Caught in the Cross-Fire

I find that I am tired of defending the position that Christians should be advocates for the weak, the poor, the oppressed, and the taken-advantage-of.  For me, this is a no brainer.  But I must confess that I err on the side of care for the underdog at the expense of those who have been given and enjoy much.  I have a very skewed interpretation of “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” and “Love the Lord your God with all your soul, your strength, your mind and your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  I think this means we should sacrifice from what we have to care for those who have less or not at all.  I don’t hear this conditional upon who deserves it, but just as a common principle.  Many people have kindly attempted to show me how stupid and irrational this kind of thinking can be.  And I have to admit they have a point.  Mine is but one possible interpretation, and I cannot impose it on anyone else.

I will not support people who are doing nothing to help themselves.  Taxes are Robin Hood robbery, taking from those who deserve to give to those who do not.  I am dead set against taxing the wealthy to pay for the poor who are too lazy, too ignorant, and too selfish to care for themselves.  Every person has the responsibility to make the most of their own life.  You don’t let people off the hook by making life easy for some at the expense of others.

The man who said this — a lay leader in a United Methodist Church — has the right to his opinion and no one has the right to tell him he is wrong.  But I am saddened by his position.  I believe it is based on some broad and erroneous assumptions at one level, though I will concede he has a point in some very specific, though rare, instances.  I agree that it is terrible that our society depends on taxes to demand that we care for one another.  I am sorry that some exploit the process to their own selfish ends.  I wish that it was not the burden of “the haves” to be forced to care for “the have-nots.”  Would that God’s will ruled our lives, this would not be necessary.  And those who have worked hard to gain excess for themselves — I think they should enjoy it.  I simply wish it were not so threatening to share it.

Ethnic minorities think they deserve special consideration.  They believe they are owed something by the fourth and fifth generation of people who took advantage of their great-grandparents.  They want a “level playing field,” so they want qualified white people to take a back seat, even when they are not nearly as well-qualified.  This is reverse racism.

The woman who spoke this was addressing a women’s prayer breakfast, and the audience of mainly white, upper-middle-class women nodded along with her.  And again, she has a valid point: knee-jerk tokenism is no solution to a long-standing problem and it actually exacerbates the problem.  Individuals, indeed, should be judged and assessed on their true, individual merits.  But the fact that we can’t do that is why the pendulum is swinging to its opposite extreme.  There hasn’t been a “level playing field” at any point in history.  Reality is a space of gross inequity, and those who have power tend to abuse power.  The desire to make amends is admirable, but naive and misguided.  Human nature is “ist” — sexist, ageist, racist, elitist, condescending and patronizing at multiple levels.  But to assume that those “with” should have more (or all) is ludicrous.  We are simply terrified of empowered people — because anyone who gains power does so at the powerful’s expense.

Faithful Christians should not be political.  They shouldn’t publicly support one party or another.

Generally, what people mean by this is “Christians should not support a position opposed to my own.” (…but don’t expect me to stand up for anything myself.)  The current political miasma in Wisconsin generated a widespread reaction.  The interesting side-effect of the whole “collective bargaining debate” is that anyone who defended the defenseless and less-well-educated were immediately lumped in with “liberals” and “democrats” to the outrage of compassionate Republicans and conservatives that rallied to support the poor and marginalized, as well as those in labor unions.  As one loyal Republican power-broker told me,

I think what Scott Walker is doing is ill-advised and almost evil.  At the very least he is mean and only cares about currying favor with his support base.  I never thought he would behave in such a clearly partisan way.  This isn’t politics.  This is favoring the “haves” and punishing the “have-nots.”  I have been a Republican all my life, worked in Republican politics, have lamented our shift to kiss the @$$ of the rich, but this is something else.  Walker isn’t a Republican; he’s a loose cannon serving a very small elite.

When leaders in your own party disown you, there is something else going on.  Compassionate Republicans abound.  They care for the poor and marginalized and they want people to be cared for.  In my experience, the great difference between truly caring Republicans and their Democratic counterparts is that Republicans want communities, municipalities and states to address the issues, while Democrats want “BIG government” to ensure it at the federal/national level.

