Monday, July 9, 2012

Answering the religious left

The religious left, while still small, has grown somewhat over the last decade. While often perceived as hostile to religion, particularly Christianity, Democrats are somewhat tolerant of religious leftists. As an example, black voters are both heavily religious and heavily Democratic.

The signature issues of the religious left are war, the environment, and poverty. As the American involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq winds down and concerns about global warming abate, the major point of contention between the religious right and left concerns how to address poverty.

A passage frequently cited by religious leftists is Matthew 25:40, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” The theme of charity occurs throughout the Bible. Religious conservatives don’t dispute Jesus’ command to help the poor. The question is how best to do so.

Religious leftists advocate government anti-poverty programs. These programs are notoriously expensive, inefficient and prone to fraud. According to the Cato Institute, the state and federal governments spend more than $1 trillion annually on anti-poverty programs. This translates to $20,610 for every poor person in America, yet the poverty rate is still almost unchanged from 1964 when Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty. As Ronald Reagan put it, “Some years ago the federal government declared war on poverty - and poverty won.”

The left is also fond of pointing to Matthew 22:21 where Jesus tells the Pharisees to “render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's….” Often the second part of the verse, “and unto God the things that are God's” is not quoted. Christians should pay taxes, but they are also commanded to support their local churches and charities. Ironically, statistics from the book “Who really cares?” by Arthur Brooks show that although liberals tend to earn more than conservatives, they give less in terms of money, time and even blood.

The fallacy with unquestioningly rendering to Caesar is that we do not (at least not yet) live under an authoritarian regime. As participants in a republican democracy, it is our duty to make sure that our tax money is spent wisely. In fact the Bible commands it. Since voters are responsible for their government in a republic, they must ensure that the government is a good steward of tax money.

According to Jesus in Luke 16:1-2, a good steward is not wasteful. A good steward works diligently for his money (Proverbs 28:20, Colossians 3:23-24). A good steward invests wisely and diversifies (Ecclesiastes 11:2). Good stewards provide for their own families (1 Timothy 5:8). Even though a good steward pays taxes (Romans 13:6-7), that does not alleviate the responsibility of personally helping the poor and doing so cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:6-8, Acts 20:35).

Government-enforced charity runs afoul of Biblical doctrines in several areas. First and most obvious, the Bible calls for voluntary and cheerful giving. This is not consistent with mandates and taxes that are enforced by the government at the point of a gun.

Second, the Bible clearly values honest work. People who are legitimately in need should be helped, but those who are capable of working should support themselves and their families. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10 Paul wrote, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’” Charity should not go to people who could be working to support themselves. Many government programs actually encourage people not to work because they lose their benefits if they do.

Third, government is wasteful. No one seriously doubts that much of the money that the government confiscates to help the needy is wasted. The waste is two-fold. First, the money flows through bureaucracies at both the state and federal levels. These bureaucracies have high overhead due to expensive buildings and pay and benefits for employees that are substantially higher than their private sector counterparts according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Second, fraud is rampant in government entitlement programs. Untold billions of dollars are lost to fraud every year. Bureaucratic caseworkers with scant contact with their charges are often unable to tell when they are being duped. As entitlement programs grow, the propensity for fraud becomes more likely due to the sheer numbers of people involved.

Finally, government programs ignore the Bible’s warnings against incurring debt. Proverbs 22:7 warns that “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” Psalm 37:21 says, “The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously.” Paul writes in Romans 13:8, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another….” and admonishes “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings” (1 Corinthians 7:23).
What, then, would God think about borrowing 40 cents on the dollar and confiscating money from workers trying to feed their families to pay for a wasteful and inefficient system that encourages the poor not to work? It is hard to imagine that he would be pleased.

The religious left also lacks Biblical support for two other prominent issues. First, with respect to abortion, it is clear from numerous Bible passages such as Matthew 19:14 that Jesus loved little children. In Matthew 18:6, Jesus said that it would be better for a person to have a “great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” than to cause a child to sin. How much worse would it be to physically harm a child than to cause one to sin?

The Old Testament was even more specific saying, “Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood” (Deuteronomy 27:25). In Exodus 21:22-23, there was something akin to a personhood law: “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman's husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life…. ” Jeremiah 1:5 indicates that a baby in the womb is already a person known to God.

The Bible is also clear on same-sex marriage. Most people are familiar with the Old Testament laws concerning homosexuality in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. There are also hints that homosexuality was one of the sins that led to the destruction of Sodom (from which we get the word “sodomy”) and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. Christians are not bound by Old Testament law (Galatians 5:18). Neither is the United States a theocracy (nor should it be). Old Testament laws do provide clues to right and wrong however.

Less commonly known is the New Testament’s condemnation of homosexuality. In Romans 1:24-27, homosexuality is described as God’s judgment on people who “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator….” In 1 Timothy 1:9-11, homosexuals are listed with other sinners including the sexually immoral, slave traders, liars and perjurers. Jude 7 confirms that homosexuality was one of the sins for which Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.

Nowhere does God command Christians to hate homosexuals, but it is clear that God considers homosexuality to be a sinful act that should not be encouraged. Especially when the welfare of children and God’s prohibition against leading children astray (Matthew 18:6) are considered, it becomes clear that same-sex marriage should not be considered for societal as well as religious reasons. The New Family Structures Study by Mark Regnerus, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, offers compelling evidence that children of same-sex couples do not fare nearly as well as children of traditional families.

Members of the religious left are free to vote for whoever they choose and upon whatever basis they choose. If they believe that their political views are aligned with their religious views, however, they should seek to learn what Jesus and the Bible say about the issues at hand.


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