A Covenant to Care

In 1999, Presidential hopefuls Al Gore and George W. Bush and other politicians called for a revolution in welfare provision: expand the role faith-based organizations (FBOs) play in meeting needs and delivering services. Why the reformation? They contended it was because FBOs can do something that government programs cannot: They provide the spiritual and moral transformation that most welfare recipients require to become responsible, independent adults—independent from government support, independent from drugs and alcohol, and independent from the cycle of violence and abuse.

What happens then to government's role in welfare provision? The state becomes a "limited" partner, providing the funding and support for FBOs to do their miracle work, eliminating unnecessary bureaucratic red tape, and offering a strategic place at the policymaking table.

For most Christians, moving from a welfare state to a more caring welfare society makes sense of the biblical challenge to "love your neighbor as yourself." Christian social ethics provides further support in the Protestant emphasis on covenant community and the Catholic principle of "subsidiarity." The biblical vision of covenant community is one that fully values all persons, even the poor and powerless. This inclusivity is most clearly seen in those aspects of the biblical covenant that protect the marginalized and vulnerable members of society (for example, Exodus 22:21-27; Deuteronomy 24:17-22). Covenant also stresses mutual obligation and responsibility. Members of the community bind their lives together, entrust themselves to one other, and promise to care for each other. Therefore they have responsibilities to create a community in which all can thrive.

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