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Lloyd Omdahl, Published February 09 2014

Omdahl: Churches not ready for love

In case you haven’t noticed, the Founding Fathers created a governmental system that is not supposed to work until we can mobilize massive agreement. With separation of powers, we have had modest gridlock for two centuries, so it was inevitable that we would end up some day with a political system that doesn’t work at all.

With the system disabled, people who have easy solutions for the tough questions need to step forward.

Right now, food stamps are high on the political agenda for both parties. The Democrats want more; the Republicans want less. It’s time for creative thinking.

As No. 8 in a family of 11, I learned a lot from the older Nos. 6 and 7 who were twins. Whenever we had a family event, they would get into this argument about welfare.

No. 6 argued that the government should turn welfare over to the churches. No. 7 disagreed, claiming that the churches wouldn’t do it. They both were right.

Since 77 percent of us claim to be Christians, it seems that we could approach this argument from a religious point of view.

In the early church, Christians sold everything and put it into the common pot to take care of everyone’s needs. This was godly communism as opposed to Lenin’s godless communism.

Given our inherent selfishness and greed, we defend our self-interest by alleging that God and communism are incompatible and that all communism must be godless. That permits us to unleash our greed. However, the Bible disagrees.

From Paul’s writings (I Timothy 5:9-11) in A.D. 63 – some 25 years after the launch of communal living in Acts – we find reference to continued church support for needy people. And it was a lot more than food stamps.

Today’s Christians would never let the church take over welfare. After all, we’ve already reduced the tithe from the 23 percent in the Old Testament down to 10 percent today and, after various exemptions, deductions, car payments, credit cards, cruises, sports tickets and eating out, we end up with only 4 percent for the collection plate.

(Please, atheists! This is no time to hit us with that great hymn of commitment titled “I Surrender All.”)

So let’s say that a church would decide to implement this radical “love one another” business. In order to be effective, more money would be needed than is available in the church charity fund.

It would take more than 4 percent to provide emergency compensation for the unemployed, or food stamps for the under-employed, or heating assistance for the freezing, help with medical bills, or other needs yet unknown.

In the context of today’s values, an attempt for the church to embark on such a program would look like sheer lunacy. We would rather romanticize the early Christians than be them.

And can you imagine the church budget meeting when the parishioners got to critique the list of recipients of emergency unemployment, food stamps and medical aid? They would likely suggest that we are just coddling a bunch of “no-goods.”

We would probably end up in the same kind of gridlock that we see in Congress. Most of us would just go to a church that required less money.

So Brother No. 6 was right. The churches should be doing more of what government is doing. Brother No. 7 was also right. Churches won’t do it.

Here’s my solution. Instead of trying to emulate those radical early Christians who surrendered all, I propose that we have a food drive once a year. That would be a compromise even this Congress could find acceptable.


Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@q.com