Food Stamps or Jets?: An Installment of Faith & Politics

I live my life at the intersection of faith and politics; it’s where I’m comfortable.  If this intersection were a literal one, I would build a nice house (with a white picket fence, of course) at the corner and be perfectly content.  However, rather than being a geographic location, it’s a lifestyle.  I choose to live out my faith as an outward expression of the redemption I’ve found in Christ; I choose to live as a political conservative because the principles of conservatism have a track record of success.

KEVIN’S QUESTION
So, I always like it when people come to my intersection to chat.  Last week, during a discussion of the Rep. Paul Ryan FY2013 budget, The Path to Prosperity, an individual (we’ll call him ‘Kevin’) with knowledge of my political leanings and deep faith asked me the question, “Would Jesus prefer tax breaks for millionaires’ jets or cutting programs [such as food stamps] which help the poor?”  Kevin invoked a supposedly well-known scripture to ‘prove’ to me that ‘rich people can’t go to Heaven.’

Once Kevin discovered his weak arguments weren’t as resounding when cast upon the ears of the intellectual instead of his liberal buddies, he became belligerent and (as liberals tend to do) attacked my faith in Christ, questioned my church up-bringing, and ended the conversation.  Darn, so many things I had left to say.  It’s a good thing I have a blog and can still say them!  Rather than my views being expressed to him, I’ll share them with you.

THE BUDGET AND THE BIBLE
I’ll start with a brief review of Kevin’s position, both on the Ryan budget and the ‘rich people can’t go to Heaven’ scripture.  With regards to The Path to Prosperity, Kevin said that the food stamp program would be ‘cut.’  (He didn’t like my use of the term ‘reformed.’)  Kevin had on his blinders; he was looking straight ahead at the reduction in funding for the food stamp program, not at the totality of Prosperity, which goes further than simply ‘cutting food stamp funding’ and making Kevin’s ‘grandma eat less.’  Prosperity is actually a total financial overhaul for our federal government that enables people to go back to work, eliminating their need for food stamps, and reducing the number of people who are reliant on the program to eat.  This also makes the program more accessible to those who actually need the assistance.

But it wasn’t only the Ryan Budget that Kevin took out of context; he did this with the Word of God, too.  Kevin summoned from the Gospels that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  WOW!  When you look at that scripture alone, it’s easy to see how one would gather that the wealthy are all but condemned to hell.  But that’s not at all what the scripture is saying.  This quote (from Jesus) comes after a young rich man approached Jesus and asked what he could do to be saved.  Jesus began by telling him, and I’m paraphrasing, “You can’t do anything, only my blood can save you.  But you are to follow the commandments, and if you want to be perfect, sell everything you have, GIVE IT TO THE POOR, and come follow me.”  Scripture tells us that upon hearing this, the young man turned and left.  You see, it wasn’t the man’s wealth that condemned his soul to eternal fire; it was his unwillingness to follow Christ.  I will also note here that Jesus didn’t tell him, “Sell everything you own, give the money to Caesar and let him decide what to do with it.”

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
So that’s where I’ll begin my analysis and answer Kevin’s question.  I will lay aside the fact that the Bible consistently lists tax-collectors in enumerations of those we perceive to be ‘the worst of the worst.’  However, Jesus makes it clear that we are to pay taxes.  Several politicians were trying to provoke Christ when he told them flatly, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  As you can see, as dreaded as April 15th is, there is a clear biblical requirement to pay taxes that are due to the government.  But no mention of jets.

In his letter to the twelve tribes (the earliest churches), James wrote, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…”  The first letter of Timothy also tells us, as families and a church, to care for widows.  The Word is chocked full of scriptures about caring for the poor while the Old Testament book of Proverbs tells us that the one who gives to the poor will be happy.  This time, no mention of government.  (Glenn Beck recently wrote an excellent editorial on cnn.com about our charitable role as Christians and conservatives.)

Jesus told us to pay taxes, and we are told through Paul that we, as Christians, are to care for the poor, widowed, and orphaned.  But we also must look deeper.  When we do, we see that the idea of a separation between Church and State was not an idea novel to our founders; indeed, Christ makes that case when he tells us to give Caesar his fair due and God his, more than 1700 years before our 1st amendment was penned.

BRINGING IT ALL HOME
So, would Jesus favor a tax break for millionaires’ jets?  Well, He doesn’t say.  Would He have supported cutting government programs that assist the needy?  Again, He is silent.  He only tells us that the government determines our taxes, and that families and churches are responsible for caring for the poor, needy, widows, and orphans.  We revere the separation of Church and State in this country, and it is that separation that leads me to conclude that Christ would have remained silent on Kevin’s question.

As a footnote, I want to make two points.  First, if we are to maintain the separation of church and state in the U.S., liberals need to be consistent.  You can’t cry out for the separation when removing prayer from the schools of our children then turn around and invoke Scripture when it seemingly fits your nanny-state agenda.  Don’t be hypocritical.  Second, on the topic of the role of the church in the government, I say this: My view of what Scripture says is that there is a separation.  If you have a different interpretation, that’s okay; I respect that.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that when we disagree on menial matters, it’s not important to make a big deal of them because “Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.  So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”

12 comments

  1. To an extent, I certainly agree, Larry. However, as Christians, Scripture tells us that whatever we do, we should do it to the glory of God. Biblical morality should guide what our elected officials do, but without imposing the church into state affairs or, more dangerously, the state into church affairs. The Great Commission is to “preach the gospel [and] make disciples.” Christ didn’t tell us to use the authority of government or the power of our position to force people to convert. Coersion doesn’t get people into Heaven; only an authentic conversion of the heart by God makes them fit for the Kingdom. Thank you for your thoughts.

