By Bill Mefford
Over the weekend Rev. William Barber spoke to a gathering of Democratic party leaders and reminded them that God’s commands to care for the poor were a necessary part of any moral engagement in the political realm. He asserted that if people want to call that socialism let them call it socialism; it is still what God calls us to do. He was daring Republicans to call him a socialist and Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw took the dare. Crenshaw tweeted out, wrongly, “The Bible teaches charity with one’s own time and money. Socialism teaches charity with other people’s time and money.” Crenshaw should have deleted that tweet.
In tweeting his baseless accusation against Rev. Barber, Rep. Crenshaw is following the typical Republican playbook: fear-mongering and blaming. Without ever offering a single credible idea for how to offer insurance to tens of millions of people still without affordable healthcare, Republicans have absolutely no solution to offer voters so their only tool is to go after progressive efforts to provide healthcare to every single person. If you refuse the moral premise of an argument, and if you have no effective solutions to offer, then just demonize people you disagree with. That is trump 101.
Republicans like Crenshaw want to frighten people with accusations against reasonable policies like “government-run healthcare” and they want to deminze people with real ideas, calling them “Socialists!!”, but if Republicans really are concerned with people becoming dependent on government handouts then why do they do nothing about defense contractors who make a killing off of the government dole? Talk about dependence! Defense contractors raked in the profits during the disastrous invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and as interest in those wars decreased attention was turned to the militarization of the southern border and incarcerating people of color through private prisons. Rather than criticize poor people for attaining crucial services that they need to survive, the big bucks to provide oversight for are the billions of dollars going into the pockets of defense contractors and private prison corporations who love to share a piece of their fortune with the politicians who are also in their back pockets.
So, why do they go after the poor? Because poor people do not make campaign contributions and they do not have hired lobbyists.
What is particularly offensive about Rep. Crenshaw’s tweet is his misinterpretation of “Biblical principles” that the Bible wants charity only on an individual level. Mr. Chenshaw should stick to trying to scare people with accusations about how scary socialism will be because he does not show much promise as a biblical scholar. While God loves individual charity, God frequently prefers justice. Below are a few passages from across both canons that I would urge Rep. Crenshaw to keep in mind concerning the collective nature of God’s commands to care for the poor and marginalized:
“'Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 'Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19-9-10) God commands the new nation of Israel to systematically ensure that the poor have access to food. This is most certainly an instruction for the nation as a whole.
“Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate.” (Amos 5:14-15) Because of the systemic injustice of the poor, Amos challenges God’s people to stop the evil they are doing and establish justice at the city gate - a place designed to settle disputes, much like our courts today. This was not an individualistic commandment; this was focused on the collective treatment of the poor by an entire nation and to provide a systemic solution.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another.” (Matthew 25:31-46) While almost everyone is familiar with this passage and its message that clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and visiting those sick or imprisoned is engaging in those actions as if it was done to Jesus himself, what is often missing is that the judgment for whether or not we have done this will be pronounced on us as nations or people groups. It matters as much what we do collectively as what we do individually so there is an inherent need for accountability so that we are all using our resources to meet the needs of the poor collectively and individually .
“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:44-45) This must be a disturbing picture to anyone who believes that Christianity is linked with capitalism. The truth is that no current economic theory can be fully endorsed from an appropriate interpretation of Scripture, but this collective sharing of resources and caring for people in need is undertaken as a result of Pentecost, perhaps the most powerful movement of the Holy Spirit on earth in history. Collectively caring for the poor is a sure sign of the presence of God and our renewal by God’s Spirit.
“The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” (2 Corinthians 8:15) Paul is writing the church in Corinth and requests that they contribute financially to support the poor gathering of believers in Jerusalem as they have been victims of persecution. Paul again writes this not to an individual, but rather, to the church as a whole. Further, he establishes an interesting picture of what justice might look like. It’s not a denunciation of ownership of possessions and it is most certainly not a blessing of greed and over-accumulation. Again, we are collectively urged by Paul to ensure that our possessions are not too much so that those who possess little might not be too little.
These are just a few of the thousands of verses in Scripture in which God commands those who follow to love the poor. An overwhelming majority of those commands are meant to be undertaken collectively, not individually. The call to advocate and organize for justice is at the heart of the gospel. Biblical advocacy is best understood as redemptively utilizing our access to resources to gain that same access to those same resources for those whose access has been restricted or denied. This is what Jesus did for us and this is what Jesus commands those of us who want to benefit from his sacrificial love to do for others.
Rep. Crenshaw and other Republicans (and not a few Democrats as well) would love for the church to keep our charity on an individual level because that is what will allow systemic injustice to continue unabated. But collectively incarnating ourselves among those marginalized by the same systems that Crenshaw derives his privilege from, and working for justice alongside those marginalized is the best form of charity we can engage in.