Refusing to Recognize the Realities of Poverty by Thomas Martin Sobottke Struggles for Justice: “Speaking for the Voiceless, Protecting the Vulnerable.”


Michelle Goldberg wrote a fine piece for the Nation recently on the GOP’s denialism of poverty. It is sadly true that the present day Republican Party actually intentionally misunderstands poverty. It is a denial of the truth that is disquieting. While the Democratic Party does not do all it might for the poor, that party has in truth openly fought against cuts to Food Stamps and other programs dealing with children and the working poor.

WE now suffer the largest number of homeless in New York City since the 1970’s, 1.2 million homeless school children, a seven percent cut in Food Stamps where before the cut each meal worked out to $1.49 and 1.3 million just cut from unemployment insurance when there is one job for every three applicants and entry level retail jobs do not support a family and cannot.

Two Republicans, Tennessee’s Stephen Fincher and North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer have cited II Thessalonians 3:10 to support significant cuts to Food Stamps, a program that in each household 67% of the time that household has at least one person working but that cannot earn enough for their basic needs and with family members who are little children or people with a disability. In citing the Holy Bible they reveal themselves to be Christian men, Disciples of Christ. The two men say it is written in the Holy Scriptures and so it is: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command. Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.”

This would at first seem a command from God or Jesus the Christ as he taught on Earth that we should not care for the poor or hungry if they refuse to work.

It is astounding to liberal Social Justice Christians who read the very same scriptures how utterly taken out of context this scriptural passage is. It stands in stark contrast to so many biblical commands that tell us otherwise. Consulting several study bibles I own, and Nave’s Topical Bible that the Rev. Billy Graham recommends using and did use when he was in active ministry, I found so many but just two made things plain.

The Common English Study Bible’s theological team anticipated this misunderstanding putting in on page 401 of the New Testament this: II Thessalonians 3: 8-12 “Christians should imitate Paul’s work habits of I Thessalonians 2:9, 4: 11) The emphasis isn’t refusing to care for those who can’t work but promoting the attitudes found in 1 Thessalonians 4:11.”

Thessalonians 4: 11 has Saint Paul writing what might be one of his earliest epistles to believers, this one in Thessalonica, “Aim to live quietly, mind your own business, and earn your own living, just as I told you.” For context the next verse says: “That way you’ll behave appropriately toward outsiders and you won’t be in need.”

Early Christians almost communal living arrangements in each of the places Paul visited and wrote to needed advice on how to get along day-to-day in the faith. The phrase in this translation which is the plainest English version to be had says “behave appropriately toward outsiders.”

The two Congressmen and Christians presumably, should have known that it is an injunction from Paul to these communities of believers who did not want to stir further suspicion and hostility from the authorities and those they might want to proselytize into the faith.

And here are but two passages that really show just how far these guys stray from real Christian teaching on this subject:

“I was hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink. Then shall he answer, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” Matthew 25:42; the Holy Bible King James Version

The context here is Jesus speaking to his disciples, onlookers and some of the Jewish people’s great teachers that when they ignored the poor and needy they ignored God himself. And that at the final judgment promised in so many places in scriptures Jesus Christ would separate those that had from those that had not aided the poor and send those that had not to “eternal damnation.” Those are the words of God’s Son not mine.

“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless, maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3

This is denial and misunderstanding with the intention to misunderstand it. It is appalling that two Congressmen of the United States would get this one verse so wrong and be oblivious to hundreds of others saying the opposite thing and meaning of what they intended to stake their opposition to Food Stamps upon and justify the cuts so hurtful to the working poor, children, and the disabled, “the least of these” of the Gospel of Matthew.

Pentecostal minister Doug Wead a former adviser to both Bushes and who coined “compassionate conservatism” was asked by Ms. Goldberg if he knew of any Republican politicians who are serious about fighting poverty. He could not cite one. “This discussion isn’t even going on in the Republican Party right now, and that’s heartbreaking,” he said.

Just so you who are conservatives politically won’t think it is not the role of government to be involved in this too:

“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?” –Isaiah 10: 1-3

If you do not have any religious faith, do not be condemned for your honest unbelief. I know so many of you. You are generous to a fault. You do have a system of ethics, values that in broad sweep match that of many faiths. You oppose cuts to Food Stamps and want our leaders to pay attention to poverty and what it does. What it means when we ourselves, charitable organizations, and yes government itself fail to hear their cries of despair.

Problem is, these two Congressmen are obviously professed, born again Disciples of Christ. So sad, so sad.

Dr. Thomas Martin Sobottke
for Struggles for Justice

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