Christians and the Welfare State
One thing that has happened in my mind as I reflected on the content of Kuo's book and on this discussion about "Red Letter" and "Black Letter" Christians is that I have continually been reminded of something I heard Tony Campolo say almost 10 years ago. He was talking about poverty and the need for the Church to be proactive in helping those who need it most. He said that for too long we have allowed the government to do what the Church ought to be doing, and that is to take care of "the least of these." We have installed a "welfare state" into our government - one that allows us to stop caring about actually engaging the poor and just allowing our tax dollars to do it for us.
And in that regard, what I am thinking is that both conservatives and liberals have allowed this to persist in our thinking and to undercut the work of the Church. Conservatives have decried the "welfare state" and asked for money through Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives so they can do it themselves, not realizing that money would hang like a carrot over their heads (and not considering if it was indeed ethical to take it at all). And liberals have allowed the "welfare state" to take on some sort of cult status as a fulfillment of the "Sermon on the Mount," thus helping liberal lawmakers to keep a strangle hold on disenfranchised voters, while pushing a morally corrupt social agenda. In this paradigm, both sides of the Christian aisle (so to speak) lose and neither is found to be fulfilling the "Great Commandment" or the "Great Commission."
Jesus did not call the Church to set up secular governments that would take care of the poor. He called the Church to feed the poor and take care of widows and orphans personally. And in doing so, to spread the message that "Christ is Lord," calling men everywhere to repent and believe. A "welfare state" ends up hindering this calling and hurting everyone in the process - the poor who are caught in the cycle of poverty, the low-income families who begin to despise those who use government money while they, themselves, struggle to make ends meet, the middle class who see many examples of corruption in the welfare system and begin to foster bitterness instead of developing compassion toward those less fortunate than themselves, and the rich who can buck their responsibilities to be good citizens because they know they are the ones footing the bill for the welfare state to exist.
This might sound harsh, but I think this is where the Church finds itself in the 21st century. What we must do as a Christian people is to stop letting the politicians do for us what we, ourselves, ought to be doing. For a better, more compassionate take on this, see an excellent article by Brent Thomas at his Colossians 3:16 site entitled, "Pure and Undefiled Politics?"