April 7, 2014

The Conservative Evangelical ethos

Much like Rachel Held Evans, I continue to grapple with what appears to be the decline of the Evangelical mission.  Watching that World Vision battle was instructive, and clearly I was not the only one horrified that evangelicals would bully the organization by threatening to withhold assistance for poor children because the organization briefly embraced homosexual unions.

Brian Gee, at deconstructed molskine argues that the conservatives genuinely believe that homosexuality is a deal breaker:
No amount of personal, intellectual, or emotional appeal will move conservatives on this issue. To move is to put the soul of the gay person in eternal peril. It would be like smiling and waving as someone edges toward a cliff, making no effort to warn them before they go over. 
Gee and others (myself included) have framed this as a zero-sum game for conservatives between accepting the morality of homosexuality v. assisting the poor.  This is the "better of two evils" argument where conservatives continue to back conservative policy because the opposite might embrace homosexuality.

But I now think this misses that the rot is much deeper in the conservative evangelical ethos.  Say, for argument's sake, we accept that homosexuality is a sin, and that for conservative evangelicals wedded to the Bible, they have no choice but to stand up to the gay movement.  Say all of that is true.  What is missing in this above battle is that conservatives have decided to openly attack the poor--regardless of what is going on in the battle over gay rights and gay marriage.  And while there might be a bit of an argument for a literal Biblical rejection of gays, there is absolutely no defense of attacking the poor.

Why do I say that?  Because the conservative evangelical movement has done nothing to oppose the Republican attacks on the poor.  When Republicans called for a massive cut to food stamps, I just heard stammering about "waste" and "get a job" from the right.  Even when confronted with the numbers of the hungry in our country of wealth--the religious response is to shrug and talk about food stamp fraud and budgetary needs.

Then there is the man most of them voted for as VP last election--Paul Ryan.  The supposed Catholic who loves Ayn Rand, and is often praised as the "Republican budget wonk."  Ryan has attacked the poor often, and last month was caught talking about "inner city men" while claiming that he didn't realize that was code for "black."  But his budget released this past week is the worst attack on the "least of these" that you will find outside of Ayn Rand herself.  As Michael Tomasky notes, Ryan proposes massive cuts to the safety net, and goes far beyond the most recent Republican cuts:
Let’s stop here and mull this food stamp cut. As you probably know, in last year’s farm bill negotiations, House Republicans proposed a $40 billion cut to food stamps. By the time the House and Senate agreed to a farm bill last month, that was whittled down to $8.7 billion over 10 years. That’s a small cut in percentage terms (about 1 percent). But even it takes $90 a month away from 850,000 poor families. Ryan’s proposed food stamps cut? $125 billion. More than 14  times the size of the already controversial current cut. 
I understand the sleight of hand going on in evangelical circles.  They all contribute to charity in some way, and that continues.  But they don't seem to understand that why they help out those few hundred with their local charity, they vote to harm millions.  And opposing gay people doesn't really excuse that.  At some point, the conservative evangelical world needs to explain how opposing the poor is somehow acceptable in a Christian worldview.

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