Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Poor and the Christian Church

As I've noted here numerous times, I'm really uncomfortable with Christian churches taking money from the government to meet their God-given commitments to those less fortunate, while shelving God's command to preach the Gospel because that's not allowed with USDA food distribution grants or the HUD housing rehab or the HHS neighborhood clinic. "Peace and Justice" Christians, whether liberal or conservative, Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox, need to open the Old Testament--to the Book of Job. The story of Job is a non-Israelite story. Scholars don't agree on how old the story is, or where it came from, but a casual reading shows that Job was considered a righteous and moral man by his peers and himself, a man devoted to God. Job in his own words described his close fellowship with God, his wonderful family, his blessings of wealth, and his respected position in the community (this sounds like the "health and wealth" gospel you find on Christian TV). Then disaster takes it ALL away. We see that Job is an adherent of an ancient patriarchial religion, common among many desert people--he avoids adultery, including carnal lust, even the smallest thought that would contaminate his mind; he doesn't lie or deceive and was never unfair; he was fair even to his slaves; he was a man of great charity, helping the widow and fatherless orphans; he didn't worship idols and knew that silver and gold could be idols; he didn't gloat when his enemies failed; he didn't hate the foreigner and practiced hospitality; he hadn't obtained his land by robbery; no one ever charged him with being hypocrite. He "wore righteousness as a garment."

So if this is the sum total of what Jesus came to preach, he was a few centuries late--the people already knew all this. What constituted righteousness was well known, common knowledge, just as today. So Christians need to make sure that their own "righteousness" is more than that, it must include the Gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If the USDA summer lunch and snack program forbids distributing printed Bible tracts, or says you can't sing songs about Jesus or that you can't console a pregnant mother with life giving testimony about your own situation, then DON'T TAKE THE MONEY! Don't pay your church staff to go after and manage these grants. It's a deal with the Devil.

President Obama promised us in his 2008 campaign that he was going to strip religion from these programs--and even in the old days of "a thousand points of light," (Bush I slogan) Christians were restricted about what they could do or say in order to receive government grants. But we've already seen how President Obama co-opted the Catholic church in their own building on their own grounds dangling before them the prestige of having the President stand at their podium. He won't be any less harsh to Lutherans running lunch programs in neutral community buildings in Hilliard and on the Hilltop.

Government programs are rarely "temporary" and almost never go away. They just get bigger because so many staff government jobs are dependent on them. They spawn entire marketing and printing projects, distribution channels, factories to process food, conferences and workshops to keep employees informed of changes in the law (with travel to interesting cities like Las Vegas and New Orleans), warehouses and storage equipment, soup kitchens, special healthy snack creation, and all manner of cross fertilization of other projects, especially environmental, the current craze. What started 65 years ago when my grandparents were farming in Illinois and Iowa to use up agricultural surpluses to help the farmers after WWII, has run amok creating a dependency among the poor and the distributers alike. And I use the word "poor" loosely here--to qualify for food assistance, the family of 4 can earn $41,299 and add $6,959 for each additional family member.
    "Ohio Foodbanks began in 1985 to develop the federally funded Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) within the state of Ohio. Working in conjunction with the Department of Education and then the Ohio Department of Agriculture and finally with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services the Ohio Foodbanks struggled through many years of programmatic development, burdensome federal bureaucratic processes, repeated threats of cuts to the TEFAP food sources, and the constant recognition that even in the best of times, the food was generally in insufficient amounts to meet the growing needs of the hungry Ohioans." So now they are a line item in the state budget guaranteeing a permanent income stream. OASHF

    • 87% of pantries, 70% of kitchens, and 36% of shelters are run by faith-based agencies affiliated with churches, mosques, synagogues, and other religious organizations.
    • At the agency level, 80% of agencies with at least one pantry, kitchen, or shelter and 69% of all agencies including those only with other types of programs are faith-based. Toledo NW Ohio Food Bank, 2006"
Cross posted at Church of the Acronym.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Very interesting post and commentary.