A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Jesus Is Not On Your Side... And Don't Forget It

Henry Neufeld is spot on in this post. It is a must-read.
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Conservatives are criticized for trying to kill programs that benefit the poor. Liberals are criticized for being generous-- with other people's money (taxes). Conservatives believe that charity should be more private. Liberals believe that only the government can truly collect sufficient resources to deal with problems.

Those are issues of political philosophy, and they are ones Jesus didn't discuss. They just weren't issues in his time. His audiences in Galilee weren't going to be voting yes or no on ballots about how much to spend on education or support for poor children. Those simply weren't options.
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The entire post can be read here.

15 comments:

PamBG said...

I think Neufeld's article is conflating two ideas here: ideals and process.

Jesus most certainly did talk about helping the poor and I don't know what Bible folks are reading when they say he didn't. (I realize that both you and Henry understand this, but I think that his conflation here of two different things does the Bible a disservice.)

The problem for me is that much of the far right actively stands against values that I believe to be Christian. Much of the healthcare debate is about efficiency, granted. But much of it is about values and philosphy as well: those who see healthcare as a good that should be bought only by those who can afford it and which should not be (as they would have it) "subsidized" by those who don't need it or don't want it.

Now, I'm happy to disagree with processes: "I want health care for all who need it, but I don't think XYZ way is the best way of getting this."

But it seems to me that far right (not moderate Republican) philosphy is about laissez faire survival of the fittest. And I stand against this when we are talking about the hearts and minds of our country.

For me, the debate about processes was discontinued a few years ago. The ACA uses processes previously used and advocated by Republicans. The debate now is being driven by the far right's idea that an individual's right to opt out of participating in the health and welfare of the community is paramount. We see this also in the increasing disinclination to fund public schools.

Henry Neufeld said...

Pam--as the author of the article, my intent was to separate process and goals, though I can see where you're coming from on this.

Let me first state my perspective. I think health care provision in this country will be better under the ACA. I have many things I dislike about the bill, but it beats what we have now. So I'm guessing we agree on a certain amount there.

But I must be meeting different conservatives than you do. Those I talk to are against the ACA precisely because they don't think it's going to work. They don't think people will be better off. They think the government is hurting people rather than helping them.

I think they're wrong, though some of their criticisms could be used to refine the result. What I don't believe is that they are unchristian or that I am a morally superior person or even have a morally superior position.

If I'm in a debate with someone who says the poor should simply suffer. They should only get the health care they can pay for, then I do think I have a superior position.

Let me use my father, for example. He was an MD and served underprivileged areas, in the US, Canada, and overseas. He was strongly opposed to any kind of "socialized" medicine. He not only wouldn't turn anyone away for lack of funds, he actively sought out people who couldn't pay him. He died very much like John Wesley suggested, though I think the few dollars was in a bank rather than his pocket.

He would have opposed the ACA vigorously. Ye his position is no less moral than mine. In fact, he put much more of himself on the line. He LIVED his position all his life. And he is far from the only person I know with his convictions. (And note that I still would not say that Jesus was on his side in the POLITICAL debate.)

That's why you seem to me to be doing what you're accusing me of, conflating the ideals and the process. It seems that because you see the process desired as so unlikely to accomplish the goal (and I would pretty much agree if that's the case) you are not crediting your opponents with their goals.

Now also note that there are plenty of people whose goals/ideals are wrong. If someone says, "If a person lacks means to buy food (or health care, etc) we should let him/her die" we can call that unchristian. But I see a great deal more than that going on.

Patrick said...

Pam,

Where I agree with you is we Christians shouldn't expect all folks to be well due to a secular competitive economic environment(far right ideologues).

My concern is the leftist Christian reaction, "so therefore we need Caesar to make up for that flaw in capitalism".

That's the church role, IMO, not Caesar's.

Christ has mandated us to feed the poor and help the helpless, not Caesar.