    1. Okay. Personally I think that the Bible is a terrible moral guidebook and should stay further away from state than the rest of religion, but that’s just my views. Thanks for your reply.

  2. Where do I start? It condemns homosexuality, it says that if a woman gets raped she should marry the rapist forever, it promotes slavery etc etc etc.

    1. You raise valid concerns. First, you’re right, it does condemn homosexuality. We were created by God to glorify Him and one way we do so is by being fruitful and multiplying. God created woman to be with man for this purpose. With regards to slavery, the Bible doesn’t promote slavery, but it also doesn’t explicitly prohibit it either. There are a couple of things to take note of: 1. Old Testament slaves were actually prisoners of war; they were not bought and sold as in the cases of modern day slavery. This practice would be akin to the old-school chain gangs, where prisoners were allowed outdoors but had to work in return. Also in the Old Testament, we have to acknowledge that God actually led his people (the Jews) out of bondage; 2. Christ changes our hearts over time. The Bible is an historical account of the way God works over a period of time. History has shown that as cultures converted to Chrisitanity, they actually began releasing their slaves. Scripture tells us, “Whoever the Son sets free, is free indeed.” On your point about a woman marrying her rapist, it is necessary to understand the context of this scripture. The verse says, “if they are discovered” during the rape (this term, in its modern definition, isn’t biblically accurate), the man is to marry the woman because Hebrew law would require that they both be put to death for their pre-marital sexual encounter. The marriage is actually to protect the woman from the Hebrew law that would have killed her. Also of note, preceding this verse is a passage about a man who rapes a married or engaged woman being put to death.

      1. Hi, thanks very much for your response. I actually found it quite informative (and enlightening). I am however very dubious of anybody who hates homosexuality because of their religious beliefs. It appears to me to be borne out of a lack of empathy. If you don’t know what it’s like to be gay, why would you insult them? I think to that regard, the Bible is being used as an excuse for immorality, which saddens me. In Christianity everybody is born with sin, but is it fair to say that some people are born with so much sin they’re worse than everyone else before they even get going?

        I’ll accept your explanation of the rape and slavery passages, which was helpful. Overall, thanks very much for considering my thoughts and responding.

      2. You’re very welcome. I do want to assure you that Christians do not hate homosexuals, we just condemn their sin, just like we do with all sin from murder to blasphemy to disobeying one’s parents. Sure, some extremists within Christianity “gay-bash,” but the vast majority of us love them despite their sin, and we condemn it because we do love them and want to see them brought into a right relationship with God. We all struggle with sin. I’m no different; I certainly have my sins. But it’s a matter of recognizing that we are sinners and that a just and holy God cannot look upon sin. Scripture tells us that He couldn’t even look upon His own Son during the crucifixion because Christ was taking our sins upon Himself. To come into a right relationship with a just and holy God, we have to renounce our sin, accept the salvation of Christ, and become a new creature in Him. That’s the long-winded way of me saying, God loves sinners but cannot accept sin in His presence, and because Christians love them and want them to spend eternity in the presence of God, we bring them to a knowledge of their sin. Hope this helps, Larry!

  3. Well, I find it offensive that you call homosexuality a sin – because, although I’m not homosexual, I am a human, and to me equality is important, and calling one sexual preference a sin over another seems like bigotry. But thank you for your reply.

  4. I’d like to address my view of “homosexuality” or any other “sin” you may wish to discuss.

    We are all on the path of discovering just who we really are. We are Soul, created in the image of God. God loves us because he created us, and more basically because God is Love, could do nothing less. We are not this body with all its infirmities and my in view, in this light, there is no such thing as sin. Yes, there are better ways to do certain things but the truth is, God’s law of sowing and reaping is what brings one to the “crossroad” to make a choice: ie. do I do this, or do I do that? The choice to do either is the perfect gift God gives us called free will. When one chooses “this”, it will bring certain experiences until one changes consciousness and then chooses to do “that.” When one chooses to do “that”, the same scenario in reverse takes place, until somtime experience will teach that perhaps neither choice is correct. So now what? Do we sit and do nothing? No! We make the best choice we can in this moment based on previous experiences until the day we realize that history is not the best teacher, but the Master within who can and will reveal all truth.

    The main problem I see with most of today’s religions (Christianity among them) is they do not teach people to go within to see the Light and hear the Sound of God. They teach about the Light or the Sound, but not both together. The Sound and Light together is the duality of this lower physical world and together they will bring one into alignment with the Holy Spirit. Until one turns to the Master within, and takes direct guidance from the Holy Spirit via the Master, truth will always elude.

    Just my 3 pennies worth. You are now free to make a choice, take it or leave it. Which ever you choose will bring you experiences. May the blessings be!

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