Today I’m guest-blogging at the aggregate site Forward Progressives. In “Religious Right Politicians Don’t Take Jesus Seriously” I argue that Religious Right politicians like to say they take the Bible seriously and literally, except they don’t when it comes to the passages about taking care of the poor. It’s a theme I’ve addressed elsewhere in this blog, of course (and that sometimes lands me in deep with them), but here I specifically focused on Matthew 25 and Republican Representative Conaway’s response to what seems like a pretty clear command by Jesus:
But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left…
Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me…
‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
So, again, helping the poor is accepting Jesus – is being welcomed into the Kingdom. Refusing the poor is refusing Jesus and his Kingdom. That, I was further arguing against Conaway’s objections, was never meant to be for or about individual charities – but about community involvement, as is pretty much everything else in the Bible. This passage is, after all, addressing nations and addressed to a group of people.
But this exchange was one short one in the House Agriculture Committee’s vote for an immoral and ignorant, and economically ignorant budget that would take 20 billion dollars out of SNAP benefits (food stamps) over the next ten years.
I also wanted to cover this second part from the House’s back and forth on the Gospels:
Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., then quoted a verse from the 26th chapter of Matthew, saying the “poor will always be with us” in his defense of cuts to the food stamps program.
Fincher said obligations to take care of the poor should be left to churches, not the government.
Fincher is probably a literalist himself – one who claims to take the Bible literally (which always means that some parts are taken literally while others not. It’s a selective sort of pan-literalism that isn’t very literary, of course). The problem with a politically unjust perspective is that it really, really doesn’t like those passages of scripture that contradict and confront its own injustice. The passage Fincher quoted was understood by its original hearers as a challenge for their complicity in the ongoing mechanisms of poverty. Yes, the poor are always among you. Why? What are you doing about it?
I’ll quote, at length, a previous blog I wrote on this very passage to give it its much-needed context:
The original quote is found in the book of Deuteronomy. Not one of the nicest books in the world, let alone the Hebrew canon. But it is within this passage where we discover that all servants/slaves must be released from their debt service during the seventh year. In fact, all debts are to be canceled on the seventh year (pretty outstanding, even by today’s standards). And it is here where we find this about treating the poor:
There need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.
If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. (Deuteronomy 15; NIV)
This isn’t just about a bunch of nice individuals. This isn’t just about being kind.This is to be a concerted effort by the collective people of Israel. In other words, “the government”…
If the poor appeal to the Lord against you….
I guess I wouldn’t want to be in Fincher’s shoes. But maybe he doesn’t believe in that God. idk…