In the aftermath of the last elections in which candidates running on a platform that offered a perfunctory hat tip as it hurtled passed the middle class on the way to performing an unctuous curtsey before big money, I was once again struck by how the heavily metered halo of religious light around social issues distracts attention from economic positions, which from a religious standpoint, remain largely indefensible. After studying the Hebrew prophets or doing a casual reading of the Gospels, it takes exceptional intellectual and theological dexterity to come away thinking that our primary responsibility in civic life is to insulate the “job creators” from the pesky consciences of the weak minded, so they can continue on with their God-given responsibilities of making a crap-ton of money.
Oh, I know. I can hear it already, about how I'm constructing straw man arguments -- that no Christian, no matter how conservative politically, would ever choose the rich over the poor. It's just that, you know, God loves rich people too, and they're the ones who insure our freedom by making sure all that nice money trickles down through the hands of the middle class to the poor folks at the bottom of the food chain.
But come on, it's hard to envision the prophet Amos surveying the current political and economic landscape -- with the top one percent owning over fifty percent of the world's wealth, while the bottom fifty percent own less than one percent -- and imagine him saying, “Yay! Just like we planned. God helps those who help themselves … to everybody else's stuff!”
I find it difficult to conceive of a scenario in which Jesus, when presented with the concerns of the uninsured, the underpaid, and those who rely on government services to eat and find shelter, would come away saying, “Yeah, but the Koch brothers clearly get me … you, know that whole first-shall-be-last-and-last-shall-be-first-unfolding-reign-of-God thing. So, suck it up freeloaders.”
(And it's liberals who rely on Scripture's plasticity to advance their agenda?)
Look, if you're in the middle class, and you're interested in giving voice to the concerns of people who do not occupy your socio-economic class, you've got two choices: You can advocate for the rich or for the poor. But if you happen to be Christian, it important to factor Jesus into your answer.
Because Jesus, when faced with the choice between toadying up to the powers that be and hanging out on the wrong side of town, regularly opted to spend time with the folks least likely to burnish his reputation as a serious religious or political player. Indeed, one of the reasons Jesus always seemed to find himself on the bad side of the big shots centered on his deplorable lack of ambition when it came to sucking up to the right people.
So, just because you talk about “Godly” this and “traditional” that, just because you think Christ himself invented phrases like “family values voter” and you play in a Christian Monopoly league, doesn't mean you've pitched your tent in the middle of Jesus-ville. In fact, I'd suggest that anyone who uses the Bible to underwrite a position that regularly, demonstrably, incontestably disadvantages the “least of these,” bears the burden of proof when it comes to operating on the side of the angels.
Here's a handy little guideline:
If you find yourself more worried that a woman on welfare has an iPhone than that a Wall Street hot shot regularly benefits from the system that helps keep her there, maybe the person highest up in your political and theological calculations isn't Jesus.
(Note: This article first appeared in the Huffington Post)