When the House Agriculture Committee decided that they gradually need to cut costs to the farm bill by $40 billion, they decided that more than half of that should come out of the mouths of poor families. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as food stamps) would be cut by over twenty billion dollars over the next decade.
In what appears to be a last-ditch effort by some members of the committee to inject some holy humanity into its more conservative members, Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA) quoted passages from the 25th chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew. It’s the part of the Bible where Jesus says that how we treat poor people, sick people, and other marginalized people is how we treat Jesus. In response, Committeeperson and Christian K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) took umbrage.
“I take umbrage to that. I take Matthew 25 to mean me as an individual, not the U.S. government.”
Note that Conaway doesn’t take umbrage to the fact that the Bible is being used in a United States legislative body to mold legislative action. No, the congressperson takes umbrage to the fact that the Bible can mean what it says when it comes to taking care of the poor and the marginalized. Conaway takes umbrage that he is confronted with this passage from the Bible that he claims to live by. He takes umbrage that this passage could be uncomfortable, that it could provoke and shake his particular reading of faith and politics and money.
And it must be too challenging, because generally conservative Christians tend to read the Bible literally. You know, like the Earth was created in six days type of literal. The Creation Story of Genesis is treated literally, but not Jesus’ words to his followers?
Conaway – and many others in the Religious Right – do not take these passages literally because they want to believe these words are advice to individual followers when it is obvious it was not spoken or written in that matter. Very little of the Bible, in fact, was written to or for individuals – all of it was read aloud in communities and followed through as communities. In that very passage Vargas quoted, it is the nations that will be judged for taking care of or not taking care of the poor. Not individuals. Nations. Large communities.
What Conaway, the Republican from the Great State of Umbrage, took offense to was the idea that the Bible proposes caring for the poor in a way that resides outside of a voluntary, nearly random hodgepodge of patchwork made of individual charities and religious organizations. Those charities and religious bodies are also composed of individuals who sporadically decide whether or not they will obey Jesus’ teachings with a sense of love and brother/sisterhood that seems quite absent most of the year among churched and non-churched folk in general.
Let’s just burst this rainbow-flavored bubble first: Churches/Synagogues/Mosques cannot possibly cover the gaping holes that the government is leaving through its cuts in social welfare programs. Churches, as we have shown here, are not blocked from assisting the poor because the big, bad government is in the way. Many churches, actually, are doing all they can to fill in the gaps. But its not enough, not nearly enough to take care of the already existing need in their communities. Having a larger base of need due to drastically cut social services is going beyond the point of breaking.
Look at government aid programs as being a protective tent cover during heavy rain. This roof has several holes, and charities (religious-based or not) are the people running around with buckets, sticking their fingers wherever they can to try to get at these openings – reducing the impact of the rain however they can. In order to provide more cover for their friends in the gold brick house with the finest roofs, they take cuts of the tarp and tell the charities to find more buckets and fingers, even as resources and volunteers are shrinking. More of us, it turns out, are ending up as clients and fewer as donors.
Even with reduced taxes and regulations, faith-based charities will only see an infinitesimal amount of additional aid in comparison to the substantially rising need put upon them by a morally lax government headed by members of the religious right. These are the faith-based bodies that are actually on the ground, working with the poor and the homeless and those in crisis. Other faith-based organizations, of course, are much more concerned about gay sex than they are about starving families. But even if they weren’t, the logistics are impossible for volunteer-based institutions to meet the demands of the hungry and homeless all on their own – especially in such a blighted post-apocalyptic scene that our current vulture capitalistic system has led the poor and formerly middle class into.
It would take the connected efforts of a unified people to take care of the poor in such a destructive economic system, especially in one where many of these same leaders are fighting against fair wages for poor workers. While the number of children worrying about their next meal is increasing, it doesn’t seem very Christian to deny them any sort of security to save a few dollars for the likes of multibillion dollar corporations like Apple or Koch Industries.
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