A Conversation Starter

I would like to start an informal discussion about a contentious issue. I want to start this conversation, not because I enjoy contention (I don’t), but because I’m afraid that if I continue to remain quiet and bottle up my thoughts and feelings they will eventually explode with destructive rather than constructive consequences. I don’t pretend to have all the answers on this issue and I welcome your questions, comments, and insights.

So here are some suggestions for the conversation:

  1. We should choose to share our responses in written or verbal form based on which form we, as individuals, can use in the most loving, Christ-like manner (that’s why I’m writing, but you may be better off calling or speaking directly).
  2. When angry or upset, we should sleep on our thoughts, waiting at least 24 hours in prayer and self-examination before issuing a retort to a brother or sister in Christ who holds the offending view.
  3. We should assume that the motives of the other participants in the discussion are pure.
  4. We should humbly remember that as flawed human beings, we’re all wrong about some things, the problem is that we don’t yet know which things we’re wrong about.

All ready? Here’s the conversation starter:

During my 18 years as a pastor, I have often heard complaints about people who are taking advantage of the welfare system.* This has always upset me and I think I may have finally figured out why. I get upset because I’ve benefited from a lot of government programs myself, even though I’ve never benefited from programs intended exclusively for those with low incomes.

Government programs I have benefited from include: state sponsored education K-12; attending a state university (which means it was sponsored and subsidized by the state, and even private schools receive government grants); student loans to attend college and seminary (I repaid the loans, but the government paid the interest while I was in school); money given to me by grandparents who received farm subsidies; and (presently) tax breaks on my employer provided health insurance plan and my health savings account. I’ve benefited from all these programs while at the same time enjoying a lifestyle well above that of the average “welfare” recipient.**

Having benefited from the programs named above, I cannot pretend that I got where I am entirely by my own efforts (and that’s even when considered solely on the basis of human standards; when I remember that all good things come from God the point is only amplified).

My hope is that if you’re reading this you’ll be able to see yourselves in my description of the government programs I have benefited from (if you can’t, I will be glad to help you find examples from your own life). And that seeing yourself in my examples, you’ll be able to empathize with those who are receiving assistance whose standard of living remains well below ours.

None of this is meant to argue a particular political point of view about the best way to help those in need, it’s simply to say that if we cannot empathize with the poor then we are seeing neither them, nor ourselves, nor God clearly. I fear that when we cannot see ourselves in the least of these, it becomes nearly impossible to see Jesus in them.

Any thoughts? Drop me a line at john@revcollins.com.


*I know all to well that there are indeed those who do take advantage of the system, but I think God calls us to be more concerned about those still unable to meet basic needs

**I do think we would be far better off as individuals and a society if we implemented a system that ensured that every person able to work was engaged in meaningful labor in return for the benefits they received.