The budget talks are a’blazin and Jim Wallis is at it again, rallying left-leaning Christians everywhere to support a laundry list of progressive “anti-poverty” programs (i.e. all of them).
On July 20, Wallis and 11 other “religious leaders” met with President Obama to ask for a “Circle of Protection” around any program ”focused on reducing poverty.” (“Circle of Protection”–is that Orwellian, New Age, or something out of a 1980s RPG?)
“We made our simple principle clear,” Wallis said. “The most vulnerable should be protected in any budget or deficit agreements…We told President Obama that this is what God requires of all of us.”
“This is what God requires of all of us”? You mean Medicaid, food stamps, and foreign “aid”? Inspiring, I do declare.
But, man, if we’re falling short on our redistributionist checklist, folks in the third-world must really need a sense of what God requires of them. Maybe Wallis can head over to Cuba or Zimbabwe and teach those tyrannical bullies a thing or two about how to properly manipulate and micro-manage their peoples toward greater prosperity. How I would love to see Wallis positioned in the former Soviet Union, trying to fix things by avoiding programs that “focus on reducing poverty” (i.e. everything).
As much as I appreciate Wallis’ attempt to intercede on my behalf, what God “requires of all of us” cannot be rolled into some quaint piece of legislation signed by Harry Reid or John Boehner. God’s “requirements” do not constitute a legalistic bullet list of progressive programs, and the church extends well beyond an “enlightened” majority with a tendency to sign and spend things quickly. (I’ve discussed this previously).
Why, for example, is our bloated, inefficient, fraud-laden Medicaid system the God-ordained method for helping America’s poor find healthcare in the 21st century? Why, might I ask, is such a system only God-ordained insofar as it remains untouched by budget cuts? If we cut the program by, say, 1% (or even .00001%), will judgment day come sooner or more harshly than it would otherwise? And to what degree? Paging Harold Camping…Al Gore?
What if I happen to disagree with page 3,500 of the legislation, but agree with the rest? What if I disagree with the whole thing and suggest a more “cutting-edge” alternative (I know, I know: “granny killer!”)? What if, on the other hand, God would rather I take my existing Medicaid “contribution” and donate it to the local church or a private charity? What if such funds would be better spent on kick-starting a new medical enterprise or investing in an upcoming pharmeceutical? What if God wants me to buy my own family health care for this particular week in this particular month of this particular year? Oh the greed.
Also, what constitutes Wallis’ view of an “anointed” government policy, and how does he come to such a view? Has he had a personal visitation from the Archangel Gabriel? Has the Holy Spirit led him to tweak Policy X by altering the verbiage on page 25 and fixing the numbers in Appendix B? Has he heard a “still small voice” telling him to coerce the nation into blind support of an unsustainable status quo? Have his pastor, church elders, and community of believers prayed and fasted energetically to come to this conclusion? Does his preferred “spiritual” approach align with a proper Biblical anthropology and systematic theology? Can he point to a verse that says, “Take X% from the Westerners and distribute it across Africa, using Y% for mosquito nets and Z% for condoms”?
From what I’ve read, Wallis makes no such claims, although he’d be much more persuasive if he did. After all, that is how God speaks to us, sans class warfare.
Instead, Wallis applies his own debased, materialistic, progressive worldview to Jesus’ call to serve the poor, and in doing so, anoints his aims with nothing more than the dirty oil of humanistic arrogance. This is what happens when we lose sight of Jesus’ radical call to follow him vs. ourselves. This is what happens when we lay claim to “love” on our terms and believe we can manufacture Compassion 17.0 and mandate it across the globe. This is why Jesus didn’t provide a detailed, point-by-point government plan for poverty elimination.
The whole point of obedience is intimate communion and discernment rooted in authentic, attentive, Biblical love. This is what is required for real and properly aligned human empowerment and the subsequent execution. This is what is required for true community and real, sustainable prosperity (did I say “real” yet?). And this, we must emphasize, is not what government was made for.
As Wallis states in his group’s “Circle of Protection Statement”: “We look at every budget proposal from the bottom up—how it treats those Jesus called ‘the least of these.’” (Matthew 25:45)
Ah yes, “from the bottom up” — that orientation through which the federal bureaucracy is known to function.
There I sit, waiting hours upon hours at the DMV, clutching my ticket with anticipation as I marvel over the “bottom-up” spirit that permeates the room. Sitting in my orange plastic chair, I gaze gleefully at the outdated monitor on the wall, waiting anxiously to see my number scroll across the marquee. (“There it is! #683! O wondrous, benevolent government!”) Approaching the counter, I behold the service-oriented spirit of that droopy-eyed, paper-pushing bureaucrat, whose groan and growl reminds me of that base beauty of humanity. Being thoroughly inspired, I generously pay $160 for permission to drive my own car. Blessings! Blessings! Bottoms up for blessings!
As all progressives do, Wallis commits the basic error of attaching his limited, earthbound, top-down scheming to his bottom-up, heartfelt desires. Through this warped, debased rendering of the Scripture, all that we thought we knew about Matthew 25 suddenly becomes robbed of its most basic message and meaning.
In the new version — the Jim Wallis Progressive Translation (JWPT?) — it might as well read like this:
“I tell you the truth, whatever limiting, impersonal, manipulative, enslaving, dehumanizing ‘anti-poverty’ programs you did not enact for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
Great! Let the cutting begin!
Whether Wallis likes it or not, he takes Jesus’ message about people and compassion and turns it into a message about politics and pressure, dragging in all the baggage that comes with it (and there’s a lot). The rich become sinners, the Right become unrighteous, the Left become holy, and the poor become political pawns in a contorted game of God-told-me-to-tell-you-so.
Wallis is certainly entitled to his view of what “God requires,” and we can certainly debate and disagree over which government “anti-poverty” programs are effective and which are necessary. But pairing the two in such a simplistic fashion is a terrible approach if we care anything about a unified church or a church in the first place (c.f. Ecumenical Babel). In Christ’s call to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and heal the sick, it seems doubtful he was trying to provoke us into a chicken fight over whose political vision is superior.
What Christ was doing was calling us to pursue radical abandonment and obedience to his will–the kind that exalts the one true God, rejects the materialism of this world, and transmits God’s transcendent mercy, grace, and loving kindness to all those who need it (i.e. everyone).
The United States government cannot accomplish this, and on judgment day, it will be Wallis and myself who stand before God, not page 6,935 of a Medicaid policy book that nobody read but everybody voted for.
No, not even if it says “anti-poverty” on the cover page in big, fat, red letters.