Not desirous of a political debate here, except to say the extent a secular state is doing what Jesus has requested we do, to that extent we have proof of how apostate our church is.

It's our job to do this. We need to do it and not depend on Caesar is my view.

BTW, I realize you couldn't just stop the state role tonight, I just wish our church matured spiritually to the place this wouldn't be a debate anymore.

Naum said...

Not that Jesus lines up on the liberal side on every matter, but this piece is plagued with faulty presuppositions and some erroneous mappings.

1. Rome/Palestine circa Jesus day much different than modern democratic America -- government is "we the people".

2. People in agrarian times much more self-subsistent -- with a plot of land, could etch out a living. Today, despite or rather due to it, we are so interdependent -- most all of our resources and inputs for living are transported 1000s of miles and left to our own accord we would perish (most of us sans a few survivalist types and the small minute percentage of family farmers).

3. #2 implies that there is so much privilege and so much we take for granted in our daily existence, we fail to acknowledge -- it just sits under the radar, the efficiencies of economies of scale, edifices of a modern structural economy but yet when it comes to what Jesus emphasized the most (or very near to the top of a list) is care for the poor -- yet, we're content to let this go solely to the faculties of private charity? So what is implied is that I, as a privileged Christian enjoy all the benefits of modern civilization not just erected on the shoulder of giants preceding, but of people (often exploited by the blunt end of capitalism) but that method is not suited for caring for the poor? Sounds callous and very un-Jesus like to me…

4. Looking at Jonathan Haidt's moral political foundations (see Richard Beck's blog for more expounding on this), it certainly appears that Jesus fits the liberal mold -- on Haidt's 5 foundations -- harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, loyalty, respect/authority, purity liberals focus on 1st 2 whilst conservatives employ all 5 and may even put more emphasis on loyalty and purity. It seems that Jesus, as evidenced by the Gospel, eschews purity, ingroup loyalty, respect for authority in lieu of care & fairness.

Allan Bevere said...

Patrick,

Thanks for your comments.

I just want to clarify my position because it is so prone to misunderstanding, because we are so locked into a Christendom model of church and state, it is difficult for us think outside the binary categories of left and right.

I do not believe that Caesar has no place in feeding the poor, et al. I think there are OT passages directed toward nations other than Israel that make it clear that God expects the nations to act justly and compassionately. What I have been saying is that the church is God's polity and the kingdom is manifested only through the work of the church. And it is to bear witness to God's kingdom in its life and witness so that the nations can know what it is God expects of them. The example Henry gives of his father is exactly what I am trying to say. I think the difference is where he may have opposed government involvement in health care, I want his Christian example to serve as a reminder to the nations that God too expects them to bind up the wounded. But primarily I want the church to be the church, so that the nations can know the will of God. Simply put, I want the church to present itself as a living sacrifice in which the tithe is not the highest level of giving, but it's starting place, where Christians refuse to have two car payments so they can give more to mission, where Christians spend more time ministering to those on the margins, than taking up every weekend with soccer and Rotary and camping out.

I want to the church to be a witness that the world cannot ignore, that will motivate the world to seek the way of the cross as well.

Allan Bevere said...

Naum,

Thanks for your thoughts as well.

I would only say without belaboring the point is that you are doing exactly what Henry is challenging-- confusing method and process with moral conviction.

I also find Haidt's construal of what characterizes liberals and conservatives as deeply problematic.

Allan Bevere said...

Pam,

As always, I appreciate your thoughts and pushing back, which makes me think harder about my positions.

PamBG said...

That's why you seem to me to be doing what you're accusing me of, conflating the ideals and the process. It seems that because you see the process desired as so unlikely to accomplish the goal (and I would pretty much agree if that's the case) you are not crediting your opponents with their goals

Thanks for weighing in, Henry.

I think we're saying possibly close to the same thing from different angles.

I don't think I'm meeting different conservatives than you are. Most of the conservatives I personally know are moderate Republicans. And we disagree on process.

