Beliefnet
Blogalogue

Biblical wisdom is all-encompassing, with something to say about every private and public concern, yet your approach, Jim, seems myopic. Your passions are aroused by poverty, the Biblical approach to which you misunderstand, and by war, which you fail to appreciate as the normal tool of statecraft that it is in the Biblical perspective. On the problem of poverty, you seem to admire some political leaders whose views are, frankly, fantastic. In my book, I cite the transcript of the Sojourners Presidential Forum in June of last year. You questioned John Edwards about what he’d do to address poverty, and he responded with the claim that an Edwards Administration would “eliminat[e] poverty over the next 30 years.”


You decry President Bush as being in danger of committing “idolatry or blasphemy” for wanting to eliminate grotesque evildoers like Saddam Hussein, yet you offered no rebuke or correction to Edwards, when the Bible is clear that “destitute people will not cease to exist in the land” (Deuteronomy 15:11), which is why God commands us to be charitable. Why the free pass to Edwards?
It’s true that the Bible, in the very same chapter in Deuteronomy, seems to offer the hope of a future time when “there will be no needy among you, for the Lord will surely bless you in the land the Lord, your God, is giving you” (15:4). But notice that the medium for this transformation of society is God’s blessing, not policies aimed at confiscating wealth from its creators. And God’s blessing comes when we obey Him comprehensively.
Time and again, the Bible presents societal wealth as a function of society’s moral health. Please don’t associate me with the cartoon in your mind of what a religious conservative believes, i.e. that if children are poor in America, “it is all their fault.” No, it’s all our fault, but not for the reason you think.
“And it will be, if you hearken to My commandments that I command you this day to love the Lord, your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, I will give the rain of your land at its time, the early rain and the latter rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil. And I will give grass in your field for your livestock, and you will eat and be sated. Beware, lest your heart be misled, and you turn away and worship strange gods and prostrate yourselves before them. And the wrath of the Lord will be kindled against you, and He will close off the heavens, and there will be no rain, and the ground will not give its produce, and you will perish quickly from upon the good land that the Lord gives you” (Deuteronomy 11:13-17).
In the Bible’s picture of reality, God’s blessing comes to the culture that will “hearken to [His] commandments,” the culture that loves God and serves Him. The Edwards formula would seek to evade this Scriptural logic by force of law.
Again, I don’t discount the need to provide some kind of governmental safety net for the needy. But if we respect Biblical wisdom, then the best hope for minimizing the suffering that goes along with neediness is to nurture a society-wide respect for Godly values as they pertain to every aspect of our public and private lives.
Instead, while your feelings are very much aroused for the poor, you find the murder of millions of unborn babies merely “alarming.” That’s the sort of bland adjective I would feel comfortable applying to, let’s say, a spike in the number of car thefts. (“It’s so alarming! I had to start putting my car in a garage instead of leaving it on the street!”) You object to sanctioning abortion doctors with possible criminal penalties, and would use only moral persuasion to reduce abortion rates. Tell me, Jim, do you support criminal penalties for repeated acts of drunk driving? I assume so. Now, most drunk drivers do not end up taking a life, although they put themselves at risk of doing so. Simply as a matter of justice, how can you defend letting an abortionist off lightly when every Christian and Jew should be able to agree that deliberately taking a life, or many lives, is exactly what such a doctor has done?
For that matter, if I fail to pay the massively increased taxes that would be imposed by an Edwards-style anti-poverty program, you would also support using the power of the state against me, I guess. But not against an abortion doctor, Jim?
You miss the connection the Bible makes between poverty and social morality. Frankly, for this very reason, you should be much more up at arms about the California Supreme Court’s installation of homosexual matrimony as the law of that state. You are against tampering with the “sacrament” of marriage. I guess that means you wouldn’t marry two men in a church ceremony. But that says nothing about the state giving its legal stamp of approval to gay unions. No one is urging that the state offer a “sacrament” (at least not yet).
What you say about same-sex marriage in your last post doesn’t address the actual situation in California (and elsewhere), with its moral implications that will affect the rest of us too, whether in Washington, D.C., where you live, or here in Washington State. The point here is not about Bible-thumping. It’s about the moral message that’s being sent, to the effect that moral tradition no longer has the authority to decide values or behavior, whether among homosexuals or heterosexuals. That will undercut all of us in our personal daily struggles to choose right over wrong.
Judicial activists seek to overturn a great American tradition of respecting Biblical morals in our laws, a tradition that prevailed till less than 40 years ago. Where is your “prophetic” outrage, Jim?
As for the Biblical laws you allude to that would provide relief for the impoverished – leaving the corner of a field for the poor, for example – please notice that, as they appear in the Scriptural text, not one of those laws comes with any kind of legal consequence if the farmer fails to comply. Those commandments are addressed by God to the individual believer, not to the government. The only apparent enforcement is provided by one’s conscience. You’ve unintentionally made my point for me.
The Bible wants to teach us to be righteous for love of God and for love of other human being, not because the IRS will punish us if we neglect to help pay for government programs.
I can’t close without addressing your point about the supposedly massive number of poor people in our country. The existence of even one child who goes to sleep hungry should tear at our heart. But let’s not cut ourselves loose from reality, Jim. Readers may want to take a look at some of the statistics on poverty I discuss in the chapter on that subject in my book. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2002, 89 percent of the American poor reported they had “enough food to eat” year-round. If we assume this figure of 37 million “poor,” then about 4 million did not always know where their next meal was coming from. And so on. As one commenter pointed out to you under a recent post, this is a situation worlds away from the poverty known in Biblical times.
Thanks, in any event, for considering my views. It’s evident that many of the readers of our posts, or rather those who left comments, don’t regard the Bible as authoritative; or if they do, it’s only in the narrow field of our personal lives, not that of our public laws and institutions. They draw an arbitrary, totally un-Biblical, line against granting a voice to God’s eternal wisdom in politics. At least you and I agree that the Bible addresses all of life, not a mere fraction.
I wish you well, and congratulations again for the important and valuable work you’ve done in opening up a conversation about faith and policy on the Left.

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