Blasphemy and the Poor

Congressman Stephen Fincher is preaching, and he should stop. He cites two verses from scripture to defend the notion that aid to the poor in our country should be slashed.  His comments about how the Bible tells us we should cut aid to the poor is irresponsible and just rotten use of scripture. His use is not just one opinion among many, but blasphemy.  Now, I know that is a strong word, but it applies here.

Ted Peters, brilliant Lutheran theologian writes: Blasphemy “involves using the name of God directly or indirectly in order to hide evil behind a veil of righteousness. It is hypocrisy.” (Sin:Radical Evil in Soul and Society, Eerdman’s, 1994, p 217) Congressman, this is blasphemy. God’s call to care for the poor is a central biblical teaching from beginning to end. Read the whole thing, not just twistable verses.  His remarks are also blasphemy because they add to the public characterization of Christians as hateful and lacking compassion, and so it leads people astray.  Here is the article:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-schiffman/congressman-quotes-jesus-in-bid-to-gut-food-stamps_b_3331920.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009&utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false#sb=3031105b=facebook

Fincher cites Matthew 26:11, which says “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” as a reason to leave people poor, and make them poorer.  The context of course is that Jesus is on his way to death and as a woman anoints his feet with oil as an act of honor and compassion, the disciples complain that the money for the oil should have gone to the poor.  Jesus does not say “Ignore the poor. Pedicures for everyone!”  Jesus, in all of the gospel, stands with the poor – and in fact is poor himself.  C’mon Congressman.  Reading just a few of the 200+ references to the poor in scripture will uncover God’s love for those who are poor and God’s anger with those who make them so.  The Congressman also cites 2 Thessalonians 3:10 “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.”  How about we include at least the following verse: “For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.”  The problem was that some members of the Thessalonian church seem to have been withholding what they could pay, what they could do, what they could share with others and only received.  It was hurting the Church. That is far different than what the Congressman is saying.  Read the other letters of the New Testament and you will, again, find great concern about and responsibility for the poor among us.

Let me suggest just a few Biblical passages to expand the Congressman’s reading list:

Amos 5:11-12  11 Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.  12 For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins– you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.

Luke 4:18-19  18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,  19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 6:20-26   20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.  22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.  23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.  24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.  25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.  26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Matthew 25:41-45   41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;  42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’  45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

Luke 16:19-25  19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.  20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,  21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.  22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.  23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.  24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’  25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.

OK. I’m done for today.  Rant concluded. – Pastor Tim

6 thoughts on “Blasphemy and the Poor

  1. Kristine Dohrmann says:

    I agree that Congressman Fincher was irresponsible for his use of scripture. It’s also hypocritical of him when he’s collecting government benefits under the same bill. But you’ve touched on a larger, bigger problem. How do we best try and fulfill God’s call to care for the poor?

    The SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) formerly known as Food Stamp Program is included in the larger Farm Bill where not just Congressman Fincher benefited from subsidiaries but so did Jimmy Carter, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Senator Charles Grassley. http://blog.heritage.org/2013/05/29/the-rich-and-famous-at-the-farm-bill-trough/ The Farm Bill is suppose to assist the farmers who supply food and help the hungry get access to food but because of politics and the struggle for power and to “win” we end up with government dollars going out in subsidiaries to those like the above who do not need it.

    Given the massive bureaucracy of our government and the recent IRS, Department of Justice and Benghazi scandals, it’s hard to believe that our government can adequately provide the help that the poor needs. Jesus commands us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked but I have a hard time believing that the best way for me do that is to rely on the government. It seems a little too easy and like I’m passing off my responsibility if all I have to do to be a “good Christian” is let my employer deduct taxes and advocate to my elected officials to collect/allocate more tax dollars to programs for the poor. But then again, that way I get to continue being comfortable in my middle-class house and not have to worry about connecting a human face with the problem.

    • Pastor Tim Olson says:

      You do point to a larger issue here. While I was indeed narrowly focusing on the use of scripture and subsequent “blasphemy” you point to discernment of the “how and who” of caring for the poor. I’m not sure it is an either/or between individuals and “charity.” Seems more a both/and where the whole society shares responsibility. The prophets certainly focused much of their rhetoric on the failure of the king (government) to provide for the poor, but never in exclusion of the rich or privileged to be generous. As much as our politicians claim Judeo-Christian heritage, it is odd that so few see that how we treat the poor should be a major assessment of our civilization. Thanks!

  2. Nancy says:

    I agree with Kristine, Jesus did not say to pay the government to take care the sick, orphans and widows … in fact Jesus goes further and encourages us to teach a man how to fish instead of just giving him a fish. In nature, we are ‘discouraged’ to feed the wild animals, for they will loose their ability to find food on their own and soon become reliant.

    As we have been reading in the Des Moines Register, people who can work, want to work. They may have a talent in hair braiding, but are not allowed to open their own business or charge customers because the the state does not offer a licensing in hair braiding. Those who want to support their family and get off of welfare are being discriminated on by using licensing as a tax and controlling who can and cannot earn a living with the talents God has given them.

    Neighbor helping neighbor — buying locally — knowing the business person — helping with hand-ups, not hand-outs — support business and families for their services and integrity, not cheep prices and need for huge profits — blowing the whistle and not spending our money at bad businesses that do not treat their employees (slaves) as they would treat their own family and supporting companies/businesses who do — ignore the negative and praise the positive.

    Know a good king SERVES the people he rules, and is not a dictator. It should never be beneath a king to pick-up a broom or scrub a toilet or wash a man’s feet – as Jesus also teaches us.

    I think the Senator was trying to say don’t twist the Bible into thinking as long as we are paying taxes, we are dong the work Jesus has given US to do.

    • Pastor Tim Olson says:

      Nancy. Thanks for your thoughts. Just a couple of responses: Jesus does not say that it is better to teach someone to fish that it is to give them a fish. I think that is Confucious. I also really don;t think that the Congressman I quoted was trying to encourage us to do our part. In fact, he was using scripture to say that the poor should solve their own problems and not bother the rest of us. This is nowhere in scripture seen as a positive approach or opinion.

  3. Asta Twedt says:

    I have never dared use the word, “blasphemous” out loud to describe the behavior of those who quote scripture to denigrate the poor, but after reading your blog and reading the definition of blasphemy written by Ted Peters, a theologian I greatly respect, I wish I had been bolder. So I’ll say it now: The voice to end hunger is informed and empowered by scripture! To say otherwise is blasphemy!

    Bread for the World, a non-partisan Christian organization dedicated to urging our country’s decision makers to end hunger published an excellent position paper this spring entitled, “The Biblical Basis for Advocacy to End Hunger. It can be downloaded at http://www.bread.org/church.

    I respectfully disagree with my friend, Kris. Is government faulty? Well, duh! However, part of the purpose of government stated in our Constitution’s Preamble is to “establish justice” and “promote the general welfare.” According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everybody has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care.” That puts food programs squarely in the lap of government, and we are, as we know, the government. Therefore, we should take personal responsibility to demand good governance from our elected representatives. Here’s one suggested way to do that.

    Today’s Des Moines Register told us Senator Grassley expects the House and Senate to reach a compromise on food stamp funding. (Now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) This compromise is unacceptable because the Senate bill calls for a cut of $4 billion and the House a cut of $20 billion. The farm bill should not include any cuts to SNAP! Why do we think it is okay to cut food assistance to the millions of low-income Americans who depend on this to put food on the table? Instead, we should call our senators and representative to tell them to protect and strengthen SNAP. The Capitol switchboard number is 202-224-3121.

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