One of the most well-known passages in the Bible is Matthew 25 where Jesus teaches his followers about charity. In this text, Jesus distinguishes between “sheep” and “goats.” On one hand are the sheep who are commended for selflessly serving those in need while on the other hand are the goats, those who are condemned for not caring for the naked, thirsty, or hungry. In a shocking statement, Jesus tells his disciples that how one treats the needy reflects their love for him.

Taking Jesus’ admonitions to heart, the Christian church has historically been on the front lines of performing charitable acts. However, recently the government continues to encroach on this space, expanding its role in providing a social safety net consisting of mostly large, impersonal programs. But instead of overtaking the important role of the church when it comes to practicing charity, the government should work to supplement and not supplant this vital calling of charitable organizations. 

Within the pages of the Bible, one can see many other references to the practice of charity. In fact, the word “charity” that is found in the Bible text is a translation of the Greek word “agape,” also meaning “love.” 1 Corinthians 13 suggests that charity is love when Paul writes: “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” The direct command to love and be charitable can be found in Matthew 22:39 when Jesus states that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Practicing charity by loving our neighbor is not only the responsibility of individual Christians, but of the church as a whole. Recently, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) echoed these thoughts on the Senate floor by stating that “as religious believers we know that serving our fellow citizens, of whatever their religious faith…aiding them, working for them, is one of the signature ways that we show a love of neighbor.”

This calling from Scripture has also been voiced by Christian leaders on Capitol Hill. Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) recently spoke about how non-profit organizations are a crucial part of our society during a Joint Economic Committee hearing on charitable giving. Churches and non-profits are the initial components of our social safety nets. Since churches and non-profits are often on the front lines of serving needy communities, they must take the lead when it comes to formulating public policy to address many of our nation’s social ills.

So why should the government allow the faith-based community and nonprofit sector to take the lead in this area?

First, the church and other non-profits have already proven that they can make significant contributions to society. Using a national survey of religious congregations in the United States, Duke Divinity School professor Mark Chaves found that 83 percent of congregations have some sort of program to help needy people in their communities. Religious organizations also provide approximately 35 percent of the country’s volunteer hours. Furthermore, Catholic nonprofits provide between 17 and 34 percent of all private social services, and, according to recent research by Brian Grim, President of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, religious institutions contribute $1.2 trillion to society and the United States economy every year, more than the top 10 tech companies’ contributions combined.

Even during the current coronavirus pandemic, the church and non-profits have stepped up. As Rev. Steve Woolley recently explained, “The important work of being Christ in the community, of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and healing the spiritually broken has continued through alternate pathways. Congregations have been able to funnel resources and time toward organizations like the Christian Aid Center, Homeless Alliance, Catholic Charities, United Way and others to see that needs continue to be met as best as can be done under the circumstances.”

Second, churches and non-profits can provide more well-rounded assistance for the people of the United States than the government at all levels. Churches and non-profits have the ability and means to provide more personal, one-on-one social services. As Pastor Gilford T. Monrose noted, “Each church can provide effective ministries and outreach services…” [filling] “a void only the church can.” Unlike many government programs that seem to just throw money at individuals or families, churches and non-profits invest physically, emotionally, and often spiritually in the lives of the people they minister to.

The government needs to supplement the charity work of churches and other non-profits, not supplant them. This is because of the church’s historic track record, the well-rounded services they provide, and out of respect for the call and command that Christians in particular have to practice charity. In the words of social welfare policy expert Michael Tanner, “We do have a responsibility to help the poor and those in need. That means taking care of them yourself—giving money yourself, giving your time, your efforts, not someone else’s.”

Connor Semelsberger, MPP is the Legislative Assistant at Family Research Council.

Jeremy Pilz is a Policy & Government Affairs intern at Family Research Council.