Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tea Party Christianity

Because it's Sunday, I thought I would take on the leftist tool over at HuffPo, Jim Wallis, who presents a very weak case that somehow the Tea Party ideology is inconsistent with Christian principles. He does so by distorting core beliefs of both the Tea Party and Christianity, an impressive feat in one article. He bills himself as a Christian leader for social change. Ever notice that when lefties put the word social in front of anything, the modified word ceases to mean what it formerly meant, think social justice, for example.

He starts off by conflating the Tea Party with libertarianism, and although there is large overlap, they are not synonymous. He says that the movement enshrines individual choice as the highest virtue, which he calls un-Christian. In fact, the Tea Party enshrines individual choice as a political virtue, which is very different. Further, Christianity enshrines individual choice as a key virtue as well; every individual is called to make a choice to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, no amount of social justice gets you to heaven, only that personal choice. He condemns the Tea Party for ignoring injustice to the poor, because we want to shrink the size of government. But if you really look at the statist policies of Obama, it is the poor who are hurt worst, because the rigid structures of the economy create a permanent underclass, often filled with minorities, like present day France.

Wallis states that anti-government rhetoric is unbiblical, and he has a point. But what is being protested isn't all government per se, but the reality that present size and scope of government leads inevitably to a form of tyranny and injustice. Government of the size proposed by Obama is inherently unjust, because it will rule so much of our lives. The Bible is replete with examples of God's unhappiness with governmental injustice.

Wallis echoes Pope John Paul with his next objection:

The Libertarians' supreme confidence in the market is not consistent with a biblical view of human nature and sin. The exclusive focus on government as the central problem ignores the problems of other social sectors, and in particular, the market.

But the Tea Party isn't asking for an end to regulation, just a level of regulation that is reasonable. The reason that our focus is on government is that it has proved to be the major problem in modern times. In fact, we find most examples of supposed free market failure to actually be the result of some combination of collusion between big government and big business or regulatory capture (see my article on the gulf oil spill.) Truly free markets turn out to be the enemy of big business, because they expose big business to the disruptive technologies from new companies. Regulation tends to be used to prevent the introduction of new products, tending to protect entrenched businesses. Competition has proved more bracing and producing Christian outcomes than excessive regulation.

Wallis then gets to the heart of the difference of how left and right view compassion differently:

The Libertarian preference for the strong over the weak is decidedly un-Christian. "Leave me alone to make my own choices and spend my own money" is a political philosophy that puts those who need help at a real disadvantage. And those who need help are central to any Christian evaluation of political philosophy. "As you have done to the least of these," says Jesus, "You have done to me."
For Wallis, and other lefties, the only compassion that matters is government compassion. In the immediate aftermath of Indonesian tsunami, I saw immediate criticism from the left on ABC's "This Week" over our government's initial response to that tragedy. When George Will pointed out that Americans had already donated hundreds of millions of dollars as private citizens, the Cokie Roberts or George Stephanopoulus said that the outpouring of generosity by our nation's citizens didn't count, because it didn't come from our government. This philosophy that we are only as generous as our government allows us to be is in fact directly in contravention to what Jesus preached. When the Samaritan meets the robbery victim on the road, he doesn't lobby for more police or roadside hostels; he reaches into his own pocket and helps the man. Ask yourself this, would the poor really better off under government entitlements programs that leave them no incentive to improve their condition, or under private charitable programs, that because of their limited resources, push them back into the work force?

Finally, being a true lefty, Wallis has to trot a version of the racist smear, saying that the movement is overwhelmingly white, and explicitly calls the movement racist. He manages to say something that is at its core not true and irrelevant simultaneously. See some data on demographics from Gallup to see the fundamental slander being slung here. Amazing, no matter how polite lefties start out, they just can't seem to hold back a little bile. It makes you wonder about why they crave giving government so much power, perhaps they have issues and are looking for government to provide a little vengeance against their supposed enemies. How Christian is that?


  1. Granted, Wallis isn't as clear as he might be, but his central point is that the extreme individualism of most Tea Party and Libertarian thinkers runs contrary to ideals of Christian community. I'd like to see you engage sseriously with that idea.

    You say that the Bible is "replete with examples of God's unhappiness with governmental injustice," but commentators tell us that the most common theme in the Bible is God's anger at economic injustice. Would you respond to that?

  2. "Wallis states that anti-government rhetoric is unbiblical, and he has a point."

    Criticism of the government is neither inherently biblical nor unbiblical.

    It depends mostly on the behavior and actions of the government. I'm sure Rev. Wallis would be one of the first to stand up to the interning of innocent Japanese civilians during WWII.

    Dutch, these commentators you refer to are wrong: what angered God most was the disobedience of his children to His law.

