A few years ago a clever ad campaign asked the question, “What Would Jesus Drive?” These days a different form of the question is being asked, “What Kind of Budget Cuts Would Jesus Approve?”
Americans are experiencing the opening salvoes of the 2012 Congressional and Presidential campaign and it looks like the primary battlefield will be reducing the deficit. Both Republicans and Democrats are trying to claim the strategic high ground and people on all sides are already appealing to Jesus. You’ve got to admit, it’s a good tactic … most of us would want him on our side in everything from whether we should eat meat to whether we should wage war.
Here’s how the battle lines are playing out so far: Some liberal Protestant (Sojourners) and Catholic (Catholics for Choice) groups are claiming that Jesus would adamantly oppose the budget recently proposed by Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and passed by the House of Representatives without a single Democrat vote. This budget, they claim, would be detrimental to children, widows and the elderly while giving added tax breaks to the rich and the super-rich.
In response, the pro-business oriented Wall Street Journal printed a rebuttal from Cato Institute (a conservative think tank) which claimed that we Americans were formed so that we could secure happiness for ourselves and our posterity, which Cato seems to interpret to mean “every man for himself.” As far as Jesus is concerned, this article interpreted the Parable of the Good Samaritan to mean that Americans should care for victims without resorting to “coercive” government help! They then proposed that if Americans weren’t “forced” by the government to help people we’d do it on our own. The problem with this ridiculous claim is that we (the church), in cooperation with other religious and not-for-profit groups - are already caring for the poor on a massive scale, but it’s not nearly enough.
Jesus also made it into the Letters to the Editor page on the Wall Street Journal last month when a Mr. Bruneaux of Bristol, R.I., employed a bit of Biblical contortionism to explain to us that Jesus opposed politicians removing your and my coat and giving them to other voters, egregiously misquoting Jesus by writing that Jesus “asked us to share our coats with our neighbors.” Of course Jesus “asked” no such thing. Instead he ordered his followers to give up their coats and their cloaks, to strip down to nothing, even if it meant giving the clothing to a soldier, a representative of the government.
People get upset when clergymen venture into subjects they know little about and I don’t blame them. But this cuts both ways: I’m sick of politicians and economists quoting Jesus out of context to rally the troops.
Nobody will be the worse for a robust debate over our economy and our national debt. But when you hear somebody pulling Jesus into the debate check their citations carefully and make sure that they aren’t simply using Jesus to prop up their shaky projections and conclusions.
The Rev. Creede Hinshaw is the senior pastor at Wesley Monumental UMC in Savannah.He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.