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Hullabaloo


Friday, June 21, 2013

 
Why churches should be up in arms about cuts to food stamps

Guest post by Pastordan


Look, you don't have to be a Christian to be outraged by the clowning around about life on food stamps that Digby wrote about yesterday. Anybody with half a brain or half a heart can see how mean-spirited and clueless this publicity stunt was. These people are coming very, very close to saying they'd rather let people starve than inflict even a few dollars' extra tax burden on the Koch brothers. And if the victims could smile and whistle a happy tune as their children's lives are sucked away by diabetes and malnutrition, hey, that'd be great too. It's not like anybody we know is going to be affected, right?

I do think Christians have a particular reason to be angry about this story, though, and by the larger movement to cut SNAP. The church I attend houses the local food pantry and a feeding ministry, each of which serves dozens of people a week in a town of about 40,000.

If you've ever spent time around soup kitchens or food pantries, you learn very quickly that many of their clients rely on Social Security or some form of assistance: SNAP or WIC or disability payments. They tend to come in for supplemental food when the government checks run out, in the last weeks of the month, and they're always grateful for things like toilet paper that you can't buy with food stamps. Many of them are elderly, mentally or physically handicapped, or families with too many mouths to feed. I've literally had those families tell me they used to be middle-class just like us, until someone got sick or lost a job or a house. The line between taxpayer and charity case is very, very thin these days, and getting thinner all the time.

Though churches aren't the only groups that feed vulnerable people, they do the vast majority of that work in the US, by virtue of sheer numbers if nothing else. When right-wing ideologues bloviate about "trimming the fat" out of SNAP, they're essentially hawking a big loogie and spitting in the face of the churches that pick up the slack for the government. Digby points out how counterproductive that approach is. As much as I believe in the ministry of the church, government support is simply more efficient and more effective. You can literally see the difference written in flesh and blood.



So every time a conservative argues for cuts to SNAP, they are in effect saying to the people who run food pantries and soup kitchens, "We're going to make you work harder." As Booman says, that seems to be the point: they want vulnerable people to work harder. And if they fail, it's their own damn fault.

You know who else wanted people to work harder?

That same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people, as well as their supervisors, ‘You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But you shall require of them the same quantity of bricks as they have made previously; do not diminish it, for they are lazy; that is why they cry, “Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.” Let heavier work be laid on them; then they will labor at it and pay no attention to deceptive words.’
It's no accident that Pharaoh issues these orders in the midst of a labor dispute. He adds to the Israelites' burden specifically so they can't think about, much less organize, a different and more just society. See any parallels?

If it were up to me, this message would get preached far and wide across the land. The miracle of the loaves and the fishes is the only one reported in all four gospels; it's so important that some of them mention it twice! And in all three Synoptic Gospels, when the disciples ask Jesus to dismiss the crowds so they can something to eat, he responds with some variation on "You feed them." He doesn't say "feed them without increasing the marginal tax burden," or "feed them the bare minimum while going to great lengths to root out fraud and waste," or "feed them in churches and only in churches." He says, "feed them."

I know that some people, maybe many people, will think this is some kind of soft-hearted religious pablum. Some folks are going to read this and point out all the hate and violence that has come about in the name of Christianity. And it's true: the church has a lot to be ashamed of in its past, and in some cases, in its present. But that's missing the point. There is a definite political edge to the gospel, whether in Hebrew scripture or the New Testament. The message we're meant to take away is that God wants justice in the world. God wants people to be paid a living wage, God wants everyone to eat. That's the core message. By comparison, the regulations in Leviticus that people get so hung up on are marginal notes about how to keep mission discipline. Jesus preaches again and again about not judging, not envying, not buying into this rule or that, because he wants to keep the disciples' focus where it belongs: "You feed them."

Don't you think the world would be a better place if churches did the same thing?

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