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This summer, as Barbara Elliott graciously brought me along to a banquet for a charity in Houston, one thing struck me as particularly sobering: While the two Democrat representatives were present, not one Republican representative made an appearance. Why is it that Democrats have complete reigns on the issue of poverty? It is quite legitimate for Republicans to discourage and oppose public funds, but if they are adamantly opposing public funds, they must be willing to promote private charities.

I do not dare equate Republicans and Conservatives, for we all know that in this day and age they often diverge more than they intersect, but if the Republican party is in fact the more Conservative of the two, why are they neglecting poverty issues? As Russell Kirk often highlights, liberty must be married to order, rights must correspond with duties, and capitalism must have a conscience.

The conscience of capitalism is essential for a flourishing society. It is the moral root that grounds our society, and reflects the generous hearts of the people, rather than self-centered greed. Our Founders understood this, and wrote about it often. In a letter to Mercy Otis Warren, John Adams wrote, “Public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics. There must be a positive Passion for the public good…established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real liberty… Men must be ready, they must pride themselves, and be happy to sacrifice their private Pleasure, Passions and Interest, nay, their private Friendships and dearest Connections, when they stand in competition with the Rights of Society.”

“A positive passion for the public good.” Is this something that is evident in the Republican candidates of 2010? Do we see free market advocates promoting charity just as much as they promote hands-off government? If the government removes their hand from public poverty, the free market conservatives must be the ones willing to reach into their pockets and give to the hungry, the orphaned, and the sick. This is not to say that many conservatives do not already donate much time and money to people in need, and often do it quietly and humbly, but it is to say, that public conservatives must take a stand on the issue, instead of being content to let the Democrats have that one, while they convert more and more inner city communities and factory workers and poor agrarians to the socialist policies of the liberals because the needy see no alternative. We conservatives must give them an alternative, and we must do it with boldness and compassion. We must step out of our SUVs, finely furnished homes, and comfortable communities, and walk into their world for a moment. We must befriend those in need, provide ways to bring them out of poverty, and serve them with our resources, our time, and our hearts.

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8 replies to this post
  1. Brittany, I was driven here by my friend Brad. You might be interested to know my experience and perspective as a liberal serving in a church related social service agency in a very poor neighborhood. We could not continue another day if it were not for the politically conservative, amazingly generous donors that support our work. Many of them have also confessed to me that until they got personally involved in our work they did not realize that it would take much more money than they and all of their conservative friends could donate to continue the work that we do. We receive over 1/4 million dollars worth of food from the USDA every year to feed hungry families. The $25,000 worth of food donated by area churches is what allows us to serve first time visitors that don't have all the documentation required to satisfy USDA reporting requirements. We have 48 affordable housing units (soon to be 62). This would not have been possible without almost $8 million in funding through a federal tax credit program. The vast majority of our $1 million general budget is met through mostly conservative, very generous donors. They and all of their neighbors could not fill the gap left gaping open, if the government funding ended.

  2. So many English words carry different connotations in different lands, hence Americans may pause befiore recoiling at the comment of Bangladeshi Nobel Prize winner and father of micro-credit, Mohammad Younis, when he says that more businesses 'need a socialist heart and a capitalist head.' He founded micro-credit for the poor with his then-innovative Grameen Bank in which poor women form clubs, individual members borrow small amounts of money for, say, a vegetable cart or shoe-shine business, and once one member pays off the debt the next can borrow – an additional incentive for the low rate of default.

    Since De Toqueviille's days and earlier, Americans have been uncommonly generous, conservatives and liberals alike. The needs of settling a continent, tax laws written to encourage philanthropy and religious faith all play a part. But Dr Younis's message tells us something else, that money is not enough. I've spent 25 years in so-called international development work, seen successes and failures, and inevitably the projects that worked took much more than money to change behaviour and get results. They used time and patience, which few Americans are willing to spend when it is so easy to whip out the checkbook. The Kirk family's charity was heavily personal, putting up an endless stream of refugees in the house next door, ensuring that the newcomers had clothes, schoolbooks and community before each family succeeded and moved on to be replaced by another. Had they been entrepreneurs rather than sages, no doubt they'd have started one of the businesses that Dr Younis so admires. Part of the Kirkian message is our obligation to charity, but also to do it through community alongside the gift of time and attention.

    Stephen Masty

  3. Cindy, thank you for your insightful and experience-based knowledge. It is encouraging, yet not surprising, to know that conservatives are willing to invest in such a good cause. I admire the work you do to change the lives of so many hurting people. In fact, I think the act of serving those in need should be something that conservatives and liberals unite on because it is essential to the human experience.
    I completely agree with Stephan Masty's response that charity is more than pulling out a checkbook, and it seems to me that many big-name conservatives fail to realize the personal and communal aspect of charity–meaning love, the most intimate and self-sacrificial virtue of the human heart.

