The Food Stamp Gospel

FoodStampsThumbby Mark Tooley
(The following article originally appeared in the American Spectator and is re-printed with permission.) According to some church officials, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has launched an attack on the poor by “cutting” $40 billion from food stamps. Typically unmentioned is that these “cuts” are reductions in increases over the next 10 years in a program that costs nearly $80 billion annually.

Also unmentioned usually is that food stamp recipients have increased by 70 percent since 2008, with 47 million Americans, or about 15 percent of the nation, now getting food stamps. The “cuts” reportedly would reduce food stamp spending to about 2010 levels.

Still, the churchly rhetoric against the “cuts” has been heated. “These immoral cuts are incongruent with the shared values of our nation,” insisted Jim Wallis of Sojourners, who called them “severe.” He added: “They demonstrate the triumph of political ideology and self-interest over sound public policy and concern for the general welfare.”

Under the “cuts,” total food stamp costs for the next 10 years reputedly would be $725 billion, or 57 percent larger than the $461.7 billion of the last decade, compared to the 65 percent increase currently scheduled.

According to the New York Times, the proposed “cuts” require adult recipients “between 18 and 50 without minor children to find a job or to enroll in a work-training program in order to receive benefits.” They would also “limit the time those recipients could get benefits to three months,” when “currently, states can extend food stamp benefits past three months for able-bodied people who are working or preparing for work as part of a job-training program.”

[pullquote]Wallis and company never quote St. Paul’s admonition: “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.[/pullquote] ”The “cuts” also would limit access to food stamps by recipients of other social welfare programs and would allow states to drug test and cut off lottery winners.

In response, the Presbyterian Church (USA) lobby office pronounced the “cuts” to be “devastating” and “doubling the malice.” Bread for the World, a church supported lobby, denounced the “cuts” as a “devastating attack” that will “gut” food stamps and “increase suffering” for 47 million Americans. Another church supported lobby, Faith in Public Life, bewailed the “draconian cuts.” The National Council of Churches condemned the “cuts” as “short sighted and cruel.” Such “cuts” assault the “values Jesus embodied,” according to the head of the American Baptist Church.

According to Christian Churches Together in the USA: “The Bible calls us to care for our neighbor and remember ‘the least of these,’” a principle these “cuts” egregiously “violate.” A Lutheran relief official lamented the “cuts” as “morally indefensible” and “simply inexcusable.” The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (Catholic) claimed the House bill “denies our cultural values and violates the tenants of our faith.”

The National Association of Evangelicals and the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops also oppose the “cuts” but did not rhetorically equate them with attacks on God’s Kingdom. Nearly all of these groups collectively denounced the “cuts” through the resurrected “Circle of Protection,” which emerged during the 2011 debt ceiling crisis to effectively side with President Obama, with whom they met, against Congressional Republicans, rejecting limits on spending for social welfare and entitlement programs. By implication, they favored tax increases and military cuts.

Jim Walls was a prime organizer of the Circle. He insists “it is impossible to read the Bible and not recognize God’s abiding concern for the hungry and vulnerable,” which is certainly true, properly understood. And he always quotes the Gospel of Matthew as the divine endorsement of Big Government: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

Wallis and company never quote St. Paul’s admonition: “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” The biblical view of compassion understands humans as moral beings, not just victims, who need not just assistance when afflicted, but also encouragement towards labor, and discouragement away from dependency.

Enormous increases in food stamp spending have included stories of yuppies spending food stamps at Whole Foods, and college students resorting to food stamps as supplemental income. Many recipients no doubt need help. But it’s likely that many of the 47 million need to help themselves more.

Welfare State religionists seem never to admit any ceiling to proper social spending and to fear any proposed limits to government programs as attacks on the poor. The ostensibly devastating “cuts” to food stamps will only allow growth of 57 percent. Does Gospel fidelity require doubling or tripling the spending instead? And why stop there?

Jesus purportedly favors government’s constantly increasing control. Does He not affirm any brakes on state power or have no concern for unending welfare’s impact on the souls of individuals, communities, and nations? Are these church food stamp enthusiasts never willing to consider alternatives to chronic dependency?

