Saturday, November 09, 2013

"When I feed the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why so many people are poor they call me a communist."

On my Facebook page this morning, I shared a post about an article on CNN's Belief Blog.  The story began with a description of a pastor of a Southern church talking about ObamaCare, and how Christians should be concerned about the people who have dropped between the gaps because of the refusal of Conservatively controlled States to refuse the Medicare Expansion part of the ACA.
McDonald cited a New Testament passage in which Jesus gathered the 5,000 and fed them with five loaves and two fishes. Members of his congregation bolted to their feet and yelled, “C’mon preacher” and “Yessir” as his voice rose in righteous anger. 
“What I like about our God is that he doesn’t throw people away,” McDonald told First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta during a recent Sunday service. “There will be health care for every American. Don’t you worry when they try to cast you aside.  Just say I’m a leftover for God and leftovers just taste better the next day!”
 The blog is very well written, and I shared it because I think it should be widely read.  It is a fairly balanced piece that covers the situation well.  It shows the concerns of both sides of the issue and tries to give an honest look at what both sides are saying.

I won't even try to recap that blog here.  It is done very well by a professional journalist I cannot compete with in the ability to do background work and research, combined with a well polished ability to craft the English language.  I don't have the time for research and don't write for a living.

So, I will use this story as a starting point for another part of the issue.

Well down in the piece is an examination of the differing points of view which examine the differing attitudes about just how the mechanics of caring for the poor might work out - is the government meant to be part of the solution or not?

Now, I am not going to try to claim any kind of theological insight.  I am NOT a trained theologian.  I wouldn't even get out of the Registration office of a Theological Seminary, much less into a class!

But it sounds like the argument goes like this.

On one side, Jesus said that it is is up to the individual to do what he can do for the poor, and there is nothing in the bible to say that the government should get involved.

Progressives, on the other hand, say that approach is ineffective because there isn't enough money in the private charity "market" to do enough good.  That it is unChristian to claim that the government should stay out of the issue even if there isn't enough to cover the problem.

Needless to say, I take the Progressive side, but I want to expand on the logic a bit.

Since this is largely an argument aimed at the religiously conservatives, let's concentrate on the biblical side of this for now.

Is it true that Jesus never meant for the government to get involved?
The Rev. Phil Wages, senior pastor Winterville First Baptist Church in Georgia and a blogger, was one of the few Bible Belt ministers willing to speak on the subject.
“I do not see any biblical precedent where Jesus ever went to Herod or Pilate and said you should be taking care of the poor,” Wages says. “Jesus told his disciples to take care of the poor and the apostles said the same thing to the early church.” 
Wages’ position is impractical and unbiblical, says Ronald Sider, a longtime advocate for the poor and author of “The Scandal of Evangelical Politics." 
Churches and charities don’t have enough resources to take care of an estimated 48 million Americans who don’t have health care. The Bible is filled with examples of God's fury over economic oppression of the poor, which Christians should regard as scandalous, he says. 
“If you are not sharing God’s concern for the poor, it raises huge questions about whether you are a Christian at all,” he says about pastors who say nothing about the uninsured poor. 
What I think folks Like Pastor Wages are missing is that when Jesus urged Christians (his followers) to care for the poor, he wasn't just talking to a nonexistent middle class.  He was talking to everybody!

Context, people, context.  At the time of Jesus (or the second century, when some say the Gospels were finally finished), governments were not democratic.  The government of a country consisted of a King, or a Warlord, or in the case of the Roman empire, a small group of very wealthy members of the ruling class.  The only known example of a program for feeding or caring for the poor administered by a government was where Rome fed the mobs of the poor in that city, and THAT was more a political ploy to obtain the political backing of those unorganized mobs of common folk.

No other "governments" had any kind of program to feed or care for the poor in the context of what we mean in this country today.  That IS one of the reasons the French, for example, overthrew their monarchy and cut off as many noble heads as they could!  They got tired of getting the scraps.

But should that matter?  No.  Jesus was, I am sure, even talking to the rulers.  There was nothing standing in their way to keep them from using their power and wealth to help the poor in their country.

Today, the context is different.  In large portions of the world, including this country, we have (officially, anyway) a democratic form of government.  That means the government is WE, THE PEOPLE.  It is US.

Nothing Jesus said precludes any kind of communal action to form a community based program to feed or care for the poor and unfortunate among us.  In fact, the first churches were formed into communities where people's wealth and efforts were handed over to the community at large, specifically for the purpose of caring for the less fortunate of the group!  The Epistles of Paul clearly show this to be true.

In short, the very first Christian communities were in fact, communes!  Their very purpose was to use the community itself to care for the poor among them, in keeping with Jesus' teachings.

Somehow, the Evangelical community in the US has lost sight of this fact of their very own history.

I would argue that the progressives have the right approach.

It is more efficient and powerful to use one single entity to guide and control the administration of assistance to the poor across the whole country.  The overhead is lower, the rules are standard across the entire country, there are no geographical gaps of coverage (the poor in rural areas are as covered as are those in the cities) and it is easier to catch and guard against fraud if one is looking at one entity rather than thousands!

Of course, none of this says there is any problem with private entities or churches or even private individuals handling their own responses and efforts on behalf of the poor they may see and encounter.

Remember, Jesus' teachings were for ALL to care for the poor.  Especially today, when we have a form of government that consists of  (theoretically) all the people, one can argue that those teachings and imperatives apply to the government also.

I think the word we should be using is "inclusive".  In such a rich country, everybody should be included in the gravy train.

Which brings me to the last point I want to make.

Another meme on Facebook recently is the point that if one is "pro-life", one shouldn't just care for the unborn, but for all life, especially those poor enough for their lives to be in danger because of that economic position.

A post the other day linked to a piece by MSNBC about Wendy Davis in Texas and her expansion of the words Pro-life" to mean exactly this!

This is what I am talking about.  We should care about every American.  We should care about all people and the welfare of all.  Forget the special circumstances of some to the detriment of others.  The concern should be for all life.

It would change how we do practically everything.

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