Exploiting Christianity over Budget Cuts

Religious Left icon Jim Wallis asks Obama to consider what Jesus would cut.

Religious Left icon Jim Wallis on Wednesday, July 20 led an ecumenical delegation into Barack Obama’s White House to offer spiritual solidarity with the president in his federal debt show-down with congressional Republicans.

Asking, “What Would Jesus Cut?” Wallis enthusiastically met with Obama, accompanied by representatives of the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches, the Salvation Army and the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops.

Would Jesus bury America in debt? Would Jesus suffocate America with confiscatory taxes? Would Jesus entrap the needy as permanent wards of the state?  Presumably, these questions did not arise during the religious summit at the White House. Instead, these Big Government religionists reaffirmed their “Circle of Protection” for an unlimited welfare State. Ostensibly, even just talk about federal budget “cuts,” which in Washington parlance typically mean only potential limits on scheduled increases, is a vapors-inducing assault upon the poor, the elderly, and the ill.

“The president and Congress are engaged in an intense debate over the national budget -- with an upcoming vote on raising our national debt ceiling being used as a tool in a political and ideological battle,” Jim Wallis reported in the immediate aftermath of his White House pilgrimage. “Programs for the poor and vulnerable are caught in the middle. But risking our social safety net for political advantage isn’t just irresponsible -- it’s immoral.”

Wallis and his allies profess to speak for “real people who are struggling, some of whom are poor; families, children, and the elderly.” But in their limited, materialistic vision, only government entitlements and transfer payments seem to qualify as legitimate expressions of Christian charity. There is no apparent concern for working families struggling with higher taxes, young people forced to pay into transfer payment schemes from which they likely will gain no just return, struggling potential entrepreneurs who would like to found new businesses, for the chronically unemployed who would like jobs and not welfare, or for all who dream of charting their own future destinies rather than submit to the state as permanent wards. None of these Americans evidently merit a religious “Circle of Protection” from predatory Big Government.

“He agrees with us that the ‘least of these’ and the most vulnerable citizens should not have to sacrifice for the well-being of our country,” enthused a National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) spokesman to Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper that helpfully explained he was quoting the Bible. No doubt Obama did very much agree with his supportive religious visitors. But how many evangelicals agree with their professed representative that their churches should side always with the welfare state? The NAE representative reported he also told Obama of a “spiritual and moral” responsibility to reel in government spending. “I talked about the importance of fiscal responsibility, which the president articulated very clearly, so we’re with him on that,” the evangelical explained. So, evidently the religious coalition offered Obama unqualified support against congressional Republicans.  The evangelical also recalled: “The timing was really excellent because, as [Obama] was going into the [subsequent] meeting [with Congressional leaders], he has the poor on his mind.”

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.