GOP cuts food stamps, quotes Jesus

According to the GOP, when Jesus said feed the poor, he didn’t really mean we should do that all the time.

GOP passes cuts to food stamp program, quotes Jesus to justify it.

At least that’s the biblical interpretation of some Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee and their justification for approving a sweeping farm bill that would cut $2.5 billion a year – or a little more than 3 percent—from food stamps, a crucial anti-hunger program.

Due to the “Great Recession” and jobless recovery, one in seven Americans now use this domestic food aid program. So clearly, according to Republicans, too many people are eating.

One of the faces of hunger in the U.S.

Representative Juan C. Vargas, Democrat of California , who opposes cuts to the food stamp program, quoted from Matthew 25 to argue against the cuts to food stamps.

This was an excellent choice by Rep. Vargas as Matthew 25 shows exactly how angry Jesus gets at those who refuse to feed the hungry, as readers of #OccupytheBible know.

“I’m a Christian, and this chapter talks about how you treat the least among us,” said Mr. Vargas, adding that he would not support a bill that made such deep cuts to the antihunger program.

Exactly.

That was much too much biblical literalism for some GOP members of the committee. K. Michael Conaway, a Texas Republican, pushed back.  Jesus didn’t really mean we should all do that together as a nation, he argued. “I take umbrage to that,” he said. “I take Matthew 25 to mean me as an individual, not the U.S. government.“

Except Matthew 25 is called “The Judgment of the Nations” because “All the nations will be gathered before him.” (Matt. 25:32)

Oops.

To make it worse, Stephen Fincher, Republican of Tennessee, then quoted Matthew 26, arguing the “poor will always be with us” in his defense of cuts to the food stamps program.

Here’s some news for you, Congressman Fincher, that text doesn’t mean ‘be sure you keep some people poor.’  And Congressman Conaway, Matthew 25 has no “opt out” clause that means you don’t have to vote for programs to feed the poor because “individuals” and “churches” will take care of it.

“Judgment of the nations” means just that.  Read the text.

If you GOP congresspeople want to call yourselves Christians, you don’t get to opt out of your religious values when it’s a “government program.”

As I’ve been interviewed over and over on conservative Christian talk radio on #OccupytheBible, this is the crisis we face that is generated by a hyper-individualized and incorrect interpretation of scripture.  These Republicans want you to believe individual charity is fine, government programs are bad.

But that’s not what the Bible actually says.

“Grover Norquist told me so” is not going to be enough of a defense when Jesus asks you why you voted to literally take food out of the mouths of children.

Judgment of the nations. Get it?

About Susan Thistlethwaite

I am a Professor of Theology and former President of Chicago Theological Seminary; I blog here, at the Huffington Post, and at other venues. I am a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. I am interested in what I call "public theology," or how deeper meaning is made and contested in the public square.
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5 Responses to GOP cuts food stamps, quotes Jesus

  1. Oh my. I agree with the conclusion but the way you got there was really bad. I would expect more from a theology professor. The word translated “nations” here is the Greek word “ethnoi,” from which we get our word “ethnic.” The word primarily refers to people groups, not political groups. That is why the same Greek word is often translated “Gentiles.”

    • Dear Fred: suppose for a minute that I know that. What else might be happening in this method of biblical interpretation? In a contextual theology of liberation, the pain of the excluded gets priority in biblical interpretation. In #OccupytheBible I call this “Reading the Bible from the Streets,” but that is basically my explaining liberation readings of the text to a more lay audience.
      I talk about the method I developed in “Every Two Minutes: Battered Women and the Bible” http://www.catherinecollegelibrary.net/classic/thistlet.asp in the book.

      So yes, you are right about the Greek, but I believe given the tenor of your comment, you know I am right about the GOP using Matt 25 to justify cutting food stamps. Which gets priority? Reading scripture contextually poses an existential crisis.

      Best. Susan

  2. Bahaha. I love that. Yes, Jesus said this… but. Where is Jesus quoted as saying ‘but?’ I would love to see it.

  3. Jana Norman says:

    Thanks, Susan. I especially appreciated a commentary I read this year suggesting that to have the poor with you was a vision of community – nation even – that does not demonise or ostracise the poor but rather is well and truly with (emphasis on with) the poor in common humanity, dignity and care. It’s a tragedy and a travesty that politicians as above don’t share this Jesus-led vision. Looking forward to reading your book. Jana Norman YDS ’93

  4. Pingback: I just want to say… | Uncertain Pilgrim

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