intentional generosity: a christian challenge to punitive welfare reforms

8 04 2013

It goes without saying that a minority will take for granted the generosity of the welfare state. It also goes without saying that the majority will not. What we have to decide is: does that matter? Yes, of course. So what then do we do… Do we take away benefits from everyone because of the bad choices – and yes, sometimes criminal behaviour – of the few? Do we offer support to those in need even when we know that support may well be abused?

Yes. Yes, not because we are woolly-minded liberals who are happy to be taken for a ride. Yes, because our model for love is Jesus and is by definition self-giving. We give in full knowledge of rejection. We are taken advantage of, and we give again. We do it because we believe that love gives. Of course there are consequences for its abuse. Of course there is no bottomless pit of money. Of course when we see people deliberately milking the system that must be challenged. At the poorest AND the richest end. 

But we believe that we help those at the bottom, whether they are there because of their own bad choices or not. When I worked in a drop-in centre for street homeless people we knew full well there was a tiny minority for whom this was a lifestyle choice we were enabling. But we also knew the true stories that put the majority there. We knew there were those who were genuine, and truly needed help. To help those, you must help the others. To truly show love, you give without prejudice, in the knowledge that there are those who cannot and will not survive without it.

Yes, some will abuse it. Yes, that rightly makes us angry. Does it make us withdraw help? No. We give knowing that our gift will be abused by some, and taken for granted by others. Our model is Jesus, and he gave everything. Punitive Welfare reforms that target the most vulnerable in our society are not acceptable within this model of thinking. Neither is the vindictive and divisive language against the poor, by elected politicians, writing then all off as thieving, idle drunks.

Bringing Jesus into it doesn’t make it easy, by the way. It’s not like a naive belief in fairies that makes you want to treat everyone like a flower. No. This is hard. This is no doormat philosophy. Faith isn’t a vain superstition or a crutch for the weak and indecisive. And this is where we show it. Faith necessarily prompts a conscious and intentional decision to show generous love in the face of possible rejection and abuse. Compassion comes from the Latin for ‘suffering with’. It has a cost we willingly accept – generous love. Worked out in the Welfare system. 

Madness? Maybe. Fairness? Probably not. The right thing to do? Without doubt.

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6 responses

9 04 2013
c2drl

Well said Kevin, this is so right.

I wonder where the parable of the ‘talents’ fits into this? One of the ways we love our children is to encourage (not bully and force) and help them to reach as near their full potential as possible. I wonder how much we do that for the poor and the jobless. As you say, loving isn’t easy.

I think that today we do what we do as a society, not out of love but to get votes, either by paying lip service to caring or by saving money by not caring. Oh for a society that shows real puiblic spirited, Holy Spirited love. It will still get things wrong but then it will be run by sinful people.

11 04 2013
dorothy726

the sun rises and the rain falls on the just and the unjust… God’s love and compassion are impartial, how can ours be anything else?

11 04 2013
Simon Gates

I’ve just been to Spring Harvest where the parable was re-interpreted in a very teasing way without the full implications of it worked out, but what if we read the parable as a condemnation of the master who is a hard man and proves himself so, not wanted as their king and proves to have no compassion at all, and those standing by are utterly shocked at his behaviour especially if we read it in Luke without the English reinterpretation of the word talent as Luke tells it with Minas? Perhaps the parable tells us God is not like this man?

In the same way Jesus can be read as condemning a system that forces a poor widow to give the very last of her pittance to an unjust temple.

Just waiting Kevin, for your eulogy to Margaret Thatcher?

11 04 2013
Kevin

Hmmm, a eulogy for Margaret Thatcher… I think this from Ekklesia just about sums it up for me: http://bit.ly/11YSuXB

15 04 2013
Irene

Thanks for this Simon, I really struggle with that parable for the fact that the King is portrayed as someone who reaps where he does not sow etc. Who is Minas?

5 09 2013
MsXpat

I never thought of it that way, makes sense when you put it like that.

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