Religious Left Stews Over Debt Deal

The unforgivable sin of omitting tax increases.

The Religious Left is displeased over the debt deal between President Obama and Congress for unforgivably omitting tax increases. They are also peeved over limits, if not outright cuts, to the growth of their beloved welfare, regulatory and entitlement state, which for the Religious Left is the virtual Kingdom of God on Earth.

Some religious leftists were more incendiary than others. Emergent Church guru Brian McLaren, champion of religious postmodernism, typically rejects moral absolutes -- except when denouncing conservatives. “A zealot faction in our own US Congress threatens to damage our economy in ways that terrorists never could, reinforcing the old adage that ‘we have found the enemy and he is us,’” he bewailed, falling just short of comparing Tea Partiers to al-Qaeda.

In his angst over the budget deal, McLaren bemoaned all the Left’s favorite bugaboos in a long litany that surely left him breathless:

[T]he unsustainability…of our extractive, fossil-fuel-based, corporatist-militarist economy, or our indefensible, irresponsible, nearly unbelievable failure to address energy policy and climate change, or the absurd scapegoating of Muslim folks and gay folks while reality makes clear how our own political elite can bring us to the brink of default without any outside help, like a slow-motion car crash in full view of the whole world.

More temperate was an official of the Presbyterian Church (USA) lobby office, who admitted to fellow leftist religious activists: “The failures of this bill outweigh the successes.” She was addressing a seminar of the Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs (DHN) on August 3. (Read my associate Jeff Walton’s report.)

A poll of the 61 seminar participants showed 48 negative toward the debt deal, while a few were positive. Looking for hope, they speculated that tax increases might yet materialize.  And naturally they were pleased over military spending cuts.  They faulted deficit spending on Bush-era tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Expansive, often double-digit annual growth by entitlement programs that comprise most of the federal budget evidently doesn’t count towards the debt, in the minds of the Religious Left.

“The balanced budget amendment is a very dangerous thing for the programs we care about,” warned an analyst from Bread for the World, a liberal lobby group that provides bread directly to nobody and instead pushes for greater federal spending.

Understandably, a balanced budget amendment is frightening for religionists who revere government growth in the same way that South Pacific cargo cults prayed for cans of Spam to fall from the sky. “Advocates need to be on our toes and ready for the next three rounds,” the Presbyterian official readily agreed.

The Religious Left lobbyists congratulated themselves for preventing more “devastating” limits on their most sacred federal programs. Echoing her political allies in the liberal churches who attach messianic purpose to the federal social programs, the president of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies intoned during the debt ceiling struggle, “The baptismal promise to strive for justice and peace among all people makes the choice between cutting programs for the poor and elderly or raising taxes an easy one.”

Even most left-leaning Episcopalians probably had not realized that their baptism had immersed them in the healing waters of Big Government, forming an eternal bond between catechist and the federal bureaucracy. It’s no wonder that emptying Episcopal churches are disproportionately filled with elderly people too old to hear the actual words of their clergy. If they could hear better, they too might quit, unwilling to sacrifice their souls on the altar of the welfare state.

Typically more conservative religious leaders reserve their activism for social issues and do not speak to federal budget and tax issues. The good news is that a new coalition has emerged called Christians for a Sustainable Economy (CASE) rejecting the Religious Left’s claims to speak uniformly for America’s church goers. And CASE is disputing that Christian compassion mandates endless government expansion, exploding debt, and an ineffectual welfare and entitlement bureaucracy that reduces its beneficiaries to peonage. They warn against higher taxes: “To give more money to Washington is to give the sickness the remedy it requests. The last thing the government needs is more money. It needs to cease its unwise and profligate spending.”

The Religious Left, as articulated by Emergent Brian McLaren, perceives a grim world of diminishing resources and possibilities, hence the strident demands for coerced sacrifice and redistribution. In contrast, CASE more hopefully sees a world of God-ordained possibilities for increased human dignity:

We believe the poor of this generation and generations to come are best served by policies that promote economic freedom and growth, that encourage productivity and creativity in every able person, and that wisely steward our common resources for generations to come.

They added: “When creativity and entrepreneurship are rewarded, the yield is an increase of productivity and generosity.” If you’d like to endorse the CASE declaration, you can do so here.

Americans, especially its religious believers, have always been hopeful people, confident that Providence still has a plan for their nation. For this reason among others, the Religious Left’s appeals to fear, scarcity, and resentment ultimately will fail.  America will overcome debt and economic woes not through greater control by its bureaucrats, but through the creativity of an unleashed free people.