President Obama recently spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, during which he furthered his usual conflation of Christian charity with progressive policies.
From the speech:
[W]hen I talk about shared responsibility, it’s because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense.
Such “shared responsibility” can, of course, make economic sense—e.g., if rich folks aren’t already paying their “fair share,” if we actually can increase government revenues by further squeezing the rich, if government revenues are actually being used in ways that help poor/middle-class families, etc.
But particularly after a State of the Union address in which the President promised to ramp up spending across the board, it is ever more difficult to swallow the notion that spelunking the pockets of the rich will somehow alleviate the plight of “ordinary Americans.” Let us remember: This is a President whose solution for economic collapse is to inflate skill-heavy industries such as energy and high-tech manufacturing (the uneducated poor are likely unenthusiastic). This is a President whose solution for inflated tuition costs is doubling the number of minimum-wage work study jobs. You can tax the rich all you want, but until you cut your blind addiction to counterproductive spending, such an approach will make little “economic sense.”
But it gets worse. Obama then moves to argue that forced economic redistribution also makes spiritual sense:
But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required’… To answer the responsibility we’re given in Proverbs to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” … Treating others as you want to be treated. Requiring much from those who have been given so much. Living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need.
Setting aside the President’s peculiar tendency to use “I am my brother’s keeper” as an imperative for Christian service (“I really do know what happened to Abel!”), he is falling prey the most typical of progressive tendencies: (1) confusing Jesus’ call of radical obedience to God with a call of radical obedience to the State, and (2) debasing Jesus’ parables to be wholly materialistic in their scope.
God requires plenty from us, but he wants us to obey him, not the arbitrary dictates of political rulers. Just as he gives us much more than stuff, he also expects us to do much more than give our stuff away (or have it seized away). I have commented on these errors time and time again.
The irony is that the society in which an equality of outcomes is an overarching policy aim is the society in which the people “to whom much is given” start dropping like flies. When the moralistic bureaucrats on top of the hill try to determine how much has been given to whom and how much is too much, God is quickly reduced from being our ultimate source and guide to a mere excuse for government meddling. When leaders like Obama pretend that Jesus was/is encouraging us to blindly submit our resources to a massive inefficient bureaucracy, being a bond slave of Christ becomes no different than being a robot for Uncle Sam.
God does intend to give us much, both in material resources and spiritual gifts, and he delights when we produce something with those gifts. The process of obeying his commandments is, however, a bit more complicated than getting Harry Reid and John Boehner to cooperate on some bloated government giveaway package (e.g. here and here).
At this point, it may be helpful to look at the full context of the referred-to passage (Luke 12:35-48), which comes in response to a parable Jesus tells about being a faithful servant:
Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
As is evident, being a “faithful and wise manager” involves a whole lot more—indeed, demands a whole lot more—than funneling our material junk through a bureaucratic redistribution machine that has done harm to many, particularly to the poor.
As is also evident, God wants to entrust us with much and he wants to “demand the more.” This cannot happen to the fullest, however, if the President of the United States appoints himself as the all-knowing middle man between the Lord of the Universe and 300 million Americans. This cannot happen through arbitrarily determined taxation percentages that attempt to achieve some super-spiritual economic equilibrium. This cannot happen if the government siezes our responsibilities and assumes God’s role as Punisher-in-Chief. If the rich deserve a severe beating, they should get it from the Master, not some sloppy imposter.
For Obama to use Jesus’ call effectively, then, he needs to rephrase it a bit: “For unto whom much is given, less shall be required.”
So don’t worry, rich Christians. Obama’s got you covered. Just look at that little number on your W-2s and relax in your La-Z-Boys. Thou hath been taxed, and God’s demands are thus sufficiently satisfied. Carry on.
Note: I understand that Obama proceeded to quote C.S. Lewis’ line that “Christianity has not, and does not profess to have a detailed political program. It is meant for all men at all times, and the particular program which suited one place or time would not suit another.” Likewise, Obama goes on to note that, “Our goal should not be to declare our policies as biblical. It is God who is infallible, not us.”
This, however, is a flat out contradiction of the entire first half of Obama’s address, in which he methodically explains how his redistributionist schemes are consistent with Biblical teaching. Thus, I can only assume this later qualifier is your typical, run-of-the-mill, “God-is-not-a-Republican-or-Democrat” pandering a la Jim Wallis. For Obama, our policies should not be declared Biblical, but, for Obama, his detailed progressive policies also happen to “coincide with Jesus’s teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.’” Make up your mind.