A Clergyman's Security (1957)

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In 1957,
ministers were given the option of joining the Social Security program.
Ministers are still allowed to opt out during the second year of
their ordination, but only
if they opt out for moral objections
. This essay was written
as a warning to ministers from a minister. Opt out. The issue is
moral. ~ Gary North

Editor’s
note: In a transmittal note, the Reverend Mr. Mahaffy, who has served
since 1945 as a missionary of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in
Eritrea, East Africa, explains that his views about social security
have grown out of a long correspondence with a group of ministers.

“Most of
us have been trained in theology,” he says, “but have given very
little thought to the relationship of God’s law to the Welfare State.
It is my conviction that only as ministers realize that these problems
are basically questions of Christian morals, will they give enthusiastic
leadership to help guard our God-given freedoms. I have written
this article in the form of an Open Letter to Fellow Clergymen in
the hope that it will contribute to that end.”

By next April
those of us who have not already entered the federal social security
scheme will have to decide whether or not to enter it. The decision
once made is irrevocable. Most of our parishioners have no choice.
They are forced by law to enter the plan. Ministers who have not
yet entered the plan have until April to decide whether or not they
will participate. Clergymen near retirement age will probably gain
financially by entering. Others with large families feel that social
security provides good insurance for their wives and children –
an insurance that they may not be able to afford otherwise on their
small salaries.

It seems evident
that from the standpoint of sound economics, appearances of getting
something for nothing to the contrary notwithstanding, social security
is bound to be a poor investment. Other forms of investment bring
far better returns from the simple fact that the money is being
used creatively and realizes a profit. The taxes paid to the government
as social security taxes, on the other hand, are currently spent
and not invested profitably. Economists, however, can demonstrate
the financial unsoundness of social security as an investment far
better than I can.

To clergymen
whose field is theology and not economics, the question arises as
to whether there are any other criteria by which we can decide whether
or not to enter this plan. Is the matter in any way related to morals?
Is it related in any way to the laws of God? If the issues involved
are moral ones, then we, as clergymen, ought to be able not only
to decide for ourselves but also to give leadership to others who
look to us for guidance in the realm of morals.

In the brief
compass of this letter I can touch upon only a few of the ways in
which the social security scheme violates the moral law of God.
The moral law of God is succinctly summarized in the Ten Commandments.
The Christian belief is that disobedience to these commands of God
constitutes sin.

“Thou Shalt
Not Kill”

One of the
Commandments in God’s moral law states, “Thou shalt not kill.” Are
we not agreed that this command forbids not only overt acts of murder
but all coercion and violence except for the restraint of evil?
I once had the unhappy experience of being robbed by a group of
armed bandits. When argument failed and the gun of one of the bandits
was waved at my head amidst threats to myself and family, I met
their demands and parted with the little money I had on hand. These
particular bandits were probably men of less material possessions
than myself and their act of violence made for a greater equality
in our status. But even so, did that justify their act? All of us
would agree that it did not. But is there any difference from the
point of view of morality, in the government, under the cloak of
legislation, forcing its citizens to pay social security taxes
in order to help provide for the aged? Is this act of coercion on
the part of the government any less a violation of the command of
God than the above act of the bandits?

The government
through its social security legislation uses force as a means to
its ends. Can coercion on the part of the government except for
the purpose of restraining evil ever be countenanced by the Christian
citizen as in accord with God’s law? Compulsory taxation by the
government for any other reason than to obtain funds for the proper
function of government cannot be sanctioned as in accord with the
moral law.

The government
also through this legislation uses compulsion to retire people at
the age of sixty-five. It would be hard for the most enthusiastic
advocate of the Welfare State to justify such compulsion as in any
way in accord with the moral law of God. The prohibitions of the
moral law as it relates to man’s relationship with man gives the
individual freedom except to harm or do evil to others.

Coercion to
retire at a certain age and compulsion to support so-called “charity”
schemes of government are quite opposed to the command that forbids
the use of force except to restrain evil.

“Thou Shalt
Not Steal”

Another one
of God’s commands in the moral law reads, “Thou shalt not steal.”
Stealing is in violation of the moral law whether done by a bandit
with a gun or by the State under the cloak of legislation. Stealing
is no less theft if the money is used for benevolent purposes than
if it is used for evil purposes. The social security tax is a way
of taking money from one taxpayer in order to give it to another
person or group. It is the robbing of Peter to pay Paul.

Our Lord gives
us a fuller application of this Commandment in His parable of the
talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Here Jesus teaches thrift and a wise
use of money. It is a sin for one to waste, destroy, or not to make
good use of his material possessions. The law of God, however, is
just as mandatory for the State as for the individual. The taxes
collected for social security are being currently spent by the government
rather than invested to bring a profitable return. This is certainly
poor stewardship. The State has no more right to be careless with
public funds than the individual does with his own money.

The government
under the social security legislation assumes financial obligations
for those retired over sixty-five years of age. The funds collected
for this purpose fall far short of the amount the government is
obligated to pay. The government, however, can and does meet its
obligations by its monetary policies that inflate the currency.
So while actually paying the number of dollars promised, the real
value of the dollars is so reduced that the recipient receives far
less than he had reason to expect from the promise of the government.
Can this in any way be justified on the basis of God’s command,
“Thou shalt not steal”?

“Honor Thy
Parents”

Another one
of God’s commands in the moral law reads, “Honor thy father and
thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord
thy God giveth thee.” One can hardly properly fulfill this command
by turning over the care of his aged parents to the State. There
is none of the warmth of filial love and devotion in government
“charity.” Charity according to God’s Word is always voluntary.
Children are to care for their parents as an act of love and gratitude
to them. The New Testament teaches that the Church through its deacons
is to care for those otherwise neglected. Nowhere in the Bible is
charity looked upon as a work of the State. To turn this work over
to the State is to deny to individuals and the Church their God-given
responsibility and privilege to care for the needy.

A notion prevalent
today even among clergymen is that since individuals are not as
charitable as they should be, the State must by taxation and schemes
of “charity” make up for this lack. History refutes the notion
that “charity” of the State ever leads to anything but injustice
and tyranny. Give the State the power to administer “charity” by
force and you have taken the heart out of charity. Even worse than
that, you are saying that the State is not subject to the law of
God as individuals are. Charity is certainly a Christian obligation.
However, the obligation that men have to their elders and others
is one of love, respect, and voluntary assistance in times of material
need. There is no such thing as charity by force.

The Morality
of Social Security

The whole question
of social security is in its very roots a moral one. The choice
which faces us as clergymen ought not to be a difficult one to make.
We are leaders in spiritual matters. Christian morality relates
to every phase of man’s life and also to the State. Do we not forfeit
our right to speak on matters of morals if, when given the freedom
of choice in a matter that involves obedience to the laws of God,
we choose to disobey God for some hoped-for material reward or for
some other reason? Let our voices be heard clearly against all sin,
be it the sin of individuals directly or of individuals through
their elected representatives in government. As for me, I feel
that I must set an example of respect for the law of God by choosing
to stay out of this government scheme that is opposed to God’s law.

Published
originally in The
Freeman
(Feb. 1957).

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