Where should American Christians stand on foreign aid?

As an American Christian, I like to think I do a fair job caring for the world's poor -- those in my own neighborhood and those around the world who have greater financial need than I do. After all, Americans pride themselves on generosity. And Christians desire to be known for their service to others.

However, recent news (polls, studies, and political campaigns) suggest otherwise. How do we reconcile this?

Let me ask: Do any of the statements below resonate with you?

  • Americans think 25 percent of federal dollars go to aid.
  • "Aid to the world's poor" should be the first thing cut from the federal budget.
  • Americans who strongly believe that "God has a plan" for their lives -- as evangelicals do -- are the most likely to oppose government intervention on behalf of the poor.
  • Many Americans perceive our foreign-assistance programs to be ineffective and wasteful.
  • Aid is good, but it is not the government's job.

In an article posted today in the Wall Street Journal, Evangelicals and the Case for Foreign Aid -- and included in the Atlantic Wire's Five Best Friday Columns -- Rich Stearns, president of World Vision U.S., argues that providing funds for the poor should be in the interest of all Christians.

Perhaps the reality that poverty-focused aid makes up a mere 0.5 percent of the federal budget paints a picture of just where our priorities really do lie.

Washington is in an era of budget-cutting, so we frequently hear calls to shrink or eliminate U.S. foreign-assistance programs. In response, several religious groups (including my own) are highlighting how these programs reduce global poverty and hunger, saving millions of lives. But why are evangelical Christians largely absent from this religious coalition?

In a recent closed-door session on Capitol Hill, representatives from the National Council of Churches, Catholic Relief Services and Bread for the World met with several senators about the Senate's proposed reduction of $3 billion from last year's foreign-affairs budget. (The House would eliminate $9 billion.) The director of Church World Service, John McCullough, told reporters afterward that "responding to hunger and poverty is not a partisan issue…It is a moral issue that people of faith, across the political spectrum, agree upon."

This is largely true, but a Pew survey earlier this year found that 56% of evangelicals think "aid to the world's poor" should be the first thing cut from the federal budget. In September, a Baylor University survey found that Americans who strongly believe that "God has a plan" for their lives -- as evangelicals do -- are the most likely to oppose government intervention on behalf of the poor.

Read the article in full on the Wall Street Journal online.

Call your members of Congress. Ask them to oppose major cuts to the International Affairs Budget. There are few places in the U.S. federal budget where dollars translate so directly into lives saved.


    Mr. Stearns is missleading in several respects:
    1. Government IAD does not help the democratic cause in countries - historically it has helped dictators stay in power.
    2. He fails to address the main cause of poverty in the world: War, Government corruption and socialist policies that preclude economic development (just look at Zimbawe which went from a food exporting country to subsistance farming)
    3. you do not fight poverty effectively (i.e. long term) with handouts but with economic development and investment - for which you need the rule of law and economic liberty.
    4. The only program Mr. Stearn mentions is the AIDS program, assuming it actually save as many people as he professes, how many of those are still poor...let me guess..all of them.
    5. If Mr. really want's to fight poverty as such, he should find true sustainable economic development success stories and help promote those.
    6. I recommend that you read the bood Switch...for some good ideas.

    Before one utters "there are poor people right here in my neighborhood" reason for not giving aid or participating in mission work overseas...I suggest spending a week smack dab in the middle of El Salvador, Juarez Mexico, or among the urban orphans of Nairobi...

    Living, working, eating and resting in a third world country, doing the foreign aid work evangelicals are so willing to cut...will personalize the violence of poverty billions of God's children are born into. Extreme poverty is measured by ounces of water consumed on a weekly basis...around 4 of the 7 days a child living in extreme poverty will receive water...and it is most likely dirty. Children and women living in extreme poverty eat 4 days out of 7 per week. And not the pear, bleu cheese and chicken salad from Panera for lunch, mostly a cream of wheat type food with a vegetable. And that is it for the day.

    Unemployment in ElSalvador is 80%. Same as Kenya. Why? Why do only 20% of the population have jobs? What are the 80% doing? Eating and drinking? Can children go to school when their parents are starving and cannot give them food for 3 days a week?

    I pray for each person who dismisses foreign aid in favor of local charity to dig deeply into the mission fields of Africa, India and the Far East. Babies newly born, especially the girls who appear sickly or a slight defect, are literally thrown outside the village, left to die without health care, nursing or medicine. The male to female population in Nairobi is 8 to 1, little girls have very little value.

    Set down that remote with OnDemand tv, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity in Africa, El Salvador and work alongside organizations that slowly, laboriously are able to lift one person at a time out of the jaws of extreme poverty. Get out of the LazBoy..get going, now!

    Americans are not helping the poor in America...have you checked out how many HOMELESS there are ....on the street and tent cities???

    I feel wholeheartedly that it is not the government's job to support the poor. That is the job of the Church. As Christians, we need to shine the light of Jesus on the world through our time, talents, and treasures.

