One of the most significant cultural divides in this country is between those who embrace a more secular basis for public policy and those who believe in a “Christian nation” founded on biblical principles.
I do not question the faith or sincerity of the proponents of religiously focused government. Further, I respect the right of others to hold differing opinions on matters of public policy. However, I take issue with them claiming to be acting as Christians when they undercut programs intended to assist the weakest among us.
It is those people eschewing a direct partnership with religion who may more fully embody the teaching of Christ in the public policies they embrace, highlighted by the conflicting opinions on the so-called “social safety net.”
The raison d’être for programs advocated by progressives — such as Social Security, Medicare and Head Start — is the supposition that it is the responsibility of the government to protect the most vulnerable in society. Religious conservatives, though, oppose what they see as the “moral hazard” inherent in an overdependence on a “nanny state.” They argue for smaller government, saying that people should take responsibility for themselves.
However, caring for one another is a central tenet of Christianity. The social programs decried by the religious right are actually a manifestation of the Christian mandate to help. Christianity consists of a call to action, not ignoring the needs of others. This is evidenced in the same Scriptures often cited by the religious right, such as in James 2:17: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
How faith translates to works is expressed in Matthew 22:39, wherein the Second Commandment is stated as: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There are no exclusions as to who might be a “neighbor.” The advice and admonitions contained in Matthew 25 regarding those in need resonate in today’s political disputes over the role of government. It also provides a step-by-step roadmap on how to fulfill this Christian duty to love and help others.
Beginning with verse 35, the path of a righteous Christian is apparent and indisputable: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.” This tracks with the Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps feed our nation’s undernourished children. The support of the religious right for the current administration, despite cuts to the funding of this program, demonstrates a lack of adherence to fundamental Christian principles.
Verse 35 continues with “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Immigration policy that turns away refugees, brands immigrants as rapists, thieves and terrorists, and takes children from their mothers is the antithesis of Christian love — it is unmitigated hatred.
Next, verse 36 says “I was ill and you cared for me.” Opposing affordable medical care for all Americans and denouncing any efforts to provide it as “socialism” does not comport with basic Christian values. The failure to protect the health of our citizens is the epitome of the uncaring and godless state that many conservatives falsely attribute to progressives but for which they actually advocate themselves.
Verse 36 concludes with “I was in prison and you visited me.” Public policy that produces the world’s highest per capita incarceration rates, especially among people of color, coupled with efforts to block the reintegration of prisoners into society by barring them from well-paying jobs or denying them the franchise, exposes the hypocrisy of any profession of Christian forgiveness, compassion or willingness to comfort the imprisoned.
Verse 36 wraps up with “Whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” There is no distinction among “brothers,” be they other Christians, Muslims or members of the LGBTQ community. Christians should help and comfort all who suffer, irrespective of who they are. All are worthy of succor, even criminals.
Those who reject the Gospel of Matthew should not call themselves Christians; that term is reserved for those who strive to follow the teachings of Christ.
Raymond Dillon graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 1977. A Hoya Looks Back runs online every other Thursday.