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Franklin Graham’s Lament: Government Poverty Programs Take Money Away from Churches

by Rachel Ford James

It’s worth revisiting the bizarre interview Franklin Graham (R-NC) gave with Christiane Amanpour in which he came close to endorsing the Reality Show Guy, questioned Obama’s citizenship and faith — and made this historically revisionist claim.

A hundred years ago the social safety net in the country was provided by the church,” the Rev. Franklin Graham told Christiane Amanpour. “If you didn’t have a job, you’d go to your local church and ask the pastor if he knew somebody that could hire him. If you were hungry, you went to the local church and told them, ‘I can’t feed my family.’ And the church would help you. And that’s not being done.

Graham’s comments come as people across the country debate the degree to which the government should manage social programs including Medicare, social security and health care.

“The government took that,” Graham said. “They had more money to give and more programs to give and pretty soon the churches just backed off.”

Leaving aside the logic problems here (religious organizations have a huge financial incentive to give to the poor through the tax code; churches depend on charitable donations so if their entire congregations are impoverished, they are impoverished, etc.), Graham is making this nakedly partisan argument: everything was much better in this country before those liberals ruined it with their meddling programs.

But why wouldn’t a follower of Jesus be pleased that poverty dropped under the Great Society?

In 1964, 44 percent of seniors had no health care coverage, and with the medical bills that come with older age, this propelled many seniors into poverty. In fact, more than one in three Americans over 65 were living below the poverty line — more than double the rate of those under 65. Medicare was an important and big change in American health care — it was called the “biggest management job since the invasion of Normandy” — and it was up to John Gardner to make it work. He helped shepherd Medicare to reality, and the results have been extraordinary: virtually all seniors now have health care, and the poverty rate for the elderly has fallen to approximately one in ten — a rate lower than that of the general population. Along with Medicare, the Johnson Administration established the Medicaid program to provide health care to the poor.

I guess by 1964, churches had been sufficiently discouraged by the New Deal to provide adequate health care for old people. Or perhaps too many old people had become godless secular liberals who didn’t go to church.

In any case, someone might want to point out to Graham that by far the largest Christian denomination in America are Catholics, and the US Catholic Bishops enthusiastically support Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Also, many of the largest charities in the Philanthropy 400 are religious organizations, and probably wouldn’t like their efforts to fight poverty to be characterized as “backing off.”

Finally, if Graham is so concerned about the record numbers of poor people in this country, he can donate all of that $1.2M salary he makes running his dad’s business to help them.

Or is the government stopping him?

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