This is a season when our thoughts often turn to the disadvantaged, with some of us volunteering at shelters to feed the homeless, or picking paper angels off trees so prisoner’s children can have presents under the tree. By now, we’ve been sufficiently warned against being a Scrooge or a Grinch. So everyone wants to think of themselves as full of the Christmas spirit and loving his fellow man…
But tell me — that guy with the sign on the interstate off-ramp. Do you give him money? Or do you stare straight ahead, trying to act like you don’t notice them? Don’t feel guilty – I used to, but learned to my sadness many of them use the money for various addictions. Even saw a story about one guy making around $65,000 a year doing that. So what’s the right thing to do? I think most of us are in the same boat. We want to help, but aren’t sure what to do.
But Stephen Colbert recently gave an easy solution on his Comedy Central show:
“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”
So tell me…was Jesus a liberal?
I personally think Colbert is a really funny guy, mainly because he is a smart aleck and “smart aleck” is a language I speak fluently. But this time, Colbert wasn’t trying to be funny. If he’s right, we should support spending on more government programs for the poor out of obedience to Christ. And if we don’t, we’re hypocrites…at least, that is his argument.
This is why I hate mixing Christianity with politics — for both conservatives and liberals, it presumes that government is the real answer, not God. For either side, for whatever the issues, that view is spiritual idolatry. Instead of looking to God as our solution, we bow and worship the government…be it a liberal or conservative one at that moment.
I find it deeply offensive when people use Jesus to rationalize or lend weight to their own partisan politics. The real Jesus (and yes, I do believe He was a historical person who is the eternal Son of God) is way beyond the simplistic little political boxes we want to force Him into. We do Him a huge disservice when we wrap our personal opinions in carefully plucked pages from the Bible, carefully selected to support only our position (while ignoring all the other parts). The Word of God was never meant to be used as decoration for our favorite ideology, and Jesus should never be used as a political pawn for either side.
Real Christianity is being like Jesus and doing what He said to do. But one thing you can count on – the more people wrap themselves in religion outwardly, the more they are hiding something. And with this issue, they’re hiding the fact that they’re not really interested in doing anything about the problem themselves. When all the rhetoric is done, most people who bark the loudest about the poor actually do the least.
Most of our talk that “the government ought to do something” really means “I don’t want to bother doing anything myself”! Look at your favorite politician’s tax return and see what they give to charity — the percentage is usually in the single digits! By contrast, religious people are 25 percent more likely to give to charities and 23 percent more likely to volunteer (http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review/article/6577).
The vast majority of world relief efforts are run by religious organizations. They’re also the most efficient, since their workers often stay with the very people they’re trying to help. Quite a difference from the Hollywood celebrity who pontificates about the poor from his Malibu bungalow…
What Jesus advocated were voluntary acts of charity directly to the poor, who in His day were “widows, orphans, and the infirm” not helped by any government agency or program. He certainly was not expecting Caesar to render unto the poor what the people “rendered unto Caesar.” So Colbert is making a quantum leap in logic by presuming Jesus was consciously giving support for the government confiscating income from private citizens.
Funny thing, this is exactly what the Romans were doing the Jesus’ Jewish brethren at that very time. Because of the treacherous tax system, Hebrew tax collectors gained a particularly bad reputation as traitors to the Jewish people. So the main avenue for helping the poor in Jesus’ day was one-on-one personal contact. That is what He was specifically encouraging in Scripture – getting our hands dirty by helping people personally.
More directly to Mr. Colbert’s premise, let me put it bluntly…
It is one thing to give of my own free will to causes I believe help the poor. It’s quite another for someone to take my money against my will and use it in ways that make the average Department of Motor Vehicles appear a model of efficiency!
Many of the things the government inefficiently tries to fix could be accomplished better by local churches and organizations. One recent story illustrates this perfectly: a local Naples lady in her 20s decided to raise three teenagers who were going to be separated by the foster system. After several of months holding down three jobs she gets injured, is out of work, and then doesn’t have enough money now to pay the bills.
She checked with several government agencies — nothing. Then a Christian friend (who just happens to go to my church — WOO HOO, represent!) sends out a message asking Facebook friends to give whatever they can. Then the newspaper hears about the story. Then someone sets up a website for donations. And just a week later, this fledgling family has over $25,000 to use for the kids’ needs. Voilà!
No one is saying get rid of government safety nets, but understand those nets come equipped with some massive holes. And I suspect some holes are there intentionally, since those “nets” were created by — wait for it — politicians. No surprise, it worked that way in Jesus’ time as well.
Judas once criticized a prostitute for pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet, saying it should have been sold to benefit the poor (that Judas, what a compassionate guy!). But Jesus responded, “The poor you will always have with you…” (Matthew 26:11). Was that an “ouch” I just heard, Mr. Colbert?
Truth is Judas was stealing ministry funds, and he would have personally benefitted from selling the woman’s perfume…just as many bills which are passed “to do good” always seem to have a big hunk of “pork” hidden slap dab in the middle of them to benefit certain political interests. So Jesus shut him down — seems He understood some people use the poor merely as bait to “butter their own bread.”
Hmmm. I guess things never really change, do they?
Is anyone tired enough of playing political finger-pointing that they just want to get something done? I personally don’t care if you are Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or Presbyterian (that’s a political party, right?). The most effective way to help the hurting and needy is if everyone — conservatives and liberals — stop talking and actually do something!
WWJD? I think that’s exactly what He’d do!