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.
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.”