Jesus hates welfare?

So I generally try to avoid throwing Bible verses around to make a point, but when I got an e-mail entitled “Who Would Jesus Vote For?” that included the line, “Jesus hates welfare,” I felt I had to set the record straight with a quick reference to Matthew 25.

These are the words of Jesus himself, found in verses 31-40:

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.

All the NATIONS will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on the right, and the goats on the left.

Then the King will say to those on the right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you invited Me in; naked and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you came to Me.

Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?

The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extend that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

[The emphasis on the word “nations” is mine.]

For more on how these theme is echoed throughout Scripture, check out these earlier posts:

Wealth, Part 1: How God Judges the Nations

“Socialist” Propaganda (with biblical support!)

There. I’ve said my peace!

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Where do you get your information?

There’s a group of people in America that pundits refer to as “low-information voters.” Apparently, these are people who step into the voting booth, scratch their heads, and commence with “eeny, meeny, miney, mo.” Well, right now, as the election draws near, I feel more like a “too-much-information voter.”

My addiction to cable news is out-of-control, and I’ve taken to checking Politico and MSNBC.com hourly. You know something is wrong when the CNN ticker begins scrolling across your dreams at night!

Much has been said this year about media bias. I know a lot of people who are absolutely convinced that the liberal media is responsible for Obama’s lead in the polls. Having worked for a daily newspaper myself, I tend to give the media a break, knowing that folks often see a bias where they expect to see it. (When I worked for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, for example, I once wrote an article about “holiday hires”—students who got part-time jobs in November and December. A reader sent me a very angry letter, condemning my use of the word “holiday” instead of “Christmas”, saying that I clearly had a “bias against religion” in my reporting. )

But a person’s opinions regarding politics are undoubtedly affected by where she gets her information.

So, in the interest of full disclosure, here’s where I get my information. (Where do you get yours?)

Publications to Which I Subscribe: Newsweek, the Atlantic Monthly

Web Sites I Check Daily: Jesus Creed (Scot McKnight), Beauty and Depravity (Eugene Cho), Politico, MSNBC.com, CNN.com, The Daily Beast, God’s Politics, the Herald News (Dayton)

Preferred Cable News Network: CNN

Favorite News Shows: Meet the Press, the News Hour, Hardball, and, of course, THE COLBERT REPORT! :)

Reporters/Pundits I Trust: I believe everything that David Gergen says. The Rachel Maddow show is my guilty pleasure. Campbell Brown strikes me as smart and feisty, so I like her too. I also enjoy reporting from Fareed Zakaria, John Meacham, Nicholas Kristof, and Chuck Todd. I really miss Tim Russert. Stephen Colbert is my hero.

Reporters/Pundits the U.S. Government Could Use to Effectively Torture Me: Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Lou Dobbs

Books that Have Helped Shape My Political Views: “The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman, “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger” by Ron Sider, “Jesus for President” by Shane Claiborne, “The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama, and, of course, “I am America and So Can You” by Stephen Colbert. [On my wish list: Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus” and Zakaria’s “The Post-American World.”]

What about you?

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Elections and the Evangelical Persecution Complex

As Barack Obama continues to widen his lead in the polls, conservative evangelicals seem to have rediscovered an affinity for biblical accounts of the Babylonian Captivity. Friends who did cartwheels after George Bush’s reelection in 2004 are solemnly reminding me of Jeremiah’s warning that “cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength,” (Jeremiah 17:5) and David’s admonition that “it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes” (Psalm 118:9).

[Many tend to assume that because I prefer Obama’s healthcare plan to John McCain’s I must certainly have a secret shrine to the democratic nominee stashed away in my bedroom closet, and that I’m not the least bit offended when they sarcastically refer to him as my “Messiah.”]

The mood here in Dayton is somber, and I detect a curious mixture of resignation and desperation among conservative evangelicals. On the one hand, they believe that God has pre-ordained the results of this election (Romans 13:1); on the other, they seem to think that enough prayer and fasting might turn things around (II Chronicles 7:14). One friend suggested that I prayerfully reconsider my decision to vote for Obama, lest I inadvertently participate in God’s plan to “raise up on evil ruler” to punish America for its immorality. Others urge me to stop reading newspapers and magazines, as the mainstream media has been infiltrated by godless intellectuals who hate Christians.

Believing America to be the center of the universe and the subject of God’s most focused attention, the Religious Right has developed a bit of a persecution complex over the past few weeks, which was recently reflected in a prayer offered by Pastor Arnold Conrad at McCain rally in Iowa. Conrad prayed the following:

 “I would also add, Lord, that your reputation is involved in all that happens between now and November, because there are millions of people around this world praying to their god — whether it’s Hindu, Buddha, Allah — that his opponent wins, for a variety of reasons. And Lord, I pray that you will guard your own reputation, because they’re going to think that their god is bigger than you, if that happens. So I pray that you will step forward and honor your own name with all that happens between now and election day.”

Another example comes from the absolutely ridiculous “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America” released this week by the right-wing religious group Focus on the Family. According to the writer, if Obama is elected president, evangelicals can expect “hardship,” “persecution,” and “suffering” in the years to come…not to mention an inevitable surge in terrorist attacks, vandalism at Christian bookstores, and the demise of Boy Scouts of America.

In looking at this evangelical persecution complex, several ironies emerge:

The first, of course, is that Barack Obama is a Christian, and by all accounts, including his own, is quite committed to his faith. Contrary to much of the spam clogging our inboxes these days, he was sworn into public office on the Bible and has openly professed faith in Jesus Christ for more than twenty years.

The second is that eighty-three percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians, which means that the next president will be elected by an overwhelmingly Christian electorate.

