the shutdown presents similar opportunities in other areas such as health research done by the National Institute of Health (NIH), science projects done by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and disaster relief efforts done by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

[2] A good list of which programs and agencies have been shutdown and which are still open is accessible at http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2013/09/politics/government-shutdown-impact/index.html

[5] See 2 Thes 3:10. One advantage that private charity has over government programs is the personal connection and accountability that it provides. One thing to note, though, is that WIC and Meals on Wheels programs probably have fewer pitfalls with free-riders than other government welfare programs because of their narrow focus on nutritional aid for specific groups of people.

[6] Find your local branch of these programs at www.wicprograms.org and http://www.mowaa.org/page.aspx?pid=253.

[7] And if the congressional gridlock continues to the point that food stamps and Social Security and/or veterans benefits are effected, then we must especially be prepared to act fast to ramp up private charity. Otherwise, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where a fearful and insecure population gives government more power than it was ever meant to have.