No, what is divisive and troubling to me is not political, but moral and ethical — who should we care about and who should we care for?  Who are we responsible for?  Who is our neighbor?

In my theology — and I am owning it as my own, and nothing I expect others should share — the good of all is a high value.  Community — not just local, but global — is a goal to which we should aspire.  Human beings share a common journey — life is challenging.  Making it more difficult for others seems sinful to me.  Reconciliation, harmony, tolerance, and collaboration are the point.  If Christ is in us, then we are in a glorious position to deal compassionately and kindly with everyone we meet — even those with whom we most violently disagree.  Faith means we don’t have to hate anyone.  If we are confident in our relationship with God we don’t have to judge, insult, condemn, attack, annoy or despise anyone.  Any “spiritual aggression” from anyone claiming to be “religious” is just the hate aggression of those who don’t truly believe in what they say they believe.

If our God is love, the love is unconditional.  All the petty hearts and minds that want to draw dividing lines and create “us/them” hostilities simply don’t really get it.  We should be working together — even with those who don’t think as we do.  If we are truly convinced that our way is the right way, then other ways cease to be a threat, and we can walk side by side in assurance that others will come to see the integrity of our “way.”  I believe we are all responsible for everyone — from the havingest have to the most bereft have-not. I — and I emphasize “I” — think we do have a Biblical and theological mandate to stand for the have-nots — to defend those who are not able to compete on the uneven playing field that our culture creates.  I believe our neighbor deserves as much as I do.  I think everyone needs an advocate and a supporter.  The Holy Spirit of God is mine that I might be able to stand and be one to those who need support most.

13 replies

  1. Dan,
    I agree that we, as Christians, should take care of the poor and the needy. I am somewhat bothered by the way many of our church leaders want to outsource that care to others (i.e., the rich). They want to tax the rich more to ensure proper care for the poor. The rich pagan pays about 30% of his income in taxes. The government spends 60% of its budget on entitlements of which about 50% goes to help the poor (the 50% is a scandal for another post). Therefore, the rich pagan is paying abut 9% of his income to help the poor. According to the Board of Church and Society and our “social justice” advocates, this is not enough. It is pure selfishness that makes these rich pagans unwilling to part with more of their income to help the poor.

    Our churches are tax exempt. Let me ask you. Do most of our churches spend 9% of their incomes to help the poor? I rarely see it happen. [The UMC that I attend is a generous church and our pastor is excellent at encouraging giving. (We pay all our apportionments, celebrate many of the special Sundays, and have an active missions program, etc.) Our church may just barely pay 9% of our income to help the poor.] Therefore, while the government compels the rich pagan to give more help to the poor than most of our churches are willing to give, we stand on the sidelines and condemn the rich pagan as selfish for not wanting to give more. Does anyone besides me see the irony in this position? I would be much happier to see us get our own houses in order before we sanctimoniously condemn the pagans, who without the gospel and the Holy Spirit can hardly be expected to know better. If we Christians helped the poor as scripture commands us, we would put the inefficient government out of business.

    • I am of many minds on this. Travelling globally for the general church for many years, I am amazed at the American tax structure and how little we are expected to pay at all economic levels, including corporate rates. I am also a bit surprised at the lower levels of charitable giving at many levels — not including the church. I do wish the church had not abdicated many responsibilities for community care to the government, but that is where we are. What I truly wish for were a more holistic approach where churches, charities, non-profits, national and trans-national corporations and governments were aligned and supportive of one another while maintaining autonomy. In the big picture, there IS enough to go around. It is a matter of allocation more than supply. But it our current climate, polarization about “best pratices” differe greatly across our political spectrum, and open dialogue is hard. And it is getting crazier by the minute. I know a man who got his education through the G.I. bill, his first home through the V.A., is on medicare and medicaid and draws Social Security and he is against any and all BIG government; while a lifelong democrat buddy recently entered the six-figure-a-year income bracket and he suddenly has seen the light of conservative fiscal policy and has joined the Tea Party. We are a moving target where material possessions and personal wealth are concerned, and I don’t think a political solution is a healthy way to go. But we do it this way because we can’t think of any other way… And the church isn’t offering any viable alternatives. Jesus wept.