The third is that Christians, including evangelicals, hold incredible political sway in America. No one has been elected president of the United States without at least passing as a Christian, and in Congress, Roman Catholics are the largest faith group, followed by Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Jews, and Episcopalians. This is not the culture of Paul and the early disciples; this is the culture of Constantine!

And finally, if any religious group in America had a right to complain about being marginalized in this election cycle, it would be Muslims. Rumors that Obama is a Muslim are considered “smears” by the Obama campaign. When a McCain supporter suggested at a Town Hall meeting that Obama was “an Arab,” John McCain responded, “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man [and] citizen,” implying that being an Arab and a “family man” were mutually exclusive. I think Colin Powell said it well on Meet the Press the other day. “Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?” he asked. “The answer is no, that’s not America.”

***

Contrary to what conservative evangelicals seem to think, Christians live quite comfortably here in America—whether we have a Democrat in office or a Republican. Doomsday scenarios and whispers of the rise of the anti-Christ reveal a very U.S.-centric view of the world and a frightful distraction with power among a group of people that has always been more effective when serving at the fringes of society anyway.

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Finish-The-Sentence Friday: Love and Marriage

In honor of my fifth anniversary on Saturday, finish the following sentence: The most important quality to look for in a mate is…

I’ll start. The most important quality to look for in a mate is a shared sense of humor.  I know, I know. I’m sure that common values, mutual respect, and a united sense of purpose are probably technically more important. But I simply can’t imagine going through the ups and downs of the last five years without someone who is also amused by the little things...and who likes Stephen Colbert. What’s the point of sharing a vision if you can’t share a laugh?

Also, it doesn’t hurt to marry someone who can write a bit of code. (Thanks to Dan for running my site!)

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Is nuance the new thing?

One thing that I have always appreciated about both my father and my husband is that neither seems to see the world in strictly black-and-white terms. They tend to think before they speak. They usually take their time when responding to questions. They like to examine every angle.

Both are open to changing their minds, listening to other people, and pausing before passing judgment. Unlike me, they are not unnerved by silence, or afraid that inconclusiveness is a sign of weakness or complicity. In other words, they aren’t exactly yes-or-no-answer kinds of guys.

Perhaps this has had a subconscious effect on my fondness for Barack Obama. The media has consistently characterized his approach to a variety of issues as “nuanced,” a description that employs the adjective form of “nuance”--a word which, according to Webster, means “a subtle difference or distinction in expression, meaning, responses, etc.” Synonyms include “subtlety,” “hint,” and “refinement.” What the media means by this is that Barack Obama takes too long to answer questions. “He’s got to do better at getting right to the point!” the pundits say.  “He comes across as ambiguous, vague, professorial, perhaps even indecisive.”

For example, when asked by George Stephanopoulos about whether or not he supports affirmative action, the senator referred to his own daughters as examples of the reform needed in the system. His girls “should probably be treated by any admissions officer as folks who are pretty advantaged,” despite their race, he said. While white kids, “who have been disadvantaged and have grown up in poverty” should perhaps be counted as disadvantaged.  According to Obama, affirmative action should be used to oppose both traditional discrimination and reverse discrimination, and should be reformed to help disadvantaged people regardless of race.

That’s a very thoughtful, but inexact answer. And some folks don’t like it, because it doesn’t begin with “absolutely yes” or “absolutely no.”

(Other examples include Obama’s softening on rigid troop withdrawal deadlines and shifts in his positions on offshore oil drilling and NAFTA.)

Folks on the Right charge him with flip-flopping and criticize him for being too vague. But I can’t help but wonder if, after eight years of unblinking decisiveness from George W. Bush, America isn’t ready for a guy who will pause before committing billions of dollars and thousands of lives to a cause, and who recognizes the importance of thoughtful give-and-take when it comes to making policy and pursuing diplomacy.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see about that…

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I’d like to think of my position regarding the abortion issue to be somewhat “nuanced.” If someone were to ask me if I am pro-life, I would have to say “yes, but maybe not exactly in the way that you might think.” How I feel about abortion, and why I plan to vote a certain way about it, cannot exactly be summed up in one or two sentences. And as I said in the post, while the word “nuance” can be used to suggest that I am thoughtful and wise in my approach, it could also mean that I don’t know what  I’m talking about and am afraid to commit to one position or the other.

Interestingly, the history of the word “nuance” begins with its use in Middle French to mean “a shade of color.” Webster’s second definition reads: “a very slight difference or variation in color or tone.” In this way, Barack Obama literally embodies the essence of the word.  Is he black, or is he white? Ironically, there isn’t a black-or-white answer to that question. He is both.

So we’ve seen how “nuance” is growing in acceptance in the realm of politics. I wonder if we will also see an embrace of “nuance” in the realm of faith and religion, particularly as our culture becomes increasingly postmodern.

While leaders in the evangelical establishment continue to defend rigid interpretations of doctrine and decry the questions posed by movements like the Emerging Church, I’m beginning to wonder how much longer the Church can survive with short, non-negotiable answers to tough questions.

For example, I’d say that the question, “Do all Muslims go to hell?” deserves a much more nuanced response than the one I grew up with…as does the question, “What is hell?” or “What is eternal life?” Young skeptics like me long to deconstruct old notions of truth, salvation, faith, and doubt, and in doing so, we have developed ideas that can easily be described as “subtle differences or distinctions in expression, meaning, or response,” or “very slight differences or variation in color or tone.”  In short, we don’t like short answers anymore. We like nuance.

What do you think? Is nuance the new thing? What sort of impression does a nuanced answer leave you with? Thoughtful? Indecisive? Compromising? Authentic?

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