I read an article in Fortune magazine about the Trump Administration that started like this:
The Trump administration wants to overhaul the longstanding food stamp program, replacing it with a box of canned goods that it has likened to Blue Apron—a high-end meal kit service.
On the surface this doesn’t sound like a big deal. If you’ve never had to be on Food Stamps, then you probably buy into the idea that people on Food Stamps abuse the benefit by buying beer and lobster, etc. You’ve probably heard horror stories about this.
Here’s the main stated reason why this is being done:
Mulvaney claimed that the change would allow the government to save nearly $130 billion over 10 years, as it would lower government costs because it could buy the products at wholesale prices.
It’s about the money.
I would argue that it won’t save money in the long run. The biggest reason is something I can’t quantify or point to direct evidence.
This gets into bigger issues than just feeding people. If that’s all it were about, then great, let’s do it more efficiently and save money and get people food. The only problem with this line of thought is that nothing is in a vacuum. Feeding people isn’t just about making sure they get food. We have to look deeper. Why is someone in such a situation that they need assistance in feeding themselves? It’s not a nice, simple solution to this problem. But we Americans are really good at just throwing money at a problem and thinking that if we solve the material want or lack, then all will be well.
Except that is not the case. The reason why government will never be able to solve hunger is because it refuses to see a person or family holistically. It refuses to acknowledge the non-material parts of a person. You can’t solve hunger or poverty or violence and focus solely on the material.
There is more to a person than the food they eat, the house they live in, and the job they get paid to do.
There are things that are not tangible too. Things that we can’t measure or control – but we can influence or create an environment where the non-material is allowed to grow and flourish.
The biggest flaw with changing the food stamp program to a boxed meal isn’t the fact that the food will be less healthy – that’s a material issue. That’s measurable and there is truth to that. There won’t be fresh fruit, veggies, or meat. It’s the fact that families in poverty are in poverty because, for one thing, they have limited choices. When we take away a family’s or a person’s choice in what they will eat, we are not empowering them to make choices for themselves. We are making them more dependent on others to make choices for them. Meanwhile we feel good about providing the material things they supposedly need – regardless of what they want or really need. We are dictating to them how they are to run their lives. The effects of this are not good. When someone’s choices are limited or they lose all their choices, it doesn’t turn out well for that person or family. That is not how someone moves out of poverty. That’s how they stay trapped in poverty longer.
This isn’t an argument to say that the food stamp program is great and works perfectly. It doesn’t. It doesn’t work effectively because it also is solely focused on the material need and ignores anything outside of that.
One of my all time favorite books is called “When Helping Hurts,” by Scott Corbett and Brian Fikkert. Here’s how they describe poverty:
Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.
pg. 62, “When Helping Hurts”
And their answer to what to do about it:
Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation.
pg. 78, “When Helping Hurts”
If our only goal is to make sure that people have enough material things, we will never relieve poverty or hunger or any other challenge we face because they problems don’t exist in a vacuum and go beyond the material.
There is more to people than just the material. And as long as we ignore this fact, we will not really be helping people. And we will all suffer the consequences as a result.
This is the opportunity for the church. We aren’t government agencies, and we aren’t like other non-profits. We should certainly work with these organizations – they can provide things that churches can’t. But churches can do things that government and non-profits can’t or won’t do – touch on the non-material side of life. We can touch a person’s spirit, their reason for living, their broken relationships, and offer resurrection – transformed life. That is what makes churches unique. We have the best news in the history of the world – a message of resurrection and transformation.
I’m willing to bet when we share this message, when we live out the message, when the message is communicated through the material help that we provide, then people will want more. They will want to hear more. They will want to be a part of community that lives our resurrection. They will want to experience resurrection.