Progressive religious leaders have been increasingly outspoken about their opposition to a budget deal that would hurt people who rely on social service programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Some were even arrested in the Capitol Rotunda yesterday. But now the religious right is fighting back, claiming that for Christians, charity is not the government’s responsibility.
The Family Research Council (an organization which has been labeled a hate group) launched ads in Kentucky and Ohio to compete the Circle of Protection, a Christian coalition. The Circle of Protection has been running radio spots on Christian and country stations in Kentucky, Ohio and Nevada, reminding listeners that their politicians are neglecting their fundamental obligation to the poor. The FRC, predictably, has another spin:
“Jesus didn’t instruct the government of his day to take the rich young ruler’s property and redistribute it to the poor. He asked the ruler to sell his possessions and help the poor. Charity is an individual choice, not a government mandate.”
As Tim King points out on the “God’s Politics” blog, this could be tough for John Boehner, a Catholic, to handle. After all, as King writes, “Catholic social teaching instructs that the government does have a direct responsibility to the poor and that private charity is only one of the ways that Christians express concern for ‘the least of these.’” Catholic leaders have already rebuked Boehner for supporting “disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.” How can Boehner respond without compromising his religious values? And does he care?
There’s also the possibility, though, that this stand-off between the FRC and the Circle of Protection will make no difference whatsoever. The Circle of Protection’s “Statement of Purpose” has an impressive list of signers from across Christian denominations, but are they more than symbolic figures? In a piece for Religion Dispatches, Sarah Posner suggests that “while a minister being led away in handcuffs might make for good press, it’s a completely ineffectual as a political strategy.” In other words, however inspirational it may be for progressive Christians to speak out during the debt debate, their admonitions are likely falling on deaf ears.
The only thing to do right now seems to be to wait and see.
Photo from Playadura via flickr.