We’ve got a problem in the church that we can’t quite get a handle on, and it has to do with charity. Who gets it? and Who gives it?
Christians tend to argue most heatedly about the role of government—personal or charitable responsibility vs. governmental responsibility. Conservative Christians often argue that any commands Jesus made concerning justice and the compassionate care of other human beings ought to be expressed not primarily through the government, but through the church. Progressive Christians, on the other hand, generally view government as an important part of the solution in manifesting the justice and compassion commanded by Jesus. I’d like to take a look at the conservative argument, for a moment.
Conservative Christians tend to emphasize personal responsibility as the primary locus of Christian morality. That is to say, Christians are first of all responsible for themselves–”If you are travelling [sic.] with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.” Of paramount importance here is the state of one’s soul. After having secured your own soul, you are then free to “assist the other person.”
On a conservative reading of scripture, the assistance one provides ought to come through individuals, or at least through charitable organizations, preferably those associated with the church. Jesus, it is often pointed out, didn’t command his followers to prop up governmental institutions (even humanitarian ones) as a way of establishing justice and compassion. These kinds of good works are best left to those who answer first and only to God. (Of course, it should be pointed out that Jesus was Jewish, which carried with it an implicit understanding that governmental and religious responsibility were indistinguishable from one another–in ways that don’t admit of a modern American analog.)