Author: Michael W. Dewar, Sr.
Executive Director, Dwelling Place Cleansing
The term “freeloaders” is often used as a label for people receiving public assistance. Because of their financial situation they are unable to pay taxes. As one who still holds a Master’s Degree and license in Social Work and have worked with these so-called freeloaders for thirty years, I think I am uniquely qualified to say something on the subject. But, it may be helpful to first define the term, freeloader.
The digital edition of the Collins English Dictionary defines freeloader as “a person who habitually depends on the charity of others for food [and] shelter” among other things. Webster defines what it is to freeload: “to get or ask for things (such as food, money, or a place to live) from people without paying for them.” Or “to impose upon another’s generosity or hospitality without sharing in the cost or responsibility involved…” When the term is used in the context of taxes and government assistance, it connotes a negative attitude against those receiving assistance. Public assistance programs are designed to help the very poor and those fallen on hard times. Let me make three points concerning this attitude.
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First, from whence is the American social welfare system? It actually grew out of the complex of the British poor-law system. Back then, they divided the poor in two groups: the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. The deserving poor were individuals with no family support and had serious disabilities that precluded them from working. The undeserving poor were largely able-bodied people; people who for one reason or another, fell on hard times and needed help. The rich held onto their money, and the institutions of government were not inclined to help, so many resort to begging, pillaging or stealing. Poor children were not valued. They were exploited in work houses. Orphanages were awful and even brutal. The novel and movie Oliver Twist give a real backdrop to the plight of children then.
But as bad as that society was, people had a half-hearted compassion for the so-called deserving poor. In our 21st century world America, there are certain people groups that want to continue divide the poor into deserving and undeserving. Still others say, they are all freeloaders. One former presidential candidate was caught saying that forty-seven percent of the population are freeloaders (yes, that is what he meant).
I am prompted to ask, what have we that we did not receive? When you see a poor, homeless, hungry person, what do you do? Do you say, Gee! Let me see if he is deserving or undeserving of my help? Or, do you clutch your pocket-book and say, I am a tax payer and there goes another freeloader? We tend to hold on to stuff as if we brought them into this world with us, and we are going to take them with us on our departure. The fact is—we are just tenants and stewards for the years of our lives. Scripture reminds us, “God loves a cheerful giver” (1Cor.9:7). “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal.6:7). In everyday vernacular, what goes around, comes around.
Second, the concept and practice of a society catchment net to help the poor actually goes back to the giving of the Torah. That is the first five books of what Christians called, the Old Testament. The society of ancient Israel largely got its living from agriculture (including cattle farming). Land owners were people of means. Many of them were the rich and powerful of society. The divine directive given to farmers in consideration of the poor was: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God” (Lev.19:9-10; 23:22). The poor: fatherless, widows, and the stranger (alien) were the most vulnerable of that society, and provision was made in the law to protect them (Exod.22:21-24; Deut.10:17-18).
If you take the time to read the parenthetical references in the preceding paragraph, you will see the heart of the Divine. He stands as defender of the poor. He is the Creator and the true Owner of everything we think we own. He gave laws for the fair treatment of the poor. The law may be ancient but the lawgiver has not changed (Mal.3:6). In fact, Western jurisprudence is largely built upon the Hebrew Bible. Society has largely grown into great industrialized cities, but the concept of helping the poor remains. It is a divine requirement. Individuals and societies that refuse to help the poor, run the risk of becoming poor themselves. Given the globalized economy, you can be rich today and poor tomorrow. But there is another force called, nature, that can take our stuff and reduce a community to rubbles overnight. The uncompassionate treatment of the poor is dangerous business. Their defender is strong, and he is watching and listening to see how compassionate we are to our fellow human beings.
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Finally, we will all be judged on the basis of how we treat the poor, according to Matthew (25:31-46). You owe it to yourself to read these verses carefully; it tells you what’s coming. The verses actually have to do with the judgment of nations. It will take place shortly, at the very end of this age. When you read it, take note of the expression, “whatever you did [or did not] do for one of the least of these, you did [or did not] do for me.”
Our treatment of the poor has eternal consequences for individuals and all of society. The few people who abuse the public assistance system have their day of reckoning coming too, but don’t allow them to cause us to close your bowels of compassion toward the poor. The vast majority of people who ask for public assistance are not freeloaders. They are fellow-citizens that have fallen on hard times, and social justice demands that we provide help until they can help themselves.
Author: Michael Dewar, Sr.
Executive Director, Dwelling Place Cleansing