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.