Theocrat Watch 1
Republicans in the House of Representatives presented their proposals for closing the federal budget deficit and reforming entitlements yesterday, which means that it is time for the first Stand Firm installment of the Theocrat Watch, which was a continuing feature of mine at The Reformed Pastor. Exhibits A and B: a column in the Washington Post by former Chicago Seminary (UCC) president Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, and a collection of statements put out by various “faith leaders.” First, Thistlethwaite:
These religious leaders are exactly right to condemn this budget as “immoral.” This year’s GOP budget, like last year’s, is far more revealing of the ‘Gospel According to Ayn Rand’ than of the values held by Jesus of Nazareth. The new budget keeps the Bush tax cuts in place, and reduces tax rates to only 2, 10 and 25 percent, though who exactly pays what rate is not revealed. Medicare ends in its current form, corporate tax rates are also cut, Health Care Reform is gone, and student loans are reduced to 2008 levels. What kind of choice does that present to Americans?
I have no use for Ayn Rand, but I suspect Thistlethwaite knows as much about what Rand really thought as I know about the flora and fauna or southern Paraguay. Of course, I also have my doubts about what she knows about Jesus. The crucial thing is that Jesus says nothing about the government stepping in and doing what the people of God should be doing. So whether the stuff the House Republicans are good ideas or not, matters such as tax brackets or the particular form of Medicare has little to do with any particular teaching of Jesus.
The question might also be asked, “since when do liberals construct federal budgets according to the ‘values held by Jesus of Nazareth’?” Does that sound awfully…theocratic?
The choice between the biblical values of “good news for the poor” as announced by Jesus, and the “good news for the rich” of GOP fiscal proposals should be an easy one for Christians across the spectrum from liberal to conservative. But it’s not, as is clear from many polls. Why not?
Perhaps it’s because many Christians have actually read the gospels, and know that Jesus had no blueprint for putting together the budget of a modern, secular nation-state. Perhaps it’s because those who understand anything about the way governments and economies work realize that there is no direct A-to-B correlation between programs that are intended to help the poor and actually, you know, helping the poor. Perhaps because people think that they, rather than the government, have better ideas about how to love their neighbor than a bureaucrat in Washington. Perhaps because most Americans don’t think that Washington should be imposing a left-wing religious vision of economic policy on our country.
The support of conservative Christian evangelicals for Santorum, and for GOP fiscal policies in general, rises despite such statements about not caring about unemployment. That’s because, more than any other shift in recent decades, the strong redefinition of the core of the Gospel message away from Jesus’ explicit announcement that his ministry was about “good news for the poor” toward merging biblical values with so-called “family values” defined as anti-gay, anti-abortion, and now, even anti-contraception, is the key to explaining this support.
How can anyone take seriously a statement like that, coming from a supposedly Christian thinker? First, since when has the “core of the gospel” been about government programs for the poor? Second, since when did “biblical values” not include standing for marriage between one man and one woman, or for the necessity of protecting the “least of these,” those who are completely defenseless, the unborn? Thistlethwaite know, I’m sure, that such stances were universally held in the church from the days of Jesus until the last couple of decades, and that in fact most Christians still belong to churches that uphold those moral stances. It is her and her left-wing friends who have sought to change those stances in keeping with the prevailing Zeitgeist, not conservatives. As for contraception, her use of it her is just plain dishonest, as has been so much of the rhetoric coming from the political left on the subject over the last several weeks.
It is long past time to call out these conservatives on what Jesus of Nazareth actually taught about money and the economy. Conservative political and economic values are completely contradicted by the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and there’s no doubt about that. None.
“Conservative political and economic values” as caricatured by people like Thistlethwaite may well be contradicted by everything Jesus stood for, since the way she portrays them, they are positively Luciferic. Reality, however, is a different matter.
Now, some other voices from the left:
Father Thomas Kelly, Catholic priest from Elkhorn, WI and constituent of Rep. Paul Ryan: “As a constituent of Congressman Ryan and a Catholic priest, I’m disappointed by his cruel budget plan and outraged that he defends it on moral grounds. Ryan is Catholic, and he knows that justice for the poor and economic fairness are core elements of our church’s social teaching. It’s shameful that he disregarded these principles in his budget.
“Justice for the poor” and “economic fairness” are two of the flabbiest phrases used by the religious left. Basically they mean, “whatever the left proposes.” Without judging the merits of his proposals, I think I can fairly say that Ryan’s desire is to order society in such a way as to benefit all of its members, including the poor. His proposals may not do that, but Kelly takes those proposals and 1) questions Ryan’s commitment to his church; and 2) assumes he couldn’t care less about the poor. That’s shameful.
Rev. Michael Livingston, director of the National Council of Churches’ Poverty Initiative: “Rep. Ryan’s budget uses the deficit as an excuse to pursue an ideological agenda that punishes poor people who can’t find a job. If Rep. Ryan wants us to take his moralizing about the national debt seriously, he should have the courage to ask for shared sacrifice from his millionaire donors instead of kicking poor families while they’re down.
Isn’t it amazing that the left is never pursuing an “ideological agenda” when it makes public policy proposals? You’d think to hear guys like Livingston tell it, the left just makes it up as they go along. As far as “shared sacrifice” is concerned, one wonders if anyone on the left is aware of some basic numbers: According to the IRS, in 2009 the richest 1% of Americans paid 36.73% of all incomes taxes, while the richest 5% paid 58.66%. That same year, the top 1% earned “nearly 17%” of all income.
So what would constitute “economic fairness”? Religious leftists talk constantly about things like “economic fairness,” but they never let the rest of us see the numbers coughed up by their secret decoder rings. All they know is that no matter how much the rich, or the 1%, or whoever the target is, are paying in taxes, it’s never enough to be “fair.”
Bishop Gene Robinson, Ninth Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire and a visiting Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Washington, D.C.: Make no mistake: A budget is a moral document. It says something about the character of those who would propose to enact it. The proposed Ryan budget takes a huge step toward immorality. Sacred texts for Christians, Jews and Muslims all depict a God who judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in our society. By this measure, the Ryan budget robs the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable of the safety net so integral to their survival. By any measure of civility and regard for one’s neighbor, it is an immoral disaster.
Robinson is apparently in the process of transitioning from “the gay bishop” to “the political hack.” David Axelrod couldn’t have put it better or more substance-free. Oh, and his reference to “sacred texts” makes plain that he is an out-of-the-closet theocrat, as well.
Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Indianapolis, Indiana: When Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he didn’t just mean exchanging cups of sugar with the family next door. In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus showed that being a neighbor means reaching out to anyone, anywhere, in their need. A federal budget that slices away at funds for hungry children and their families, that abandons senior citizens, that reduces life-sustaining foreign aid, is a budget that goes against the teachings of Jesus. America can do better! The Good Samaritan saw a need, reached out to meet the need, and then enlisted the aid of others to help. Through a compassionate federal budget, we can do the same – and be a stronger nation for it.
Another out-of-the-closet theocrat, and another denominational head who is ignorant of Scripture. Both the Samaritan and the innkeeper into whose care he placed the crime victim were private citizens. Jesus was explaining the need for us to love our neighbor, not for us to tax everybody in order to faceless bureaucrats to “love” our neighbor by making him dependent on federal largess.
So what do we have here? We have a collection of left-wing ideologues who distort and misuse Scripture for their political purposes, who wish to impose their religious views on the federal government, who issue blanket condemnations of public policy proposals in the name of One who never considered them, and who declare others “immoral” for disagreeing with them about said proposals.
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