Cross

The actions of Jesus and the teachings of the Bible are constantly being used as justification for the beliefs and actions of people worldwide.

Great – except that sometimes people take them way, way out of context and decide to come up with their own version of what the Bible means. Take the debate over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.

SNAP reauthorization has historically been included in the farm bill, a 5-year agriculture and nutrition package passed by Congress. But this year the House Republicans decided to split the agriculture programs off completely from the nutrition title, despite the opposition of over 500 food, farm and conservation groups, including the conservative Club for Growth and the very influential National Farm Bureau Federation. Oh, and basically every nutrition/anti-poverty group EVER!

By removing nutrition, House leadership was able to garner sufficient Republican support to pass the bill in the House and simultaneously make crop subsidies permanent  – and the most expensive that they have ever been. See more in this report from the Environmental Working Group.

But the Senate isn’t having that – and they’ve stated that they won’t pass a split farm bill. This means that getting it passed before the September 30th deadline is dubious – and that SNAP is at risk of being cut if it stays separated from agriculture programs in the bill. For a more wonky take on the matter, read my latest CHN article.

I’ve written a lot about SNAP in the past, but it never ceases to amaze me how many of our elected officials have little to no compassion for the hungry. And it REALLY gets me incensed when they try to use Christianity or Jesus’ teachings as justification for taking food away from struggling families.

Now, I’m not pretending to be an expert on Jesus, or Christianity in general for that matter. But I do know that one of the core tenants of Christianity is to help those in need. Just look at what most of the major Christian organizations in America do with their time: they lobby for low-income people in Congress by supporting safety net programs like low-income tax credits, housing vouchers, child care, and better nutrition. They support the welfare system as a means of lifting people out of poverty.

Simply put, they help poor people. I’m talking about Catholic Charities, the Sisters of Mercy, NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, the Sisters of the Presentation, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, and many, many more. The list includes groups from practically every Christian denomination, all of which vary in their beliefs and practices – and yet the one thing they have in common is a goal to aid the less fortunate among us – and to keep them from hunger by funding the SNAP program.

I certainly won’t argue that all Christian politicians diverge from this goal. For example, during a recent House Ag. Committee debate, Democratic California Representative Juan Vargas cited the Book of Matthew in support of SNAP, noting, “[Jesus] says how you treat the least among us, the least of our brothers, that’s how you treat him.” Vargas supports helping the least among us, which is why he supports a strong SNAP program.

Tennessean Republican Congressman Stephen Fincher has a different outlook on the situation.

Fincher took it upon himself to reply to Vargas’ quote with one of his own, from the Book of Thessalonians: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” He also made sure to point out that he believes that “The role of citizens, of Christians, of humanity is to take care of each other, but not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country.”

Some have called Fincher’s response to Vargas “nicely played.” I completely disagree. For so many reasons.

First, there’s the fact that only one in six SNAP household is a nonworking family without kids or an elderly or disabled family member  (read more in this USDA report).

Yep, you heard that right! Many, many people who receive SNAP are employed, sometimes at multiple jobs, and are just as hardworking as the rest of us. Now maybe if the minimum wage were raised to a livable standard, these people wouldn’t have to accept government benefits on top of their income in order to keep their families fed.

And yes, there’s no denying that there are also many SNAP recipients who are unemployed, underemployed or searching for work.

Now let’s take a look at WHY they those individuals are unemployed. Oh right, because we just had a giant recession and the economy is still struggling. Riiighhht…..

Second, in Fincher’s view of what the world should look like, government would not have a hand in supporting low-income people. The only “safety net” provided would be the generosity of selfless individuals and independent charities. This assumes that people will give of themselves in order to help the poor and create a more equal society. That they will give away enough money and time – completely unsolicited and uncompensated – to keep the nation’s 146 million impoverished people fed, clothed and housed.

It’s a lovely dream. But it’s just that – a dream. Would Fincher ever suggest that we should abolish the police department and criminal justice system and simply trust in the decency of human kind not to steal or murder? Once again, while it’s nice  to imagine a world without crime, it is absolutely and positively not realistic.

Sometimes I think many of our conservative politicians desire an anarchist state. And I don’t think that would sit well with most Americans. Or that it would be even slightly functional.

Oh, and there’s one other little thing about Fincher’s “pious” argument to cut food stamps out of the farm bill and move forward only on agriculture proposals (including those subsidies mentioned earlier).

SHOCKER ALERT: Fincher receives the second largest amount of money in farm subsidies in the whole country. So by cutting SNAP while “supporting a proposal to expand crop insurance by $9 billion over the next 10 years,” he’s doing more than merely making himself monumentally richer. He’s using the government to line his pockets with taxpayer dollars from crop subsidies.

But wait, I thought he wanted the gosh-darned government to stay out of people’s wallets?

I guess that’s only important when it comes to giving food to poor families.

But back to my point – I really don’t think that Jesus would appreciate everyone using him as an excuse to justify cutting food assistance to children, the elderly, disabled folks, low-income workers and the unemployed. The Jesus that I was taught about was kind, selfless, nonjudgmental and generous – not just to those who were among the chosen few, but to those in need as well.

#WhatWouldJesusNOTDo? Cut SNAP.