      • As local economies and the national economy are stressed by the recession and the debt crisis, we, as the church, do have the opportunity to step forward and fill the void. The question is, will we? I am encouraged in this regard by the public commitment of the Catholic bishops in Massachusetts to emphasize ministry to the poor and to focus there efforts on compensating for the effects of anticipated social service cuts. Perhaps we could take a lesson.

      • I hope so. We do well in response to a crisis; not so well ordering our lives around sharing in the face of ongoing need (the poor we always have with us…)

  2. We tend to forget that the church exists largely (or at least it should!) for those who are NOT members of it. Our care for those outside our congregations is a huge part of the work God would have us do (imho).
    “The worship is over, the service begins.”

  3. Dan………
    BINGO once again — and
    CROSS FIRE Indeed………
    Some observations……….

    At odds with the “if you don’t WORK you don’t EAT” (was that a Pauline utterance ??)
    and — the Scriptural Directive to Feed the Hungry, Clothe the Naked, Visit the Sick and Those In Prison”.
    HOW do we get Both/And out of these differing pronouncements ??

    As to JUDGMENT ……. we MUST remember that there will be ONLY ONE JUDGMENT — at the end of time when we ALL stand before our Lord Christ and account for how we walked the path to perfection and lived our Earthly Lives.

    BACK TO BASICS — BASICS — BASICS — my “mantra” for getting us — all of us — back on the right path !! (Shed the DROSS and focus on the scriptural directives/priorities).

    May God Have Mercy On Us All
    Lenten Blessings

    Todd Anderson

    • Study after study presents the same evidence — the percentage of the poor who take advantage of the system is infinitessimal. (The middle class in this country is the segment of tax cheats, fibbers on applications, giver of false or misleading information on surveys…) Paul’s admonition was to the workers of The Way — saying that an evangelist and an apostle had to earn their own support and not expect handouts. Even Jesus’ admonition that “the poor you always have with you,” was not an insipid instruction that we don’t have a responsibility for them. He was condemning the feeble attempt on the part of the disciples to use the poor as an excuse when it served their own petty purposes. The implication in Jesus’ teaching is that responsibility for the poor is a constant and continuous concern for those who claim to love God. There will be a much more severe and damning judgement for churches that congregate weekly to sing and pray and worship who are not giving at least as much time to the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, etc. OUTSIDE the congregation’s own membership. This places about 90% of our UMCs gnashing teeth in the outer darkness when the bell gets rung. May God have mercy on us all, indeed. Until we get “back to the basics” of caring for those outside our churches we are like the frog in the kettle as the heat gets turned up — happily ignoring our own demise.

  4. Dan,
    I have heard the same comments, both on my blog and after one of my sermons. The Bible does tell us what happened when people did not carry their share of the load but it also made it clear what we are to do with regards to those who cannot help themselves.

    And those who would do nothing and lay the blame on the poor are the ones who want to make sure that the playing field is not level.

    We live in a world that is, in my view, a copy of the world in which Jesus began His ministry. A world in which the rich and powerful felt that they were owed everything and could have everything while the rest of the population was left to fend for itself and were blamed for their situation.

    Perhaps Christ will be coming and we know who will benefit.

  5. Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you. I am a Republican and have voted the same for over 45 years and I absolutely hate what mister Walker is doing to people I know and love and I am so sorry I voted for him and I believe that this isn’t about who is a Republican or a democrat. If you love people then you care about them and you help them. You don not hurt them. You do not be selfish and say that they are greedy. A balanced budget is a good thing, but you don’t take everything away from people to make sure that other people can keep everything they have. I am a Republican because we believe in good and holy things, but what is happening now is neither good or holy.

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