I'm not complaining about moderate Republicans. I'm complaining about a minority of the minority party holding the entire country hostage.

But my wider, longer-term issue is the rhetoric and the words we're hearing and the ideology being expressed. Bohner saying that his side is fighting for justice and fairness. That the ACA is unjust and unfair. The entire ideology being presented is that fairness and goodness = the individual being able to do what she wants, when she wants. Unfairness is being presented as being "forced" to have a communal conscience.

Heck, Bohner and Cruz might not even believe this themselves. They might just be expressing these ideas in order to increase their political profile (yep, I'm that cynical). Nonetheless, they are putting this ideology forward into the public arena.

So I honestly don't get the whole concept that there is some sort of "neutral" ideology that Christians will take from the Bible that can somehow encompass a far right ideology and that it's somehow bad or wrong to be a Christian and have strong opinions in the direction of social responsibility.

Now, if I start hating Cruz or Bohner or any other individual, that's another matter. And I agree that everyone is behaving badly. But given that, do I want to support the people who are behaving badly who have a sense of communal responsibility? Or the people who are behaving badly and believe in survival of the fittest?

PamBG said...

My concern is the leftist Christian reaction, "so therefore we need Caesar to make up for that flaw in capitalism".

That's the church role, IMO, not Caesar's.

Christ has mandated us to feed the poor and help the helpless, not Caesar.

Not desirous of a political debate here, except to say the extent a secular state is doing what Jesus has requested we do, to that extent we have proof of how apostate our church is.


Patrick:

I appreciate and agree with what you say.

Yet, as a Christian disciple, I still also have a sense of myself as being part of a wider community: my town, my state and my country. These communities encompass people of all religions and people of no religions - and I get to meet and become very close with such non-Christian individuals in my work as a hospital chaplain.

So that leaves me wondering about my role as a Christian and also as a participant in - and beneficiary of - these communities.

Should I just refuse to vote on the grounds that all my energy should be put into the church?

Do we envisage our "ideal" (non-apostate) church as providing schooling, EMS, hospitals, libraries, fire fighters, sewers, health inspectors? All of which are for the benefit of the public. If not, what attitudes should I have as a Christian towards these things?

If we're just thinking about "aid to the poor," the other issue that I have with all charity coming from the church is still the issue that this idea places the initiative with the giver and not the receiver. So, for instance, a child with profound learning disabilities is not viewed as part of the community who is in some sense "entitled" to be taken care of. Rather the initiative rests with those who are able to decide whether or not they will take care of him. The able make the decisions about who deserves to be taken care of and who does not deserve it.

I realize that, in theology, entitlement language is always easy to shoot down with the true assertion that we are all dependent on God for everything at all times. Yet, I believe it is the message of the gospel that God's love and mercy are offered to all. And the only terminology we have for that expansive divine generosity is some sort of rights language.

Allan Bevere said...

So I honestly don't get the whole concept that there is some sort of "neutral" ideology that Christians will take from the Bible that can somehow encompass a far right ideology and that it's somehow bad or wrong to be a Christian and have strong opinions in the direction of social responsibility.

Pam, I don't think anyone is suggesting that Christianity is somehow a neutral ideology. On the contrary, it is Christian convictions (particularly ecclesiology) that motivate my views (and I know yours a well).

When it come to politics and cynicism, no one can compete with me. I don't think it is possible for anyone to have as low of an opinion of Ted Cruz as I do. I indeed believe that far-right ideology is problematic for Christians, as I believe the same about far-left ideology. I agree that laissez faire capitalism is problematic, but so is Marxism. I struggle to understand how Christians can embrace either ideology.

I have said before that the political extremes (whom I like to affectionately refer to as the loony left and the wacky right) are the biggest threat to the welfare of the U.S. if for no other reason than they refuse to compromise. There is no doubt in my mind that Ted Cruz belongs to the wacky right.

PamBG said...

