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Last week, President Barack Obama made an excellent case for a mix of Christianity and political activism that is certainly not “conservative,” but is consistent with the Scriptures.
The occasion was the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., an event that has become obligatory for whoever is president. It was good to see this president make a case for believers who refuse to connect Christianity with conservatism.
Obama, who became a Christian while in college, spoke of the daily influence of his beliefs in his work as president. He called it the inspiration behind his policies, such as health care for those who need it, helping families with college tuition, even raising taxes on the wealthy.
“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,” Obama told the audience. “But for me, as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’ teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.’
Jesus also talked about doing things for “the least of these my brethren,” which sounds like the very poor that Mitt Romney says he’s not concerned about (although, to be fair, many people missed Romney’s stated commitment to the social safety net in that remark, for which he deserves credit).
It’s clear, too, in the New Testament that Jesus didn’t trust the influence of money, and warned about what the love of it could do to a person. He and his followers lived in poverty. In Acts, it’s stated that the first Christians shared their food and their belongings so no single one would do without. Tell me that’s not socialism, and then tell me it’s not the right thing to do. It was.
Some conservatives would say, well, of course, we are to help the poor. But that’s the work of churches, not the government. But let’s be realistic. Churches don’t pay old-age pensions, do they? Churches can’t deliver health insurance, can they? Churches can’t raise the minimum wage, either.
Obama and other left-of-center Christians understand that only government has the scope and the authority to truly help us carry out the compassion that Christ taught us about. Using that authority may not be “conservative,” but it is the imperative of any nation that wants to help the needy.
When “Christian conservatives” apply their sense of politics and morality, they seem to skip right over the social gospel and deal only with two things: abortion and homosexuality (neither of which are mentioned in the New Testament; as far as we know, Jesus did not address either subject).
In fact, it was abortion, specifically the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, that founded the religious right. Jerry Falwell and some others were convinced that electoral victories could be had for conservatives if abortion was transformed from “a Catholic issue” into a national crusade.
This is not to suggest that all Christian conservatives are heartless rubes who don’t care at all for the poor. But what you choose to emphasize as a Christian says a lot about you, and about your understanding of what Christ said and did not say.
Another quote from the president’s speech: “The Bible teaches us to ‘be doers of the word and not merely hearers,” he said. “We’re required to have a living, breathing, active faith in our own lives. And each of us is called on to give something of ourselves for the betterment of others.”
Maybe Christian conservatives feel that way, too. But they sure don’t talk about it the way Obama did.
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.