December 8, 2006

God or Caesar

I think our blog friend Tony is on a bit of a roll lately. The other day he posted on Sam Brownback's major political goals as Presidential candidate. Hint, none of them are about poverty or the environment. During our discussion, Tony and I noted that Brownback was, of course, reaching for his political base in the James Dobson crowd. As the Christian Coalition showed recently, they are not interested in either anti-poverty campaigns or anything addressing the environment. It doesn't seem to matter that the environmental problems effect the poor disproportionately. All that matters is stopping the government from making us marry gays or dissect stem cells.

But I digress. Today, Tony challenged the notion of compassionate conservatism. For one, he also believes what many liberals (at least on this blog) have always thought--that conservative evangelicals focus on sexual sins and ignore those of greed, or environmental destruction. Second, he notes how conservatives (and we have had proof of this on Streak's blog) often identify their approach to the poor purely in opposition to what they perceive as the "liberal approach." As Tony quoted from the BP article on poverty and conservatism:
Over the next several minutes I explained that of all of the conservatives that I know, while they want to help those less fortunate than themselves, they do not believe government was the best vehicle to get the job done.

When it comes to government-run programs, I said, there seems to be a tremendous amount of waste. Not only that, but there is virtually no accountability. At best, most government programs are only placing a Band-Aid on the problem and, at worst, are only perpetuating the plight of the poor.

“An old adage states, ‘Give a man a fish and you have fed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you have fed him for life,'" I told the reporter. “The conservatives that I know want to teach people how to fish.”

I understand that some government programs are wasteful. In fact, his comment about lack of oversight reminded me of the entire Bush administration, and specifically how billions of dollars have been wasted in Iraq because of no oversight. Their Jesus President actually undermined such oversight, so if they are arguing against waste, they need to look in the mirror.

Again, I digress. But I am annoyed at how this conservative framed the use of government. Yes, some are programs that just hand out fish, but we have a lot of programs dedicated to helping people learn to fish. Conservatives have been trying to cut those too. College is more expensive and access to loans and grants is more difficult, not easier. Governments have subsidized education, roads, and entire industries that have had ripple effects of jobs and access to opportunity.

Not only that, but there are some unique issues where the government may be the only one to help. Can churches clean up toxic waste? (Actually, that was a trick question, because our conservative evangelical friends tell us there is no problem with toxic waste, so no need to clean it up. sigh.) Can churches address the needs of the disabled poor? What about the mentally ill? Those with chronic and expensive health issues?

None of this is meant to attack the work that conservative Christians and liberal Christians and non-Christians of all perspectives do to help the poor. Every soup kitchen helps. Every volunteer who collects clothes for the poor. Every dollar given is good.

But there is no need to choose. We don't have to say "either the government helps the poor or the church helps the poor." Since the New Deal, both have worked at it. Both have their problems and difficulties. But shouldn't we work to find out how to encourage each to do what they do best?


P.M. Prescott said...

Actually look at how much money was spent to keep Terry Shiavo alive both medically and legally by those very same conservatives that say Government shouldn't be putting money in health care.

Anonymous said...

Here's an even older adage that is truer than the Milton Friedman-esque way we let ourselves off the hook for not helping people and pat ourselves on the back while doing it: "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead." James 2

ubub said...

But continue reading! I think it is in James 2a where there is an exemption if they are lazy, drunks, or if you have already done enough. I can't tell from this if you still have to help them if they're gay, though.

volfan007 said...

ane and ubub,

the command is james is given to an individual person...not to a govt. the govt. is not the best one to handle the needs of the needy. the govt. always messes everything up and resorts to all kinds of waste and people abusing the system. it always does. besides, who does delivering mail better.....the us post office, or fed ex? i rest my case.

also, the bible also teaches that those who wont work dont eat....dont feel obligated to help out lazy bums and drug addicts and drunks. i know some women in memphis, tn who have babies in order to get more govt. money. the babies end up growing up in the streets. but, mom is getting her check. i know of a man who ran a factory. he kept seeing a group of young, healthy looking fellas playing basketball every day. he stopped and told the crowd that he would hire any of them on the spot if they were willing to work. they laughed in his face, and told him that it would mess up thier govt. money. he was going to pay them a livable salary also. they didnt want it. they instead wanted to play basketball and sleep late everyday.

do you want your money going to some people like this?

also, we can talk about govt. waste all day. they have enough money now to do what needs to be done to take care of the truly needy...if they would spend it right. but instead, we are spending all kinds of money studying the emission of a cows gas, and we are buying $400 toilet seats, etc.

i do not want to pay any more taxes than what i am currently paying. half of our income goes to the govt. now. i work hard for the money i have. i give 10% to my church, and i give money all the time to needy people and causes. i dont want the govt. to keep robbing me to pay the drunk who has 7 children, and they are all on food stamps and getting govt. checks.


