Bible, Teaching, z15
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A Biblical approach to welfare?

Grapes of welfare Photo: Roberto Vertzo/Foter/CC BY

Grapes of welfare? Photo: Roberto Vertzo/Foter/CC BY

[by Dean Smith] TOMS Shoes as its name suggests is a shoe manufacturer with a unique approach to business. I have probably only bought two pairs of shoes in the last 25 years. It’s sad, but my wife doesn’t trust me to buy my own clothes.

Some who knew me as a bachelor would say for good reason.

As soon as I mentioned the brand name, my daughter’s interest was instantly piqued.

“I love TOMS,” she said.

Whenever TOMS sells a pair of shoes through a retail outlet, it provides a free pair of shoes to a child in a developing country. It does the same with its high-end sun glasses, but provides corrective glasses for children with seeing impairments, instead of the much cooler shades.

In 2010, the company asked Bruce Wydick to study their charity program to root out its strengths and weaknesses and recommend any changes.

One major area TOMS wanted answers too was how the shoes were impacting the children receiving them. Not surprisingly, they found a number of positive benefits to the program. The kids liked the shoes and most wore them every day.

However, one concern surfaced. Wydick and his team found children receiving the shoes developed a sense of dependency. A significant percentage of them believed that outsiders should be providing for their family. An attitude was forming that they were no longer responsible for their own welfare.

Wydick writes:

“The most negative finding was that the children receiving the shoes were significantly more likely to agree with the statement that “others should provide for my  family’s needs” and less likely to say that “my family should provide for its own needs.”

After pointing this and other shortfalls out, Wydick was delighted how quickly TOMS responded. When the children said they preferred sports shoes, over canvas running shoes, TOMS started providing sports runners.

In dealing with this growing sense of dependency, TOMS changed its program so students received shoes “as rewards for school attendance and performance.”

The children had to work for their reward.

I was pleasantly shocked by this.

I sometimes wonder if many of the social ills in North America can be traced back to a root of dependency governments have fostered in people because of welfare being provided with no strings attached.  Many receiving the monthly stipend, similarly believe they are not responsible to look after themselves. Over time, the attitude gradually changes to they are now owed a welfare check. It is their right.

Children in such families begin to treat this as normal and the cycle spins on through the generations.

Biblical welfare

When we look at the Bible we see welfare being handled much differently than it is today. On a personal level, people were urged to give to the poor, no strings attached. There are a number of admonitions to help those in need (Deuteronomy 15:11).

However, on a national level there was a different approach. The law imposed a form of taxation on citizens that benefited the poor. And it was as real as having taxes deducted off your check every month.

  1. The Israelis were not allowed to harvest the corners of their fields, including the vineyards. (Leviticus 19:9-10).
  2. The farmers were not allowed to pick the gleanings — any grain or grapes that had fallen to the ground (Deuteronomy 24:19-21; Ruth 2).
  3. They were not allowed to harvest any crops that grew on the land during its seventh-year sabbath rest. Though crops were not planted during the seventh year, some still grew because of seed that had fallen on the soil. The crops produced were for everyone (Leviticus 25:5-6).
  4. People were allowed to pick grapes from any vine in the field and eat as much as they want, but were not allowed to carry any away (Deuteronomy 23:24-25). Similarly they were allowed to pluck grain, but not used a harvesting instrument like a sickle to cut the grain.

The un-harvested produce was left for the poor. But the key difference is they had to gather the food themselves. They had to work for their welfare.

There were no high-level bureaucrats in their polished Louis Vuitton shoes ordering farmers to collect the gleanings and harvest the edges of their field. Sell the grain and then send the check to government, who in turn distributed it to the poor.

The poor had to work like everyone else.

And even in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul took a similar approach. Because the early church had a reputation of generosity, people were approaching the community asking for aid. In those instances, Paul said:

For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. (2 Thessalonians 3:10 NASV)

If a person was in genuine need of help, the church should provide assistance, but the person must work for it.

Of course, there are those with physical and mental handicaps, unable to work, who need to be provided for.

But for all others, they should work for their welfare, because it makes them responsible for their own well-being (you don’t work, you don’t eat) and removes a sense of dependency and the impoverishing attitudes that come with it.

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