Are Christians Given A Pass In Collectively Urging Government To Aid the Poor?


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In Raleigh, North Carolina the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have declared “Moral Mondays” as thousands protest the actions of the GOP controlled legislature there after it threw 500,000 persons off Medicaid and restricted help for young children. Hundreds have been arrested in non-violent protests there.

In Madison, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and his remarkably morally resistant legislature have done much the same thing by passing a State Budget that will throw thousands off Badger Care and deny children the kind of resources for public schooling that they very much need.

In North Carolina, the NAACP has the backing of Black Churches in the State. Robert Daniels, Senior Pastor at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church said that legislators ought to know they are disproportionately hurting the poor. “I want them to know that justice will win,” he said. “God will show his hand that he’s for the poor. It’s only a matter of time.”

WISDOM, SOPHIA and other Wisconsin regional church coalitions have opposed the Wisconsin legislature’s actions along with Wisconsin Citizen Action. A strong motive for the religious coalition’s concerns about what Governor Walker and the legislature have done is strongly rooted in the many Biblical Injunctions to seek justice for the lowliest among us.

Conservative Republican Christian Evangelicals consider themselves to have no responsibilities to speak for the poor in the halls of power and restrict their charitable acts and giving to individual acts of kindness. While greatly to be admired it somehow seems less than meeting our moral obligations in this journey of life. Atheists and Agnostics who are fully secular certainly may feel that tug—a call to do what is morally right that goes beyond the individual atomized societal moral imperative to a collective community imperative.

As Governors and State Legislatures and even our President and National Congress and Courts have legal responsibilities to those who are governed by their own consent in a representative democracy, letting our leaders know when they have neglected the poor cannot be an immoral act or something that God or our ethics would forbid us from doing. If we simply say “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” and turn our backs we somehow have missed the full message of the great Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth whose ministry humiliated and humbled those in power in his own day.

Conservative Evangelicals resist and even decry collective action to help those who are in need. They must ask themselves if this is based soley on theological teaching or if political affiliations and their secular beliefs give them some sort of pass when it comes to government and what it does to or for the poor.

As has been theologically taught so many times, we can take one child after another from a raging river and consider ourselves heroic and moral. But if we ignore who is placing them in danger by throwing them into the river further upstream by the thousands have we really done all we can and should to help them? What if a dozen children are heading for the falls to their death? And we can act only to save one of them by our individual action. What if we paid a tax to collectively have a fire rescue brigade in place to help save all of the children? What if our elected leaders made a budget cut that took away this fire rescue brigade? Would we not have a responsibility to point out the danger and their responsibility in this case?

What if we demanded that those who have been given the moral as well as the Constitutional authority to govern us not do harm to thousands of those least able to help themselves?

The Prophet Isaiah had this to say to the rulers of Israel in his own day. And it is provided to both Judaism and Christianity how God views the responsibility laying on the shoulders of those who lead us or rule us: Isaiah 10: 1-2

“Woe to those who make unjust laws,
To those who issue oppressive
decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the
oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless?
What will you do on the day of
reckoning,
When disaster comes from afar?”

This split between liberal and conservative people of faith ought not give those who are conservatives a pass on what their leaders do in their name.

Our vote and our ability to petition government for a redress of grievances in our system–democracy– is something that is not Caesar’s to dispose of solely on his own.

Matthew Wilson, a professor at Southern Methodist University notes that the Roman Catholic Church as well as Black Christians support inclusion of a public solution to these problems. While on the other hand, predominately white conservative denominations “mainly clustered in the South” put the emphasis on personal responsibility instead of acting together and making public solutions part of what we do in regard to “the least of these.”

Each citizen in our nation has certain powers and responsibilities. Our faith suggests we ought to use all at our disposal to do right. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is famous for saying “the time is always right to do right.” And that moral part of us has even more if that is rooted in a system of ethics we follow or even more strongly in a faith in God.

Christians are divided about how to bring about justice for the poor. Christ’s example should provide us a guide as to the centrality of our acting on our own or in groups to do what is needed. Yet we live in a secular republic that does not have an official state church. We then may ask if our leaders we elect are somehow then exempt from the Christian God? What would a Christian say to that? What does Isaiah say about that in Chapter 10: 1-2?

Collective or communitarian action is not silly nor is it evil or socialistic. Barn raisings, Corn-husking Bees all the way up to the actions of our first responders and our Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) picking through the ruins of battered Moore, Oklahoma after a tornado all speak to the moral responsibility—the obligation of all of us to insist our leaders not leave out those in peril. What if our leaders voted to get rid of FEMA? Is that Moral? Is there not a moral imperative to do what is right?

Those who need Medicaid and Food Stamps and Head Start, Badger Care, a well-served Women’s Shelter with some government support all testify to the moral bankruptcy of insisting that our charity be individual and through charitable private organizations while our government with so much power to do good or evil makes decisions each day that might even rise on occasion to matters of life or death.

Can we say we will not employ every means at our disposal to do justice to the poor? The minds that God gave us and our hands and bodies and talents tell us emphatically that it is otherwise.

Struggles for Justice fully supports what is being done in North Carolina by the NAACP and raises the question why we are not doing such Moral Mondays here in the Badger State of Wisconsin when the need is so great.

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5 thoughts on “Are Christians Given A Pass In Collectively Urging Government To Aid the Poor?

  1. Jesus never lobbied Pilate to begin or increase the use of public funds to “help” those he came to save. He was too busy being scourged and murdered by a despot with absolute power over him.

    Our Constitution never established the ability or the obligation of any government entity to provide healthcare, sustenance, housing, or any other “need” or “benefit” for any person or group of people.

    The truly charitable among us don’t have to be asked to give, or blackmailed with hardship and prison, in order to assist those less fortunate. Excessive taxation is slavery and redistribution is legalized theft.

    • Editor: Struggles for Justice: J.F. Sistare: The Pharisees, and the Saudecees among Jesus’ own people who had a great deal of power and authority in league with the Roman rulers would beg to differ with you. John, the man who urged all to repent of their sins, was jailed and beheaded by King Herod. Jesus made a habit of leading by example. He usually favored breaking bread, an extremly intimate act for practicing Jews of his day, with whores, tax-collectors, and foreigners. He even called common and lowly and generally impoverished fisherman to help become the heart of the original church or Body of Christ. He behaved in a most insulting way by refusing to answer Pilate’s questions before going to the cross and he was placed between two murderers when he was crucified. Jewish religious and civil leaders in league with Rome were constantly rebuked for their inability to aid the lesser of these properly in the Christian Gospels. This in large measure made them suspicious, fearful, and threatend by Jesus’ dynamic Rabbinic teachings and ministry. We are not editorially demanding that only government aid the poor. Much of it must be private, personal and individual or congregatonal charity when aiding the less fortunate among us. But those who are given the responsibility by us to act for us must be held accountable for what they do for Christ’s beloved “least of these.” I respect your concerns about excessive taxation, and any kind of maldistribution of tax money but note there that the entire polity or political community that make up our town, county, state or national governments have an obligation to act with simple justice directed at a common humanity. For these reasons we feel that Christians do not have a free pass on urging government to properly care for the least of these. Along with food, shelter and clothing, aiding people to pursue and obtain gainful employment that supports themselves, their families, and recovers their dignity and self-worth is also heavily in the mix here. There are a host of ways for us and our immediate circle of the Body of Christ to urge those that we consent to govern us to do the right thing. That is all there is to it. Let us love one another as Christ commanded us upon his Ascension to the Father and not act in anger toward anyone.

      Dr. Thomnas Martin Sobottke
      for Struggles for Justice

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