The Bible made me do it

The Cape Henry Landing by English artist Stephen Reid

One of the great political mysteries of the 21st Century is how and why certain members of the have-nots will support the haves regardless of the evidence that they and their families would be better off in opposition. Opposing the greed of the rich seems a no-brainer. The two groups have virtually nothing in common, so either the haves have done a sensational job of manipulating the working poor, or there is something taking place that observers seem unable to observe.

Firstly, there’s the belief among this group of mostly Christian have-nots that their hope is in God, but Biblical reasoning posits a political system that believes the poor should pick themselves up by their bootstraps and get over it. This is accompanied by the idea that if you give a poor man a fish, you’ve fed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you’ll feed him for a lifetime. The fallacy of this concept, of course, is in its practical execution, for it assumes an unlimited supply of fish and resources required to make this a reality. Ours is a world of limited resources, and when I take extra fish for myself and my family, I’m acting out of greed, not love for my fellow humans.

Secondly, this is supported by the writings of Paul to the communities of the burgeoning local church in the First Century, including especially one verse from his first letter to Timothy. Chapter 5, verse 8:

“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (NIV)

A good preacher can heap coals of fire on the heads of parishioners by taking this out of context and presenting it as a stand-alone command of God. It seems a logical idea until the words of Jesus are applied, “The poor will always be with you.” One must assume, then, that Biblical followers are doing a lousy job of teaching people to fish. Harping on the poor to take care of their own is hypocrisy gone-to-seed, no matter how justifiable it may seem.

Therefore, in a world of limited resources, hoarding such for one’s own gain is reprehensible in the big cultural picture. Despite this, these Christians cling to conservatism, mostly because it fits this particular Bible verse. Mix in a little abortion, gender, sex, and religious freedom, and it doesn’t matter if their party exists solely to support the wealthy.

This verse, however, is part of a bigger matter that Paul was discussing with Timothy, who raised the issue of care for widows in the church. Apparently (we don’t know, because we don’t have Timothy’s original letter to Paul), the church was having difficulty separating widows who were deserving of care from those who weren’t. Think of it as a matter of welfare for the poor, and here we have the contemporary division between liberal and conservative thinking expressed 2,000 years ago. If we take the time to actually read and study this, we come to a place where Paul actually separates church governance from the basic tenets of Christianity. He judges some widows as undeserving and presents others as “the real widows.” In verse 16, he writes what could be a plank for the GOP:

“If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.”

The remarkable admission that the church is fiscally burdened by this puts the statement into the uncomfortable category of the practical versus the faith, for God is certainly not burdened by some widows seeking care. I don’t know enough to make the claim that this is idolatry, but as long as this portion of Paul’s letter is used to justify disrespect for the poor today, it flies in the face of the actual red words in the New Testament. Such followers need to be called on it.

What’s even worse is that these believers use this statement in their response to governmental aid for the poor today. Paul’s writings are addressed to the church, not the government. Moreover, when this fundamental belief is mixed with abortion, genderism, transphobia, homosexuality, and religious freedom, it’s easy to miss that the wealthy really only want for themselves.

Two other thoughts. One, if people really thought about Donald Trump’s election phrase — “Make America Great Again” — they’d realize that the good things of the melting pot days included strong labor unions and their core support for working men and women. Two, this leads inevitably to the conclusion that license on behalf of the business community is not what ever made America great. This worship of the businessman or woman is the core of Trumpism and a blight on those who labor on their behalf. Brett Kavanaugh wasn’t appointed to the Supreme Court, because he was pro-life; he was given the job because he passed the right wing litmus test of being 100% pro-business, a.k.a. the wealthy.

Finally, the press today is going to have to find a way to feel comfortable and confident arguing religion during the 2020 campaign. I support the Christian Democrats of America, because theirs is an ignored voice in the public square, and that cannot continue.

May you be so moved, too.

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