December 19, 2007

Advocates for the Sheep

Justin Katz

I've been finding something frustrating with local Christian leaders, of late.

Consider part of the Gospel reading from this past Sunday's Catholic Mass readings:

Jesus said to them in reply, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me."

The lame walk, and the dead are raised, yet the poor do not "have their pockets filled." Instead, they receive the good news. A few chapters later, Jesus mentions the poor again:

Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

Jesus doesn't tell the rich man to procure for the poor a "living wage." He doesn't mention ensuring adequate revenue flow through a charitable government. Instead, the young man "went away sad, for he had many possessions."

Our own Bishop Tobin offers related lessons:

We can get lost if we get wrapped up in materialism, secularism or hedonism, worshipping the false gods of this world instead of the one, true God.

The thing that frustrates me, with reference to the foregoing, is the all too common chastisement published as a recent editorial in the Rhode Island Catholic:

The Gospel this weekend reminds us that Jesus comes to us to bring sight to the blind, let the lame walk again, cleanse the lepers, bring hearing to the deaf, raise the dead and to proclaim the good news to the poor. The news is not good for thousands of Rhode Island poor families. They face devastating cuts in assistance and aid from state agencies. Many of them face the prospect of no health insurance coverage for themselves and their children.

"The news is not good"! But the News is good by definition — by faith. I realize the sentence was meant as a turn of phrase, but by such turns do we "get wrapped up in materialism." Through the echo of professional activists do we stumble into secularism. It is unfair — perhaps immoral — of Christian leaders, such as those who publish the Catholic, to leverage religious mandates when offering specific policy opinions without in tandem seeking to help the objects of the chastisements to make the difficult decisions:

These are disturbing financial times in our nation but especially in Rhode Island. There are no easy answers and no quick fixes to the huge deficit. However, we urge Governor Carcieri and the leadership of the General Assembly to remember that the state budget is more than a fiscal plan; it reflects our values as a people. Budget choices have clear moral and human dimensions. The poor and needy should not be forced to endure choices that force them to live without health care, affordable housing, and basic needs.

At whose door, then, would it be most moral to lay the budgetary shortfall? That of public employees? Unions? Taxpayers? High-paid non-profit executives? Is there no case for simultaneously improving our economic ecosystem and nudging the needy off the public lifeline into it?

There's a cowardice to solely declaring that the flow of resources to the poor must not be decreased. And it's a cowardice that allows the leeches and corrupt aristocrats to lay the responsibility on the next most vulnerable group: the regular, hard-working citizens. Oughtn't the Church be advocating for us, as well?

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And social service advocates across the board make the mistake of keeping their eyes in Rhode Island.

In fact, Rhode Island's spending on social programs has been at or near the top compared to other states. When we start making reductions, we will have a long way to go before we are even average in that category.

Posted by: Monique at December 19, 2007 7:47 AM

"And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."
(I Corinthians 13:13)

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:24)

"And thou I bestow all my good to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing."
(I Corinthians 13:3)

"And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves. for charity shall cover the multitude of sins."
(I Peter 6:8)

"One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed."
(Proverbs 11:24-25)

"Be careful not to do your `acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

"So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."
(Matthew 6:1-4)

"But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
(Luke 14:13-14)

Here endeth the lesson. For now.
Merry Christmas!

Posted by: Bob Walsh at December 19, 2007 10:06 AM

Thanks, Bob. Every single one of those quotes serves my point. Note the theme: "One man gives freely."

And I can't think of a more public, visible way to be charitable than to protest for increased taxpayer funds to the poor.

I assume, though, that you're working to persuade your union members to relent in their negotiations (perhaps even to scale back benefits already acquired) so that less of our state's budget deficit will have to come from our social programs...

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 19, 2007 10:17 AM

People don't mind exploiting Tobin's charisma and energy when it comes to fighting abortion or gay marriage. But damn, he becomes such an inconvenience when he actually wants to help the poor.

Posted by: rhody at December 19, 2007 11:09 AM

If you really want to help the poor, stop taxing the middle class into homelessness.

Posted by: Greg at December 19, 2007 11:26 AM

Well, as Marley's ghost -- burdened by the chains of sinful greed and avarice that he had forged in life -- said to Scrooge:

"Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business."

Posted by: brassband at December 19, 2007 11:36 AM

I think Mr. Walsh's post strikes at the heart of the issue. Some people seem to think that giving away other people's money is a form of charity. It isn't, just like publishing someone else's writings isn't authorship, getting take out isn't cooking, and owning slaves isn't farming.

Now, obviously, people usually benefit from these types of programs, and, at times, they might even be a net positive good. But people shouldn't delude themselves into thinking that advocating for expensive programs at no cost to yourself is an act of virtue.

Posted by: Mario at December 19, 2007 1:45 PM

Actually, I think Rhody may have stumbled onto a legitimate point.

It seems to me that the distinction here is in Biblical doctrine as it applies to the support of specific public policies.

