Exploiting Lent to Protect Big Government

The saints of social justice embark on an anti-Republican fast.

Lent is supposed to be a season for Christians to prepare for Easter through self-denial and reflection about God.   But the Religious and Evangelical Left prefer to re-orient the focus away from Christ and instead on another very different Lord:  Big Government.

At a Washington, D.C. press conference, Evangelical Leftist Jim Wallis announced, along with former Democratic Congressman Tony Hall and “Bread for the World” chief David Beckmann, that he has begun a “water fast” to protect “selectively cruel” proposed budget “cuts” by Republican congressional leaders.

Typically, Christians do not publicly reveal their personal sacrifice during Lent, much less convene a press conference at the National Press Club.  But for professional activists like Wallis, what’s the point of fasting without gaining political points and publicity?  Wallis has called on his left-leaning church followers to “fast, pray and act” while forming a “circle of protection” around their favorite Welfare State programs.  Reputedly, over 5,000 have joined the anti-Republican “fast” so far.  Some fasters are exploiting their lunch breaks to phone members of Congress about “devastating” budget cuts.

“A line has been crossed in this budget debate,” Wallis declared, according to an onsite report from my assistant Eric LeMasters. “Extreme budget cuts are now being proposed and this fast is a spiritual escalation to bring these critical moral choices to the attention of the nation, and to seek God’s help in doing so.”

If conservative Christians are similarly mobilizing to exploit Lent to pray and fast for their own federal budget priorities, it has gone unreported.   Presumably, they still recall that Lent, which culminates with the remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, has a transcendent meaning surpassing political fads.

“Ultimately, this is a fast before God,” Wallis unashamedly told his press conference.  “To whom we turn when we don’t know what else to do. We turn in prayer, and hope to change hearts, starting with our hearts, the hearts of our lawmakers, [and] the heart of our nation.”  He implored Congress:  “Listen to God’s heart as you make your decisions.”  Of course, “God’s heart’ is presumably attuned to the Religious Left’s own faith that unlimited Big Government can solve all human problems.

Former Congressman Hall was even more direct than Wallis:  “We believe it’s time to call in God.”  Hall has fasted before against proposed federal budget cuts. “A fast has to be first unto God to humble ourselves and to unleash him. Your faith is also unleashed when you struggle against injustice.”  But what about the “injustice” of a nation potentially trapped beneath years of trillion dollar deficits, producing a stagnant economy unable to lift the poor out of poverty, and reducing the ability of the rich and middle class to help the poor?  The Religious and Evangelical Left never answer this question, because they assume that only centralized, coercive government can guarantee “justice” and provide “charity.”  Other social actors, like families, churches, private charities, philanthropies, and civic groups, not to mention private business, are all to submit unquestioningly to government supremacy in every human arena.   Here is the Religious Left’s vision of “God’s Kingdom,” administered from Washington, D.C.

“We should look at the other 80 percent of federal spending,” declared David Beckmann, whose “Bread for the World” does not actually provide any “bread” but instead lobbies for the government to do so.  “There is not any biblical injunction against taxing rich people. There is a lot that the Bible says about being right, doing right, by hungry and poor people,” he explained.   Of course, neither he nor the other Wallis allies meaningfully questioned whether any federal programs aimed at the poor may fail actually to help the poor, though they grudgingly admitted there may be occasional inefficiency.   They typically and mindlessly assume that poverty is alleviated through increased federal spending, ignoring decades of evidence to the contrary.

Beckman and Hall also made it over to an ecumenical “prayer vigil” on Capitol Hill against federal budget cuts, dominated by old Religious Left types, like the National Council of Churches (NCC) and Mainline Protestant lobbies.  One “prayer” came from NCC chief Michael Livingston:  “For the poor of the earth who sustain our extravagance with their labor and whose environment we devastate with extractive industries and with our waste, may they be lifted out of poverty as we repent and make amends.”

Of course, American “extravagance” provides sustenance to tens of millions of previously poor people globally whose millennia of chronic poverty were finally broken by the growth of international markets.  And far more millions around the world, especially the poor, depend on “extractive industries” for their survival.  Livingston’s “prayer” did not explain how anybody would be “lifted out of poverty” absent the growing markets and extractive industries that fuel global economic growth.   The Religious Left prefers its own grim, Malthusian myths that assume the poor can only hope for continued gruel ladled out by Big Government, domestically and internationally.

Exploiting Lent and Easter, which are chiefly about Christian hope and triumph, to perpetuate the Religious Left’s depressing, redistributionist, statist assumptions seems odd.  The good news is that, no matter how well Wallis’ press conference was attended, the vast majority of Christians prefer the traditional emphasis on resurrection to the Religious Left’s banal theme of endless dependence on Big Government.