Monday, December 20, 2010

Helping the Poor - The Politics of Jesus

Stephen Colbert is brilliant and funny. He is also thought-provoking. His rant from December 16 in which he declares that Jesus would be a liberal Democrat because He was always talking about helping the poor and because He never suggested tax cuts for the rich Romans has something going for it - it talks about Jesus in the present tense as a realistic basis for our decision-making. I applaud Colbert for that.

I do not applaud him for his politics, but it is probably no surprise to anyone reading this that I disagree with Colbert's politics on this one.

That is not what this blog is about. This blog is about the idea that our Christianity necessarily compels one answer to the question of dealing with the poor. The leap from "we should help the poor" to "therefore we must be liberal Democrats" is simplistic and narrow-minded. To think that all conservatives are against helping the poor is either tragically ill-informed or deluded by the extremists.

If you want to believe that the President's economic program is the best way to help the poor, you have every right to believe that. I would be happy to debate the point with you. What is sad, however, is to suggest, as some who have latched onto Colbert's rant have done, that the only way to follow Jesus is to be a liberal Democrat.

If some who wear the label "conservative" have looked down on the poor or treated poor people as lesser beings or selfishly refused to help them, that is wrong. Come to think of it, if liberals have treated poor people badly, that is wrong. None of that is inherent in being conservative or liberal.

I believe that President Obama's economic plan is not a good way to help the poor. My understanding of both economics and human nature informs me in that view. Of course, so does my religion. I agree with my friends that following Jesus necessarily calls on us to take care of the poor and to do so sacrificially. It is just that I believe that liberal Democratic economic policies are perhaps the worst possible way to do it. That is not religion. It is politics and economics.

I am not writing this blog to convince anyone to be a conservative. I don't believe the only way to follow Jesus is to be a conservative. Many of you are good Christian liberal Democrats. I hope you allow me the right to be a good Christian conservative.

It is dangerous to claim that God is on your side in a political discussion. (These claims come from both sides of the aisle, of course. On the same day several friends forwarded me the Colbert rant, I got an email from another friend decrying someone's "Obama-loving atheism.") I don't believe that Jesus' teachings allow us to do that, at least not in this particular political discussion.

A very good friend of mine (who is still a liberal Democrat, despite my efforts) makes a brilliant point about Jesus' "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's" response to the question about whether it is right to pay taxes. My friend says this: "These who questioned Jesus were trying to push him onto one side of the fence or the other ... and Jesus, in a fantastic move, demolished the fence."

There is much for us to learn. Jesus is about His father's business, and He is not distracted by lesser things like the divisive political questions of His day or ours. There is no question that Jesus told us also to be about the father's business, which of course includes taking care of the poor. But that is where the Christian unanimity ends. There are many, many ways of taking care of the poor, and some work a lot better than others. And just because the press, or the President, or Stephen Colbert declares that Jesus would have chosen a certain one does not make it so.

Don't try to force Jesus on one side or the other of the fences that we have chosen to build.


SandraJohnson said...

Hey Lyn, my name is Sandra. I read several blogs on religion and prayer and I've i feel like I've ended up here once before. I ran across this prayer exchange website and I haven't had the chance to ask my Church what their stance is on it.

I'm a bit confused, I think that there are some benefits to a site like this but some Christians might find it questionable.

The website is

If you're looking for a topic to blog about, I would be curious to hear your thoughts and know what your stance is on this type of prayer service.

I have your blog in my feed reader so i'll check back, God bless
Sandra J.

Chris said...

Of course I would disagree with "the worst possible way to do that..." However, I could not agree more that it is a dangerous place to be in when Jesus hates all the same people you do. The deep reflection on what Jesus teachings mean for us today is something you have always done and not matter what stripe you wear, I respect that about you.