Welfare reform is in. Or at least discussions of it are in. The Reagan administration and Congress, Republicans and Democrats, all seem to be trying to outdo one other in putting forth proposals to change fundamentally the current welfare programs. In addition, books such as Charles Murray’s Losing Ground and Lawrence Mead’s Beyond Entitlement do not merely call for minor reforms that leave the present welfare system intact. Instead, they vigorously critique existing policies and go to the heart of the assumptions that underlie them.

Because the proposals and questions being raised are concerned with basic questions of purpose and direction, a host of essentially ethical or religious beliefs are constantly simmering just below the surface of today’s debate. In fact, there is much that is encouraging for the Christian.

The biblical values of work and family (even when not acknowledged as biblical values) are frequently supported. Lawrence Mead writes, “For recipients, work must be viewed, not as an expression of self-interest, but as an obligation owed to society.” Mead argues that when the poor accept governmental aid, they incur certain corresponding obligations to society, primarily the obligation to work.

Another biblical value supported by many recent studies is the family. Writers as disparate as Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Charles Murray criticize current welfare policies for their claimed negative impact on the traditional family.

Moynihan, Murray, and others assume that stable two-parent families are good, while illegitimacy (especially teenage illegitimacy) is bad. The thrust of current scholarship and journalism is simply to document the increasing incidence of the latter, especially ...

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