  3. Dutch,

    I disagree. My reading of the Bible is that injustice in general, the rich stealing from the poor, or unjust kings are called out. In fact, the term economic justice is not called out at all in the Bible to my knowledge, there is merely justice or not. The extreme individualism shown by the Tea Party is for political and economic freedom; it is not contrary to Christian values, because surveys show that conservatives actually contribute a great deal to charity. Jesus' call is for personal responsibility and individual accountability. He commends individuals for their virtues in every case where he is commending, widow's mite, for example. What virtue accrues if our support to the poor consists merely of the fact that we pay taxes? It actually seems unjust to bail out the irresponsible, no questions asked, with money from people who were actually responsible. I will close with a story about equal pay for unequal work, which might seem like an issue of economic justice.

    “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing 1idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’

    “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”

    In that story, the owner is not reproved.

  4. You both rightly point out that all disobedience and injustice are condemned in scripture. But that does not contradict my point: The specific disobedience/injustice most commonly decried in the law, the prophets, Christ's own teaching, and the epistles is the failure of God's people to relieve the oppression of the economically weak (widows, orphans, etc.).

    I agree with B-Daddy that personal and corporate charity is the calling of the church (I serve as chair of the deacons in my congregation). However, government aid to the poor is not exclusive of such charity. No sincere Christian would say, "I don't need to give benevolence because the government offers food stamps." And the Bible does not ban governmental aid to the poor--it may be that "Ceasar" has a legitimate interest in mitigating poverty.

    The parable B-Daddy cites illustrates that God's kingdom extends beyond mere justice to extravagant grace. The reproved are those who are concerned that someone else got more than they had earned.

    Thus far, no one has engaged with Wallis's main point: That the extreme individualism of many Tea Party and Libertarian thinkers runs contrary to ideals of Christian community. That community's foundations are in the Old Testament Law, its highest expression is in the teaching of Christ, and its embodiment in the New Testament church was such that "no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had" (Acts 4).

  5. Dutch,
    The extreme individualism is only a political and economic individualism, not social/spiritual/community individualism, therefore it is not contrary to Christian ethos. We are just saying it is not up to government to enforce a sense of the collective, in fact that is un-Christian because it drifts into supplanting the church.

  6. The community in scripture includes all aspects of human life--the economic and political as well as the spiritual and interpersonal. The Levitical laws are not limited to spiritual practice: They include the lending of money, the payment and forgiveness of debts, and even how to care for one's capital. Christ's parables regularly use economic scenarios to illuminate the Kingdom. The epistles' admonitions consistently include economic practices. God's kingdom includes every part of His people's lives.

    Three questions:
    1. Given that civil government is rightly responsible for social order, and given that poverty is a symptom of and contributor to social disorder, doesn't government have a responsibility to mitigate poverty?
    2. If Christians are called to use those political tools at their disposal to promote a moral, orderly society (i.e., limiting abortion, promoting healthy marriages), should they not also use political tools to limit economic inequality?
    3. Do you have any evidence of government programs supplanting the church? (And if government programs DO supplant the church, is that the fault of the government, or of the church? I'm afraid it indicts the church more than government.)

    I'm enjoying our discussion, B-Daddy.

  7. Dutch,
    1. No evidence that poverty is a cause of social disorder, Fatherless families is actually the most highly correlated variable predicting criminality and poverty.
    2. Economic inequality ≠ economic injustice, it is not even prima facie evidence thereof. In fact, economic equality would be an indicator of injustice because there is a natural range of talent and desire, equal outcome would mean that greater talent and effort were being punished.
    3. Historically, there was a time when the only welfare programs in this country were administered by the churches. Government, by directing cash grants with its massive resources has become more important than these efforts and in some ways eliminated the need for them.

  8. 1. You say, "No evidence that poverty is a cause of social disorder...." There is actually a wealth of information to support this--and it is not merely correlational, as the absent-father data is. As a teacher in an urban Christian school, I can add my first-hand accounts about children from poor families who struggle with their school work because of their poverty. Poverty creates challenges that even some of the brightest, most driven kids can't fully escape.

    2. God's own just kingdom has a limit on inequality. For instance, in Leviticus, every family receives its heritage back in the year of Jubilee, and in the parable you cited earlier, the master pays those who worked fewer hours the same amount as the others. The rigid version of "justice" in your argument seems drawn more from Ayn Rand than from the Bible.

    3. Your third point states that the church has stopped doing its job because the government has begun to address poverty as a social problem. That would seem to be a problem with the church, not with the government.

    I'll end my comments with this quote from Wendell Berry's essay "The Burden of the Gospels":
    "If we take the Gospels seriously, we are left, in our dire predicament, facing an utterly humbling question: How must we live and work so as not to be estranged from God’s presence in his work and in all his creatures? The answer, we may say, is given in Jesus’ teaching about love. But that answer raises another question that plunges us into the abyss of our ignorance, which is both human and peculiarly modern: How are we to make of that love an economic practice?"