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This White House religious jamboree recalls a similar visit by the National Council of Churches (NCC) to President Clinton in 1995, when the prelates prayed Clinton would be “strong for the task” of resisting the new Republican Congress. But 16 years ago, groups like the NAE wisely abstained from joining the NCC’s usual Big Government crusade. Oddly, some once-conservative evangelicals now want to follow the same leftward political trajectory that helped sideline once-preeminent Mainline Protestants.
“As Christian leaders, we are committed to fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice,” declared the White House religious visitors, without explaining how they would implement “fiscal responsibility,” except for presumably slashing military spending or, even better, raising taxes. “We are also committed to resist budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people.” Seemingly, none ever considered that endlessly expanding government programs might themselves subtract from the dignity of the poor and vulnerable. Instead, they demanded “moral priority” for the welfare state, which is not typically renowned for instilling “dignity.”
In a carefully orchestrated campaign, Wallis and company announced in a press call last week their anticipated White House visit, while also unveiling a pro-Big Government petition by 5000 clergy. Wallis even faithfully repeated the White House talking point about tax write-offs for corporate jets. “The poor cannot afford lobbyists in DC,” a Wallis ally explained, presenting their coalition as the apparent voice of “the poor.” (My assistant Bart Gingerich’s account of the press call is here.)
Of course, these religious Big Government lobbyists did not during their White House visit actually represent America’s poor, who need and deserve better. Instead, the professional religionists diligently represented the secular permanent governing class, which asserts as dogma that the federal government has a transcendent moral authority ultimately over all other institutions, including even the churches. Worshipping at the altar of the welfare state seems idolatrous. But for its denizens, Big Government is apparently the only deity that merits such blind faith.
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