    The government is bloated and wasteful. I want our contributions to have the biggest impact possible, and to do that, we need to eliminate the dripping sink from the equation.

    There needs to be a paradigm shift from people being lazy and relying on the government to being motivated, hard-working individuals that, through the Church, are able to help the world.

    I wonder how you and others have come to such a conclusion as to believe that Americans are not helping the poor in America. We are flooded with gov't programs for just about everything/everybody under the sun. Food stamps, social security, WIC, WIA, Sallie Mae, and welfare. That's just in the gov't sector alone! Should I really need to speak of the thousands if not tens of thousands of private (church, humanitarian, and non-profit) initiatives that are currently in operation and helping the needy? When we look at the nearly insurmountable amount of need in some of the drought and AIDS stricken areas of Africa where there are literally 100,000+ who are not only homeless but without even enough food to keep their kids from literally starving to death, we should be shaken to our core to ever have any problem with our "Christian" nation helping to alleviate the suffering of so many needy people worldwide. Biblically, this is a black-and white subject. We either stand with God and the gospel in helping the suffering, or we stand in our haughty attitudes and pride of life with our feelings of self worth and sensuality while watching others literally starve to death spiritually and physically. This doesn't have to be an issue of helping either here OR there, but should be an issue of helping here AND there as we glorify God in our standing in obedience to His Word and standing/suffering WITH the poverty stricken around the world.

    Of course it is the job of Christians to help the poor in our neighborhoods, country and the world. That is our calling. But we obviously aren't doing enough by ourselves. I would welcome my tax dollars being used for such a worthy endeavor and believe most Americans would, too. That's something we can do to help in the world and overcome our tarnished image as selfish, greedy, and warmongering. I have read Rich Stearns The Hole in the Gospel and support 2 children through World Vision and 2 others through other organizations. I am a great fan of World Vision and have seen its good work for orphans in Zimbabwe with my own eyes in my 5 mission trips there.

    I wish I could be convinced that government aid from the U.S. to foreign countries to help the poor is used wisely. I don't trust our government to take care of funds, and I especially don't trust other countries to take care of the money. I'm not against giving to the poor in the U.S. or in foreign countries, but I'd rather I have the choice to choose where my own money goes, like to World Vision.

    A democratic-type (republic) government is incredibly efficient at mirroring the values of its constituents.

    What we choose to lobby for is an expression of what is truly important to us as a culture.

    I understand that our government is hardly a beacon of light as far as any type of good resource stewardship goes. However, this lack of displayed budgeting prowess is *not* consistent across the board--different groups are responsible for different funds, and so some areas are managed better than others. Those (USAID, etc.) who are fighting tooth and nail for even just the thin slice of tax "pie" are having to show a disproportionate amount of accountability, transparency and adherence to metrics for success to continue to receive even this meager funding. Because of this, they are driven to signifigicantly higher standards of stewardship because of having to fight harder for each drop and continuing to believe that it's worth the effort.

    I believe that the tax money being invested in foreign assistance is being spent very well from both an idealogical point of view (both as an end in itself and a means to the end of national security) AND and from an application point of view (the skill and dilligence in which that ideal is being put into action).

    Voting against foreign assistance seems to be counterproductive both for national security as well as for budget efficiency. I will include a quote from Amir Ronen:

    "Foreign aid is one of our most productive expenses in terms of return on investment. The few millions here and there can be chump change to us, but for the countries on the receiving end it’s a significant part of their income. The diplomatic capital we earn with that less than one percent expense is huge. With that diplomatic capital we can push our american economic interests when it comes to global trade. We can get better deals on imports and exports. But the most valuable thing we get from the soft power of foreign aid is the prevention of military conflicts and in the process saving American lives. So the immeasurable value of money and lives gained and saved through foreign aid doesn’t only pay for itself, but has better return on investment from any other US budgetary expense today."

    Even from a purely self-absorbed, nationalistic point of view it seems to me to make sense to invest more into foreign assistance. If you include humanitarian motives, there's even less argument.

    Total budget for foreign assistance was %0.2, or ~$92 per capita a year (less than half that we spent on carbonated soft drinks). Private donations represent an additional $36/yr. (http://www.cgdev.org/files/2852_file_US_ASSIST1.pdf)

    By our actions, we are communicating that we're a nation who cares more about fulfilling trivial personal conveniences than we do about developing and restoring the international community.

    Voting for an increase in the budget for foreign assistance is an active decision, not a passive one. It is choosing where I want my money to go, and how I want my government to prioritize. It's a decision that says, "I want my country to be better known for advancing humanitarian causes. I want to support the idea of a country who invests back into the international community. I want to be associated with a country who chooses to conclude that, as stewards of such incredible wealth, it is their responsibility to pour into the lives of others and set an example for other countries to follow."

    I personally want to be known better as a country for restoring communities instead of for leveling them.

    That's why I support an increase in foreign assistance spending.

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