Rights vs. Entitlements
A faded sign in the window of a small storefront church near my home declares, “We offer a hand-up, not a hand-out!” A Salvation Army social-service center offers food vouchers; a stone’s throw away, the Catholic Worker offers a free clinic. Churches and church organizations have been in the charity business for centuries, so it’s hard to imagine a faith community of any denomination void of an outreach or assistance program. We expect it—and for the most part, we’re proud of it.
For decades, expectations for our churches have spilled over into expectations for our government. In early United States history, the colonies imported the British Poor Laws that ensured people would have food, clothing, and shelter. Throughout the 1800s, social programs like the Civil War Pension Program of 1862 helped struggling families. After the Great Depression, social-welfare programs came into their own as structured agencies—it seemed to make sense. Our nation’s greatness was predicated on how well we cared for our most vulnerable people. The idea bolstered the Great Society programs of the 1960s and early 1970s. We expected our government to care—and for the most part, we were proud of it.