Sunday, July 1, 2012

Private Charity vs. Social Sharing

I think that we Christians have the wrong idea about what charity is supposed to be.

Take “Obamacare;” one of the main reasons given for opposing it, is that it puts a legal mandate on charity. We believe that we should take care of the poor and the sick, but many people feel that this is something that should be done freely on a personal level. We can’t, or shouldn’t, mandate people through taxes to take care of others.

This makes a lot of sense. We are born with free will, and charity should be freely given. But it sets up a false dichotomy that hurts us as Christians: it says that there are rich, and there are poor, and those who have should give to those who do not have. This is not Christianity.

In today’s second reading, Paul tells us:

“Brothers and sisters:
As you excel in every respect, in faith, discourse, knowledge, all earnestness, and in the love we have for you, may you excel in this gracious act also.

For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. Not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their needs, so that their abundance may also supply your needs, that there may be equality.

As it is written:
Whoever had much did not have more,
and whoever had little did not have less.”

As Christians, we strive not just for the relief of the poor, but for equality with them. Private charity, where we give to the poor from our abundance, does not embrace equality but sustains injustice, because we give a little but keep a lot. Private charity relies on the dichotomy between rich and poor, but justice seeks to abolish it.

There are many things wrong with Obamacare. How much it will cost is unclear, it includes the unjust HHS Mandate, and it gives tacit support to abortion providers. And we should fight those things. But it is, in its idea, a profoundly Christian attempt to bring justice to charity. It seeks to make all citizens equal, who will all share health care in their abundance, and share health care in their need. Charity should not be the rich burdened by the poor, but an exchange of giving and receiving among brethren. Whether it’s realized or not, our current system burdens the “rich,” because we still provide care to the poor through emergency rooms and free clinics. Sharing health care like Obamacare intends seeks to ease the burden by having everyone share the cost.

The pinnacle of Christianity is not charity. It is solidarity, where barriers are broken down between believers. The Acts of the Apostles describe early believers holding “all things in common.” What Jesus taught was not charity, but social sharing. Our God is the God of life, and of justice, and we should embrace those things that embrace both life and justice.

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