Streak said...

Volfan, you lack credibility here. You ignore all of my points and come back to the tired "supporting drunks and cheaters" argument.

I am sure you believe yourself to be a credible person, but you are, as someone here noted, a caricature of a Fundamentalist Baptist.

Anonymous said...


In my post, I referenced that Scripture in defense of my position. If our faith does not make a difference in the way we respond to needy people, it is not faith at all. Blessings.


That is just funny :O) but is indeed a caricature of the problem. Thanks.


Thanks for the honorable mention. Your kindness is exceeded only by my good looks.



volfan007 said...

and then, i wonder if this compassionate, conservative evangelical may be the only one who really helps those in need. i hear a bunch of people in here talking about helping....but, methinks maybe they want the govt. to do it.

other evangelicals and i are the ones that are actually out there showing a needy world the love of God by doing something....not just talking about it.

i got to go to a mental retardation center this week. visited with the mentally handicapped...sang songs with them....hugged thier necks....fed them....laughed...had a great time.

my church is in the process of helping out many families in need. we are paying electric bills...buying groceries and clothes....even sent $10,000 to help a disabled family to have a house. thats just the beginning to what we are doing. the list goes on.

most other conservative evangelicals that i know are doing as much, or more. yall?

please dont say that we dont seek to meet the needs of people. we are constantly doing it. please dont act like conservative evangelicals dont seek to help out the truly needy of our world. we are doing it all the time.


Streak said...

As frustrating as all of your rhetorical devices are, this is the most irritating. I explicitly said that I appreciated what conservative evangelicals did.

None of this is meant to attack the work that conservative Christians and liberal Christians and non-Christians of all perspectives do to help the poor. Every soup kitchen helps. Every volunteer who collects clothes for the poor. Every dollar given is good.

Are you reading too fast, or being a purposeful ass about this? I also went on to suggest this:

But there is no need to choose. We don't have to say "either the government helps the poor or the church helps the poor." Since the New Deal, both have worked at it. Both have their problems and difficulties. But shouldn't we work to find out how to encourage each to do what they do best?

Oh, and btw, Volfan, let me congratulate you on blowing your own horn here. Kudos indeed.

Bootleg Blogger said...

Good post, Streak. I'm going to jump around a bit here, but, hey, it's Friday. The cries for "the church should take care of the needy" are just not realistic. The church should be involved, but not everyone is associated with a church and not every church is capable of addressing everything that goes on in their community. Either/or choices are false choices in this case. I get pretty tired of Christians using the scripture to figure out how little they have to do for others (if you're gay, if you're an addict, if you're "fill in the blank") Jesus example was an expansion of compasion and grace and he was full of reprimands for those who would limit forgiveness. There are plenty of examples of good coordination of faith and non-faith based groups cooperating for everyone's benefit. The "teaching someone to fish" analogy is a bit outdated, though. It carries with it the patronistic attitude that you need something that I can teach you. It's still about power and who wants to divvy it out. As I once heard John M. Perkins say, (my paraphrase) "The problem isn't that people don't know how to fish, it's that they don't own the pond." This simple statement is a reflection of the root of the issues our country deals with. Even in charitable situations, which have their place, it is the "haves" deciding who get to have what when. People need voices and influence in what happens in their live and I'm talking more than a vote once every couple years. Much of our malaise is due to institutional, intentional, planned and implemented preferential access to the pie. While there are plenty of abuses of programs and everyone seems to have their favorite "I know of a guy....." story, there's a quiet majority of people who DO improve their lives with temporary assistance at some time in their lives. Of course there's going to be abuse, but let's not act like government is the place where waste and abuse takes place and the church is spotless as they go about their charitable work!!! There's plenty of waste and abuse in that direction, too, under the guise of tax-deductable contributions for Jesus. Do we do away with all because of the abuses of some? Of course not. That would be stupid, and for the most part we're not stupid people. Do things need to be evaluated and modified without partisan politics driving the decisions, SURE! Doing the right thing for the long term while preserving dignity and self direction is messy. NO ONE, not even GOD, has come up with a system that is beyond the abuse and mishandling of the humans implementing and participating in it. I agree that scripture calls us to action, but no in order for us to check off what we've done with 10% of our money while we use the other 90% to create the problems our 10% is going to help. Scripture also asks, "Who ARE you?" Are you compassionate? Do people who are having a hard time feel grace or judgement? We're called to be transformed which is a humbling experience- not a self-righteous one. I've forgotten by now what the original post was so I'll stop there for now. Later, dude- BB

volfan007 said...

God will show His answer one day to the mess that this world is in. one day, He will have all the answers to what ails this world.


Streak said...