    I also understand that many fine organizations like your own would not be able to serve the people they do without government funding. But I ask a question to myself that I think is all too often overlooked: Where in the Constitution does it allot power to any branch of the Federal government to give to charities? Many will sight the preamble, or Article I section 8's provision for the "general welfare," but in both those instances, many Constitutional scholars, from Joseph Story to Ralph Rossum, have understood those provisions to be a general statement of purpose, not a specific way in which they will carry out that purpose; the specific government duties and functions are listed below. I know that many would ask me whether I would be willing to pull the government funding from those organizations and wound the lives of so many helpless souls. But, I would say this in response:

    The Constitution created an ordered society so that we could have liberty and live in communities. The Founders did not give the government the power to fund charities because that was a state and local issue dealt with on a much more manageable scale. I do not want to harm people, I simply see a different means to helping them rise out of suffering or poverty: in true Federal style, the states, and more importantly local governments, should determine their policies and funds for charities. This would diversify the way non-profits are run, but it would mean that the people in each state would decide which ways they want to "promote the general welfare."

    As an aside, one reason individuals cannot seem to muster up enough funds to run charities is because they are paying tax dollars for the Federal government to the funnel down a small portion of that money to private organizations, not to mentions thousands of other non-constitutional bureaucracies. And should people be forced to give to charities through government taxes? That seems to be an encroachment to their property.

    I know this is a long-winded response to your very helpful remarks, but I guess I have hope in the American people. I have hope that if funding for charities and poverty-stricken individuals was more localized, and a portion of their taxes returned to them, many citizens would see the need and meet it. Maybe this is a false hope, but I am not willing to give up on the generosity of the American people, yet:).

  4. “If you see charity, you see the Trinity”, wrote Saint Augustine in De Trinitate. The Trinity is the perfect model of a community of love. A true community (communio) is where love received as a gift from our Creator is poured out in abundance to the broken and the needy. Doesn't this include most of us? Aren't many of us in need of a "Good Samaritan" who offers healing love to hearts that have grown cold?

    In "Deus Caritas Est" Pope Benedict XVI writes that those who carry on true works of charity: "must not be inspired by ideologies aimed at improving the world, but should rather be guided by the faith which works through love (cf. Gal 5:6). Consequently, more than anything, they must be persons moved by Christ's love, persons whose hearts Christ has conquered with his love, awakening within them a love of neighbour. The criterion inspiring their activity should be Saint Paul's statement in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: “the love of Christ urges us on” (5:14). The consciousness that, in Christ, God has given himself for us, even unto death, must inspire us to live no longer for ourselves but for him, and, with him, for others. Whoever loves Christ loves the Church, and desires the Church to be increasingly the image and instrument of the love which flows from Christ."

    Government can provide social services, tax credits, assistance payments, "free" lunches and perhaps even contribute to the "general welfare." But, can it love? No. The national government should stop taking resources from some of us to give to others. This most often has a paralyzing effect on impulses toward true charity and reduces what we have to give.

    In gratitude for the tremendous love that has been given to us Christians will share with the broken, the lost and the lonely. Why is it important that we share the love we have been given? As John Paul II wrote: "Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. This…is why Christ the Redeemer 'fully reveals man to himself'".

  5. Brittany, your post and your comment are excellent. Thank you for this. Cindy, while I think it might be beneficial–in terms of numbers and cents (yes, i spelled it this way intentionally)–to have the government subsidize such things as your program, the question becomes one about soul and morality. If one is forced to help another–though the machinery of government–can one still count this as the virtue of charity/love in the Christian sense? The virtues seem to demand voluntary action for them to remain virtues. I'm thinking out loud here. . . . But, Brittany is right. When students complain about the government getting involved in such programs, I often–admittedly, somewhat flippantly–respond, "you're right, now why wasn't your church there taking care of it?"

  6. Good post. I wonder if it's the influence of some strains of libertarian thought at work here (perhaps the–sorry Dr. Willson–Rand factor). I've heard the arguments that Bill Gates is more charitable than Mother Theresa was, and I've occasionally heard the libertarian-inclined wealthy congratulating themselves on how their spending creates jobs and thus helps the poor more than any inefficient charity ever would. And for whatever reason, the Republicans are a little more associated with the get-rich philosophies that say that each person's misfortune is the reward for their lack of motivation or commitment to their own wealth. Helping those who are not unproductive members of society is not exactly a typical Republican ideal.

    Of course, that's using a broad brush. I would also not be surprised if Republicans tended to be more personally charitable, while Democrats–being largely statists–tend to lobby the government to the giving for them.

  7. Fabulous post. I am growing more skeptical every day of those who would build their own 501c(3) empires by promoting their own cause for the poor and down trodden. Many would use race as a means of "shaking down" those corporate or public institutions. They build their own power base and offer little for true change. Those social service power brokers pressure elected officials for public funding and the elected official campaign to those organizations for votes: An co-dependent alliance is born without regard to the effectiveness of the organization. We are now beginning to see the Executive Branch lean on those religious and non-religious social change organizations receiving Federal funding to carry its water for the "environmental gospel" and "gospel of socialized medicine" Money buys votes and votes buys money and the poor, needy are used as just another commodity of politics.

    Here is a well documented quote of Benjamin Franklin regarding poverty that is worth posting here. With apology to the esteemed bloggers here, I will post it.

    "I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I traveled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer."

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