The War on Poverty: 50+ Years and Still Going

tfp.2016.12.13.164401_10151244670276275_1275388048_nOn January 8, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced his plan for a “War on Poverty.” It had been less than two months after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. I was in the 7th grade.

I remember the “War on Poverty,” the grand plan of the newly sworn-in leader of a country still reeling from the tragic death of JFK. Federal money (nothing more than taxpayer’s money) was to be invested in all kinds of wonderful programs to help the poor, the disadvantaged, the discriminated against.

So, here we are, almost fifty-three years later. How well has it worked?

According to Ed Feulner of the Heritage Foundation, we taxpayers have invested $22 Trillion dollars in the war on poverty since its inception in 1964.

That’s $22,000,000,000.00!

I recently engaged in a Facebook conversation with a Christian friend of a Christian friend on the topic of poverty. This Christian “friend of a friend” claimed that the “American Mindset” is that “we shouldn’t care about the needy, getting ahead is all that counts.”

Hmmmmm? Didn’t we Americans just invest $22,000,000,000.00 to help the poor? I’m confused. That doesn’t sound like “not caring” to me.

The dollar investment alone no doubt sets us above all of the nations in the world as far as caring for the poor. Or at least as far as spending money on federal programs that somehow are supposed to lift people out of poverty. And we have not even accounted for who knows how many billions of dollars we have shipped overseas to help other countries. That figure is probably also in the trillions.

Somehow we got "upside down" here in our country regarding caring for the poor. That role is now pretty much owned by the state – not completely I concede, but largely.

Technically, Biblically, shouldn’t caring for the poor be the job of the Church? Jesus commissioned us to do that. He didn’t tell us to turn that task over to the state.

As you know, I am a strong conservative. But on this matter, I do agree with my Christian friends on the left or progressive side. The poor need to be cared for. It’s the how and the who that have me very concerned.

By our general neglect of the poor, we (the Church) have relinquished our role, a role given to us by our Lord and Savior. In our relinquishment, we have ceded power to our civil government that is supposed to be ours.

By surrendering the responsibility of caring for the poor to our civil government, we have missed countless open doors into people’s lives and abdicated our ability to build relationships with the needy.We have lost millions of opportunities over these last 50+ years to reach souls for Christ, to make disciples, all while meeting basic needs.

But wait … shouldn’t the primary goal be to meet their basic needs? Initially, yes. But true love dictates that we also help them get on the path to a life that is rooted in Christ, a life where a unique purpose can be discovered and pursued, something beyond just day-to-day survival. How well can government-run programs do that? I concede that some have escaped the ravages of poverty and risen to do great things. But far too few.

Our efforts as the Church in this arena today are meager compared to the state’s massive budget and programs and people. Let’s face facts. The state is pulling the heavy load here.

How did this happen?

Fifty-three years ago, our American parents and grandparents rushed madly toward what they saw as the easiest and quickest fix to poverty in America—government money (no, the people’s money), government programs (hundreds of them now – probably thousands), and government workers, most well-meaning no doubt, but few with the mission—or even the freedom or ability—of bringing souls into the kingdom of God.

I was thirteen years old when this happened. Many of you reading this were not even yet born. This system is what we inherited. We did not create it.

Don’t you think it’s time we Christians stop and take a serious, hard look at what we Americans have created, this whole system of caring for the poor? It isn’t Biblically principled, it isn’t functional, and it is above all things, at $22,000,000,000.00 ($22 TRILLION), a massive waste of resources.

I, for one, see this government-run, poverty-fighting, massive, bureaucratic American juggernaut, as a prison in which all of us (rich, poor, and in-between) are being held captive.

Let’s have the courage to sit down Christians, left and right, and have a genuine, civil conversation about this mess our parents and grandparents left in our lap.

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