The poor in America (whoever exactly that is) have many friends in Washington D.C. But that is part of their problem. When your friends are powerful and aggressively well-intentioned but unwise, you don't need enemies.
Consider poor unwed mothers. In the name of helping these (in some cases) unfortunate people, congressional friends of the poor established Aid to Families with Dependent Children. This federal program gave cash and housing benefits to poor single mothers. Perversely, and as a consequence, the program unintentionally encouraged foolish young girls to become single mothers at state expense. As a consequence, their numbers swelled. It brings to mind Ronald Reagan's quip, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"
The evangelical Christian community has its own supply of these political Calamity Janes. When the Republican-led Congress and President Bill Clinton passed welfare reform in 1996, which has since liberated masses of poor people from intergenerational welfare dependency, they faced loud opposition from the Christian anti-poverty organization Sojourners. The organization's founder and CEO, Jim Wallis, speaking for "compassionate Christians," called the reform "a great national sin."
In the 15 years since that lesson in what works and what doesn't, nothing has changed on the left. In the midst of a debt crisis of historic proportions that threatens to downgrade our creditworthiness for the first time since the Revolution (no, it was not the debt-ceiling debate that raised this threat), Wallis, that softhearted man with perennially bad judgment, has called church leaders into a "Circle of Protection" for the poor against any cuts in entitlement spending.
Thankfully, the poor have friends who are not only friends from the heart but also from a properly instructed head. They are friends not only affectively, but also effectively. This most recent parading of well-meaning but tragically counterproductive concern for the poor has provoked an evangelical counter-statement that Marvin Olasky wrote about yesterday: Christians for a Sustainable Economy. This group (which includes Olasky as a signer of its letter to President Obama) objects that the Circle demands big government and "federal welfare programs that are often ineffective-even counterproductive" as though they were simply restating what God has clearly said in Scripture:
"Contrary to their founding 'Statement,' we do not need to 'protect programs for the poor.' We need to protect the poor themselves. Indeed, sometimes we need to protect them from the very programs that ostensibly serve the poor, but actually demean the poor, undermine their family structures and trap them in poverty, dependency and despair for generations. Such programs are unwise, uncompassionate, and unjust."
Lord, deliver the poor from their enemies (Psalm 35:10) . . . and from not a few of their friends.