Neither the Gospel nor the poor are well served by church officials who think the height of Christian charity is for government merely to write larger checks.
MarkTooleyThumbMark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth Century. You can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley • (1512 views)

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7 Responses to The Food Stamp Gospel

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Christ urged private, voluntary charity; by contrast, the Left opposes charity (Obama has tried to get rid of its tax deductibility) and prefers government dependency paid for (involuntarily) by taxpayers. Those who place religion above politics should know the difference between the two.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Ditto. I think Mr. Tooley just cuts right to the heart of it.

      There is absolutely no weight given by the “social justice” crowd regarding the harm of handing out “free stuff.” It’s just somehow the responsibility of hard-working people to give, give, give, and give some more to people who arguably don’t need money. They need to get off their butts and work.

      Christian missions and charities (or, really, any private charity) is much more able to get resources to where they are needed while not wasting it on frauds or harming people by simply miring them in their bad habits.

      Government, on the other hand, has every incentive to entangle people in dependency…and they regularly do so.

      These “social justice” Christians simply, in my opinion, want to be seen as being do-gooders rather than actually doing good, a phenomenon that Thomas Sowell has often commented on.

    • Terri King says:

      Christ urged private, voluntary charity;

      That’s the heart of it, and it’s a sign of just how lazy the “church” or individuals in the church have become. It’s so much easier to let the government handle it rather than ACTUALLY feeding the needy and clothing the poor. They vicariously “give” through government programs. If we, as the church, did our job?…food stamps wouldn’t be needed so badly. And yes, sometimes they are needed, but not nearly as much as they’re given.

  2. Terri King says:

    Wallis and company never quote St. Paul’s admonition: “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” The biblical view of compassion understands humans as moral beings, not just victims, who need not just assistance when afflicted, but also encouragement towards labor, and discouragement away from dependency.


    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’m in that chorus of applause, Terri.

      I don’t believe that most people who believe in “social justice” (that is, coerced “charity” via the state) do so out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s more like buying a Middle-Ages Indulgence.

      Despite the insane focus on “poverty,” there is very little actual poverty in this country when judged by rational standards. We have it pretty good. But the media, the Left, the government schools (I no longer call them by the innocuous term, “public schools”), the culture-at-large, and this gargantuan entitlement state which corrupts people (rich or poor) has left people feeling guilty simply for doing well.

      “Eat the rich” is what you hear at those Occupy Wall Street mob gatherings. And in so many subtle ways (and sometimes not so subtle), that is the message being officially taught today. This idea underpins most everything our Marxist-in-Chief (Obama) says.

      So, there are a lot of American who — because of freedom, the free market, their own hard work, and the very nature of our open society — have done very well. And they’ve been made to feel guilty about it. And the penance they pay is to support all this “social justice” nonsense. They are buying the modern equivalent of a Middle Ages Indulgence.

      And we know this is so because their prime concern is how *they* feel or how they look in the eyes of others, not actually doing good. I mean, it is hardly a secret the destruction that indiscriminate “charity” can cause. I urge one and all to read the book, The Tragedy of American Compassion. Christians used to live by their beliefs instead of pretending to.

      If one wants evidence that we live in a Fallen world, look no further than the Christians who put their own petty self-indulgent psychological angst (the induced guilt of actually doing and being good) over actually supporting policies that would help those who need help.

      Sorry, I have no use for “Christians” who have, in the words of Dennis Prager, substituted Leftist values for Christian ones. There are people such as myself who, by rights, are more authentically Christian than those who claim to be and yet act like dumb-asses or pampered fools.

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    In FOSFAX 216, I offered the following version of the Lord’s Prayer under Obama, which the article title reminded me of:

    Our Father in the White House,
    Hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come,
    Your will be done,
    In the country as it is on Capitol Hill.
    Give us this day our daily bread,
    And forgive us our debts
    With money from our creditors.
    And lead us away from consumer goods,
    But deliver us from dissent.
    For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the adulation.
    So let it be forever.

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