I agree with Justin that the declaration by Jesus to give all your money to the poor does not mean that Christians have a moral obligation to support any and all policies that provide money/services to those the needy. I also see it as simplistic (rather than cowardice) to declare those in the context of public policy based on scripture.

Yet I think the same logic can be applied to other hot-button views such as homosexuality and the use of military (i.e.: Iraq war). There were debates on whether politicians who did not vote for pro-life policies should receive communion. That strikes as very wrong and arbitrary unless the denial was also used against those in support of other policies that are ‘against scripture’ including support of the Iraq war (opposed by Pope) and yes, including giving to the poor.

I guess the problem may be that there are competing interests on both sides of the ‘taxes for the poor’ issue that both the Church and public policy makers should consider. Obviously, as Justin notes, increasing taxes to support any program affects more than just the intended recipients. Policies/budgets are not simple Y/N questions reflecting good vs. evil in absolute terms. I happen to agree with Justin on nudging people off the public welfare lifeline and that the News is good – via faith. And finally, that it is unfair of religious and political leaders to leverage religious mandates when judging or offering specific policy opinions - for the reason that there may be competing interests.

Posted by: msteven at December 19, 2007 1:58 PM

I don't know if it is still offered, but it used to be that the United Way sign up sheets allowed one to either put money into the UW fund to be distributed as the UW saw fit, or to designate specific charities to which the donation would flow.

So, Bishop Tobin, how about advocating for no decrease in funding / tax collections in the aggregate, but allowing us taxpayers to designate where the "charitable" / social portion of our taxes go. If "progressives" wanted to they could just let Congress and the General Assembly decide where the money should go.

Others of us could designate that our tax money bypass the Kate Brewsters of the world, and go instead to the Salvation Army or Catholic Charities or wherever.

If the point is really to help the poor, then the Bob Walsh's of the world should have no objection to this idea - for the stream of revenue would be undiminished.

Why do I suspect that rather than allow taxpayers to bypass of the highly paid and benefited welfare bureaucrats of AFSCME etc. and directly help the poor through efficient entities like the Salvation Army, the Bob Walsh's would come up with pretenses as to why control of the money should remain with Congress / the General Assembly?

Why do I suspect that rather than allow taxpayers to bypass of the highly paid and benefited welfare bureaucrats of AFSCME etc. - which in turn would diminish the flow of campaign funds cycled from union dues - the Democrat politicians would come up with pretenses as to why control of the money should remain with Congress / the General Assembly?

Here in RI we don't refer to it as the "welfare industry" for nothing. Bishop Tobin is an idiot for serving as a mouthpiece and willing accomplice for the poverty pimps.

Finally, as for the poverty industry shamelessly trying to invoke Biblical passages to avoid budget cuts (here the same people that repudiate religion in every other venue) - the poor referenced in the Bible were not the poor of today. Most of today's "poor" have chosen to be that way by not applying themselves in the free taxpayer provided schools and by producing litters of illegitimate babies.

Or perhaps I'm wrong, for I'm no Biblical scholar. Perhaps Mr. Walsh can cite me the Biblical passage(s) that stand for the premise along the lines of: "Toil not. Go forth; drop out; spread your legs and be fruitful with progeny and multiply; and then rely upon Caesar and his tax collectors to support you."

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at December 19, 2007 2:19 PM

Since there was a request for more:

Luke 6:20-21. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

Deut. 15:7. If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.

Prov. 29:7. The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor; the wicked does not understand such concern.

Mt. 25:31-46. (excerpt)
Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.'
Then they themselves will also answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?'
Then He will answer them, saying, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Posted by: Bob Walsh at December 19, 2007 5:17 PM

Hey Bob. While you've got that gilded Bible open, what does it say about homosexuals? Women? Slaves?

I only ask because it's easy to cherry-pick pieces of out the Bible when it suits you. How about the parts that go against your mantra?

Posted by: Greg at December 19, 2007 7:26 PM

Bob Walsh is baaaaaaack!
Are you going to enjoy this session as much as we are Bob?
12 days and counting!

Posted by: Mike at December 19, 2007 7:47 PM

Bob's back because Pat has lost the last shred of a shred of legitimacy.

Posted by: Greg at December 19, 2007 8:44 PM

Eliminating teachers unions and their seniority, tenure, opposition to merit pay and adamant support of mediocrity in public education sounds like an essential prerequisite to really helping poor children grasp that first rungs of upward mobility!

Posted by: Tom W at December 20, 2007 2:23 PM

Perhaps Mr. Walsh can cite me the Biblical passage(s) that stand for the premise along the lines of: "Toil not. Go forth; drop out; spread your legs and be fruitful with progeny and multiply; and then rely upon Caesar and his tax collectors to support you."

Posted by Ragin' Rhode Islander at December 19, 2007 2:19 PM
Ha! You missed it. It's in the Book Of Marx 3:26

Posted by: Mike at December 20, 2007 7:41 PM


Posted by: Monique at December 21, 2007 11:41 PM
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