Allen,

Marxism gives rulers expansive, pratically unrestricted powers that can hurt the little ones. Capitalism gives the rich (those who control assets and wealth, aka capital) expansive, practically unrestricted powers that can hurt the little ones.

The opposite of capitalism isn't Marxism. It's the sense of community that says "The little ones deserve, as God's children to be protected and nurtured by the community. They are as much a part of us as our arms and our legs. God doesn't tell us we can decide not to nurture them if we can't do it cheerfully. God tells us to nurture them cheerfully given that we have been commanded to do

I don't believe that the Democrats are perfect by any means but I don't believe the Democratic agenda is to create a Marxist totalitarian state. Patrick's use of the word "Ceasar" is telling. I don't see our government - Democrat or Republican - as an imperial monarchy whose reason for existence is the glory of the Emperor. I see our government, still, as a democracy and a community. Maybe that's where I'm wrong and too old fashioned?

Allan Bevere said...

Pam,

I think the issue between us is ultimately one of hermeneutics. To whom is scripture centrally addressed? Other than some isolated passages, it is addressed to the people of God. Thus I think it is a mistake to directly assume that it applies to the nations. Scripture does, however, have implications for the nations. The Sermon on the Mount is not for anybody. That is why believers must embody it n their lives that the church might indeed be the city on the hill.

I have to tell you, I have met some extreme Democrats who trust the state without reservation. I think of when Michael Moore said to the rich that their wealth did not belong to them that it belonged to us. Well, it may be true that ultimately none of our wealth belongs to us, but I find his words chilling nonetheless.

PamBG said...

Allan:

I don't think I'm disputing with you that Scripture is primarily addressed to the people of God.

I just really, really do not understand how you think this is supposed to play out in the lives of believers. And I don't understand why we are not supposed to have strong opinions in the direction of helping the poor.

I don't know if I trust the government implicitly, but you're - as they say in Britain - changing the goalposts with that comment. Trusting the government implicitly is not at all the same thing as wishing that the government would turn into a tyrant with all power concentrated in the hands of the party members to exploit the average citizen.

What wrong, for example, with the following. Running companies to give customers fair prices, laborers fair wages, and owners (shareholders) fair profits? What we call "public" companies - companies that have shareholders - by law have to be run for the benefit of the shareholders. Why? That's an example of privileging those who have capital over those who provide the work. Why does our society have the values that wealth deserves a higher return than labor? Where did we learn that? How is it biblical?

Allan Bevere said...

And I don't understand why we are not supposed to have strong opinions in the direction of helping the poor.

Pam,

I think in some ways we are simply talking past each other. I would appeal to Henry's comments that you are confusing convictions with method. Because I want the church first and foremost to concentrate on the kingdom work Jesus has given to it which includes by necessity feeding the poor, and because I also believe that the church should pursue such work in a sacrificial way, thereby witnessing to the world what God desires of it, you have assumed that I am suggesting that Christians should not have strong convictions about feeding the poor because my interest is not first and foremost concerned with higher taxes (not that such is irrelevant). Indeed, if churches followed my method, they would all live radically simple and sacrificial lifestyles and spend the bulk of their time engaged in such kingdom work, that not even the most liberal church would endorse. So, I feel strongly about the need to feed the poor, I just believe the method is for God's kingdom people to do so sacrificially and bear witness to the nations that God wants them to feed the poor too. That does not mean that there is no place for legislation, but it is not at the top of the list. To quote Dean Merrill, "The law is a modest helper at beast."

Patrick said...



I share the view we're part of a wider community and have responsibilities to each other as God's people.

My beef with the state role is it requires taxation and coercion to accomplish it's job and God isn't in coercion and the state is secular, part of the zeitgeist, not Christ.

I live in an area with great ministries for the helpless and homeless "in Christ's Name" and I wouldn't take a cent from the state because those little Caesars would tell us we cannot preach Christ with Caesar's assets involved.