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NEW FARM BILL REQUIRES WORK FOR FOOD ASSISTANCE: IS IT JUST?
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, last Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a new farm bill. Now, a lot of people don’t realize it, but the farm bill also includes food stamps or, known by its new name, the SNAP Program.
In the latest version of the bill, passed by the narrowest of margins — 213 to 211 — all Democrats opposed the bill and the reason why, Harry, is many say they oppose it is because there are new work requirements in this bill. The measure requires participants to work 20 hours per week or enroll in job training if they’re going to pick up what was traditionally known as food stamps. Now, there are exceptions for this for those that are disabled, for youth and other exemptions that would allow some people to get around these requirements.
Harry, my question for you is this: what is the Biblical approach to assistance, what is the Biblical approach to work and how do these two come together?
DR. REEDER: Tom, given the fact that they had the appropriate exemptions — if someone is disabled, unable to work or underage to work and is in need of the assistance — given those exemptions, the fact that you have a bill that is encouraging people to go to work at least 20 hours, part-time, or to be enrolled in a job training or job search process, I find that extraordinarily appropriate and good governing. It astounds me that almost one-half of the Congress would vote against that.
There must be something I am not seeing, but we’ve gone over this bill and the exemptions are there to take care of those who are incapable of work and the fact that you are trying to get people engaged in the workforce is a positive because work is not punishment and work is not something to avoid, but work is something to embrace.
THE IMPORTANCE OF WORKING FOR YOURSELF IS LONG-KNOWN
I remember the comments — I won’t name who, but three personages out of the Civil War — and one of the critiques of slavery that all three of these leaders had was that it was built upon the false assumption that happiness is found in oppressing and forcing and impressing other people to do work for you.
You say, well, what about hiring people? Yeah, you hire people to create work — you don’t hire people to do work for you, but you hire people to create work for them but you’re still supposed to be working. That’s why you can hire somebody because you can now pay them.
WORK WAS GIVEN BY GOD BUT THWARTED BY SIN
All of this is predicated upon the fact that work is not a part of the curse and work is not something to avoid, but work was built right into the creation week when Adam and Eve were made and God gave them what we call a “creation mandate” to subdue the earth — that’s work — rule over the creatures and the creation — stewardship of God’s creation, the home he made for us, that’s work — and then, of course, to be fruitful and multiply and that’ll lead to work when you start raising children. Work is good.
Now, the curse of sin brought frustration, sweat, thorns, briars and complexity, and consequences of the curse of sin upon work but work is not a curse. There is the curse of sinful consequences within work, but it is not work that is the curse. That’s something good. It contributes to self-respect, it contributes to creation of wealth, it contributes for others as it creates jobs for other people when you do a job and you do it rightly. It also contributes not only to your self-respect to your self-engagement and appropriate view of self-esteem that you’re made in the image of God and not only can you work, but you can work with purpose.
WORK CAN (AND SHOULD) BE WORSHIP
And then, ultimately, with the Gospel, we can teach people to do work as worship. You know, work as worship gave rise to a statement in our society called “professional.” What does the word professional mean in its origins out of the Reformation? Well, here was the notion that Calvin, Luther, Knox and others said this: all work is sacred if it is worthwhile work and done worthwhile. And work is a subset of worship — an instrument of worship. Do your work heartily unto the Lord. Therefore, the way you work becomes a profession of your faith so do it with excellence.
“Oh, that guy’s a professional,” meaning he does it with excellence. And when you say to someone, “He’s a professional. He does it with excellence,” that was a compliment out of the Reformation meaning his work honored the Lord and it was an act of worship. “Whether you eat, drink or whatsoever you do, you do them to the glory of God to honor him.” That is something that is of excellence.
Therefore, the bill, I applaud its promotion of work. I also applaud the fact that we have a mechanism of mercy for those who can’t work or those who are in the process of finding work and are demonstrating that process.
IN ANCIENT ISRAEL, A SIMILAR SYSTEM WAS IN PLACE
That is exactly what was happening in Israel. In Israel, if someone was unable to own land and harvest a crop to take care of themselves and to feed themselves and others, then Israel had three definite steps available for them.
The first step, if you owned land, you were called to obey this commandment from the Lord, “Leave the gleanings.” What does that mean, leave the gleanings? Well, that means, when you’re bundling up your harvest, whenever you bundle something, something’s going to fall out. Count that as the providence of God for people who don’t have land or maybe who are not capable of planting and harvesting but they can come out and pick up the gleanings. Notice they are unable to do full work, but they can do some work. They can’t plant and harvest — they don’t have strength or the ability to do that — but they could pick up gleanings. Therefore, you don’t just go hand it to them, but you leave it on the ground so they can pick it up and actually do some work even though mercy is being provided.
Another thing that was stated is, when you harvest, leave the corners of your field — don’t harvest the corners. Well, there are some people who don’t own land and they can’t plant and they can’t do a full harvest, but they could harvest a corner so leave that corner and let them harvest — see, they’re doing some work. You have made a provision for them because they’re incapable of doing the full work so you’ve made the provision for them.
And then the third thing that they would do is you would always have a relative who could be a kinsman redeemer who could take care of someone who could not provide for themselves so the kinsman redeemer was there. Now, by the way, also, the refuge cities were a place that they could flee to until they could “get back on their feet” as well.
Notice how all of the mercy provisions made also a provision for the blessing of work and the blessings that come from work. If someone was incapable of any work, get to the temple or someone could go to the temple for you and the priest had the storehouses from which they could administer to those incapable of work. Go and place yourself at the temple and people would give alms of mercy to you as well.
There were multiple ways to help those who could not work at all but the primary means of helping people was not simply to give them something, but to create a way for them to work. Avoiding of work is a pagan virtue, not a Christian virtue.
CHRISTIANS TURN A CREATION MANDATE INTO A REDEMPTION MANDATE
Christians embrace work as a creation mandate and, because of redemption, they change the creation mandate into a redemption mandate and make work an act of worship so that they do their work heartily unto the Lord and not only create jobs for others by the way they work but take what they have and make sure they’re providing for others in their family and beyond through the tithe, and the offerings, and the alms gifts and creating jobs for people.
How can we not only give if they are incapable of work but how can we create some work and use that as a transition in their life as they move into a full-time vocation through training or applications for jobs? I see this as a wonderful and positive bill because it responds to people in distress but it responds by encouraging and facilitating the blessing and virtues of work, not avoiding it or counting work as a curse.
AND ALWAYS REMEMBER THE DIVINE WORK CHRIST HAS DONE FOR US
Praise God for the work that Jesus did. Here we are in need of mercy and what did He do? He shows us mercy by going to work and then He does a work for us to save us. Then He works in us so that we can now work, not for our salvation, but we can work for our Savior in every arena of life.
Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.
This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin, editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News, who has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and whose work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.