Thanks Bootlegger. As always you are thoughtful and on point.

Volfan, nice avoidance. I think Tony said it best. Nevermind.

JMG said...

Christians feel good about giving a tithe to the church, but when 75% of that money goes toward overhead, that tithe is not doing as much for the poor as they like to fool themselves into thinking.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the ancient nation of Israel a government of sorts, with a beauracracy of priests? That government had as one of its roles the task of taking care of the needy at the expense of the taxpayers: Every third year the people were supposed to give ten percent of their crops to that government to be stored up in order to feed the Levites, the foreigners, the orphans, and the widows (Deut. 14.28-29 & 26.12). And we can see in Isaiah 1.23-25 that God was not pleased with the government officials who did not carry out this duty.

volfan007 said...

we are not ot israel. we are the nt church. and, we do much....much, help the poor and needy...which is not the main job of the church btw. our main job is to win souls and grow the saved in thier faith. to prepare them for heaven. thats our main job....along with worshipping God.

but, i would dare say that most of the charity work that goes on done by conservative evangelicals. we do it out of compassion on people, and because of the love of Jesus.


ubub said...

One thing that I have been thinking about is how we might think of charity, however noble, however generous, as passing out buckets and sandbags to flood victims, to whatever sacrificial degree we may be moved to act. Passing out buckets and sandbags is critical, and those who do so are to be lauded. But as long as the waters continue to flow, it does little more than address the immediate symptoms.

Those of us who might advocate government intervention are not deriding those who pass out buckets nor are we deriding buckets per se. I, for one, am saying that buckets and sandbags are not enough. We need our government to repair the dam, rebuild the levees, restore the wetlands, and take other infrastructure-related measures toward alleviating the flood.

This poverty-as-flood metaphor acknowledges the importance of charity of all types but also recognizes the importance of increasing aid for job training, higher education, etc.

This metaphor was tortured, but only a little bit, was for a good cause, and led to conclusions that for now seem to be valid and worthwhile. I wouldn't though, for example, go to war based on these coerced conclusions.

Streak said...

but, i would dare say that most of the charity work that goes on done by conservative evangelicals. we do it out of compassion on people, and because of the love of Jesus.

Sigh. Volfan have you read anything I wrote? I am now convinced you are an ass on purpose. I credited conservatives for much of what they do? What part of that do you not understand? But I also suggest there is more to do and more that your "lil hillbilly church from the stills of Tennessee" can do.

But you ignore it. Either address the issues or go back to Les's blog and accuse his God of hating his grandchildren.

Sigh. Double sigh.

Anonymous said...

Volfan007, you might want to think twice about starting a contest about who is doing more for whom. You might be surprised. Moreover, Christ's teaching on the widow with two mites comes to mind, to say nothing of his admonition in Matthew 6 to give in secret. What does more mean in that context? You talk about $400 toilet seats. I'm with you 100% on that one. But how about an unprovoked, unjust, and immoral war that costs about $195 million a day? Is there room in your mind for those of us who think that is equal to or worse than an overpriced toilet seat?

You criticized my quote of James by saying that it is directed toward the individual, not the government. Okay. Fair enough. But I thought this was a Christian nation? If so, shouldn't we act like one?

Finally, you also said this: "God will show His answer one day to the mess that this world is in. one day, He will have all the answers to what ails this world."

I'm a Christian. As a Christian, my response to this is that God has shown his answer. The answer was and is Christ and the Gospel message he empowered us to proclaim. What else are you waiting for?

volfan007 said...

i am for the govt. building roads and levees and highways and schools and such. i know of no conservative evangelical who would be against that. good grief! we are not talking about the govt. building bridges and levees, are we? i thought we were talking about helping the poor and needy.

besides, anew, the message that Christ told us to go and preach is the great commission in matthew 28:18-20. everything else we do should be done with that in mind. besides, we are not a christian nation....not anymore.


Streak said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Streak said...

Volfan, perhaps you can tell us when we ceased being a Christian nation. That should be interesting.

Talking with you is like beating ones head with a bat. You don't listen. You don't read. This entire post was about respecting conservative contributions to social justice, but also suggesting that liberals are also concerned and active about it, and that there are areas where the government--where our combined resource as a society and community can do things that individual churches cannot. You have yet to even acknowledge that point. Usually, we get a list of good deeds you and your church do, followed by a scripture verse about proselytizing.

If you ever get around to reading what people here (and at Les's blog) actually say to you, you might be capable of a meaningful conversation.

ubub said...

I am shocked SHOCKED that some can be so absolutely disingenuous. My intent was to lay out my own thinking on the issue of poverty so that we might discuss it. I thought that it might be helpful to use a metaphor to do so clearly so that others might help me to refine my thinking. Perhaps not. I am sufficiently chastised. Thank you.