You hear it all the time: Progressives care about the poor and conservatives don’t. Conservatives are rank capitalists who care only for money and what they can spend on their own families. They oppose abortion but care nothing for children after they are born. They oppose social programs because they don’t want to pay higher taxes. Conservatives would just as soon see people dying in the streets.
Well, it’s not exactly true. On an anecdotal level and as a man who pastored churches whose members were largely conservative and evangelical, and who has worked with people of other churches, I can tell you that evangelicals and conservatives are out there running food pantries and soup kitchens and giving money towards a myriad of social service organizations both Christian and non. And yes, they also support crisis pregnancy centers, which by the way, do not only “talk poor women into having their babies” but provide diapers, formula, counseling, and mentoring. And the largest non-Catholic and evangelical denomination in the US, the Southern Baptist Convention, has a massive Disaster Relief ministry that partners with the Red Cross providing thousands of meals through numerous RV’s including men armed with chain saws clearing roads and properties. On the whole as evangelical churches (and I should add Catholic as well as they are pro-life and pro-family) are more numerous than mainline Protestant churches…well, I think you can arrive at the conclusion on your own. And just to show progressive hypocrisy on this issue, the Obama administration in 2011 denied a grant previously granted for a program of the Catholic Church helping victims of sex-trafficking simply because the Church refused to refer those women for abortions. In other words, progressives are happy to have conservatives help the poor as long as such help is rendered according to their political and ideological demands.
But moving to a more “scientific” approach, a book written by Arthur Brooks in 2007 (Ph.D. in public policy and recently professor at Harvard Business School) entitled, Who Really Cares, explodes the myth completely. He studied four groups: non-religious liberals and conservatives and religious liberals and conservatives. He discovered that non-religious conservatives were the stingiest and non-religious liberals second stingiest—meaning that religion is the strongest indicator of charitable givers. But what did he discover after that? Which group was most generous? Not religious liberals but conservatives! And why is this? Because liberals/progressives tend to think that it is the task of government to take care of the poor whereas religious conservatives think that it is their own task to do so. And therein lies the difference between the two groups when it comes to treating the poor.
And is this not where we hear the most guff from progressives? “Why don’t you care about increasing welfare programs, Head Start, food stamps?” and on it goes. Well, because religious conservatives (evangelicals, anyway) want to put their money in places where the service will be given in Jesus’ name and not Uncle Sam’s—and there is a difference. We also believe in being discerning. The fact is that not everyone who says they need help needs help and it is precisely here that governments do such a poor job. In short, there is no accountability, too much waste, and downright fraud. Finally, a person who receives a welfare check from a vast bureaucratic machine has no one to thank; religious people provide faces who treat people with respect.
I might finally add that since religious conservatives both give voluntarily to helping organizations AND pay taxes, we pay double.
So, the next time someone tells you that progressives care more about the poor than conservatives, please don’t believe it. Myths die hard, but this myth is a lie from the pit.