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Why doesn’t poverty have a place on the agenda of the religious right?

Why doesn’t poverty have a place on the agenda of the religious right?

This article from Salon is partisan to be sure, but it asks an important question: why aren’t poverty or income inequality part of the agenda of conservative Christians in the United States?

Elizabeth Stoker and Matt Bruenig write:

The notable exclusion of poverty from the Christian agenda would doubtlessly puzzle European Christians, whose support of Christian ethical approaches to family life have always been paired with a deep and vigorous concern for the poor. And, unlike their American counterparts, European Christians haven’t been willing to leave poverty up to individual charity or the market to handle. Quite the contrary: Just as public morality is an arena fit for intervention by a Christian-informed government, so too is welfare. Consider the British Christian People’s Alliance 2010 election manifesto, a document intended to explain the imminently Christian party’s policy goals:

“The Christian Peoples Alliance believes that Britain will return to economic prosperity when government chooses instead to put human relationships in right order. This requires power, income and wealth to be redistributed and for greater equality to be achieved. These are deeply spiritual convictions and reflect a Biblical pattern of priorities…By the end of the next Parliament, the CPA will establish the reduction of inequality as a national target, so that the ratios of the incomes of the top 20 per cent are reduced to no more than five and a half times the incomes of the bottom 20 per cent.”

Stoker and Buenig add:

Economic policy seems a strange place to wall off consideration of Christian ethics, but when it comes to policies that would expand welfare programs or extend particular benefits to the poor, the American Christian Right recoils, and tends to fall back on the rhetoric of personal accountability and individual liberty in matters of charity. But as European Christian parties have shown, limiting economic justice to the arena of charity is a political choice. If the government has a moral role — which the American Christian Right certainly believes it does — then why shouldn’t it participate in the same forms of care individual Christians are obligated to?

No principled reason can be given for the distinction the Christian Right draws between harnessing the state to pursue social objectives and harnessing it to pursue economic objectives. It is a uniquely American distinction as far as Christian politicking goes. What the distinction reveals is that so-called values voters are just a particular flavor of right-wing political culture, one that opts for Christian language and rhetoric when communicating its message. But in that case, it is their freestanding political commitments that inform their Christianity, not the other way around.

I am not sure that they are right about this. I wonder if American religious conservatives haven’t come to believe in a distorted form of Calvanism in which riches are a sign of God’s favor, and poverty a sign either of God’s displeasure, or God’s desire to see you tell the world an edifying story by overcoming the great odds stacked against you.

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Chris H.

Of course, self reliance, self-control, self-discipline, etc. are what makes the difference between the working poor who live at the same level as the welfare entitled, and might climb out, and those who become entitled and live for generations on welfare. Those with self control, etc. don't steal several Walmart stores full of stuff when their EBT cards go on the fritz like in Louisiana this weekend. The total lack of responsibility and motivation is what conservatives really hate. Even fraud is acceptable to liberals, who've equated my comments on turning in thieves and frauds to wanting all poor people to starve. There has to be a middle way where those who need help get it, but don't demand to live for the next 4 generations on it because the world owes them a life. Did Jesus say everyone should just make the government do everything for them? Is doing nothing and mooching off everyone else really what He wanted?

Where does that saying, "If you don't work, you don't eat" come from again? Is expecting some effort from people really evil?

Chris Harwood

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Clint Davis

Self-help, self-validation, self-control, self-expression, self self self, and yes, powerful, apparently satisfying communities can be and are forged from these motivations....this is where Evangelical Christianity goes astray, this is where we go astray when we copy them, and this is where our country has gone astray. These are the roots of our problems, because the above selfies are given religious and/or spiritual significance.

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