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    Wednesday, December 14, 2005

    Where in the World is . . . James Dobson?

    A Religious Protest Largely from the Left:

    When hundreds of religious activists try to get arrested today to protest cutting programs for the poor, prominent conservatives such as James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell will not be among them.

    That is a great relief to Republican leaders, who have dismissed the burgeoning protests as the work of liberals. But it raises the question: Why in recent years have conservative Christians asserted their influence on efforts to relieve Third World debt, AIDS in Africa, strife in Sudan and international sex trafficking -- but remained on the sidelines while liberal Christians protest domestic spending cuts?

    Conservative Christian groups such as Focus on the Family say it is a matter of priorities, and their priorities are abortion, same-sex marriage and seating judges who will back their position against those practices.

    "It's not a question of the poor not being important or that meeting their needs is not important," said Paul Hetrick, a spokesman for Focus on the Family, Dobson's influential, Colorado-based Christian organization. "But whether or not a baby is killed in the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy, that is less important than help for the poor? We would respectfully disagree with that." ...

    At issue is a House-passed budget-cutting measure that would save $50 billion over five years by trimming food stamp rolls, imposing new fees on Medicaid recipients, squeezing student lenders, cutting child-support enforcement funds and paring agriculture programs. House negotiators are trying to reach accord with senators who passed a more modest $35 billion bill that largely spares programs for the poor. ...

    To GOP leaders and their supporters in the Christian community, it is not that simple. Acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said yesterday that the activists' position is not "intellectually right."

    The "right tax policy," such as keeping tax rates low on business investment, "grows the economy, increases federal revenue -- and increased federal revenue makes it easier for us to pursue policies that we all can agree have social benefit," he said.

    Dobson also has praised what he calls "pro-family tax cuts." And Janice Crouse, a senior fellow at the Christian group Concerned Women for America, said religious conservatives "know that the government is not really capable of love."

    "You look to the government for justice, and you look to the church and individuals for mercy. I think Hurricane Katrina is a good example of that. FEMA just failed, and the church and the Salvation Army and corporations stepped in and met the need," she said.

    Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said the government's role should be to encourage charitable giving, perhaps through tax cuts.

    "There is a [biblical] mandate to take care of the poor. There is no dispute of that fact," he said. "But it does not say government should do it. That's a shifting of responsibility."


    I agree with the assumption that helping the poor is really what being a Christian is all about. I re-read the Bible awhile back and the moment (Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus-geeks) where Jesus says something to the effect of how you treat the hungry, the thirsty, the sick and other "least of these," is how you treat Him. Since then, I really have found I almost never turn down requests for money from people on the street anymore; living in the East Village, this happens multiple times per day. I don't have enough myself to give them lots, but I give a little bit.

    I think that churches see their giving more along the lines of what I do on the street than the government's bureaucratic methods, which makes sense. Except that many evangelical charities give their aid on contingency- the gay hustler with AIDS is not a priority. This isn't always true. Catholics love their prostitutes. But still ...

    At any rate, I think it's right to call people on "selfish Christianity", meaning "I just want to make the world a place that doesn't offend my sensibilities so I can concentrate on getting into heaven." But, I don't think that those people are the same people that are involved in religious charity work, at least, not all the time. If those folks who think that help for the poor should be the domain of religious charities aren't evil.

    Here's what's being said about this article around the blogosphere:

    Representing the Blue Team:

    D-Day:

    Basically the religious right is saying that governments are hopelessly cruel and there's nothing you can do about it, so toughen up. That's the Christian message this holiday season. It's a self-defeating message, since the current group of people in power have no interest in governing, no respect for governing, and when they fail, they can fall back on the message that "government is inherently bad." This is of course absurd, and the massive deficits we've managed to rack up are a testament to the fact that nobody currently in power wants anything to do with small government.

    Rebellious Peasant:
    ... recent statements by some fundamentalists such as Pat Robertson (who has ties to RJ Rushdooney, Chalcedon’s founder) “to execute Hugo Chavez” and that “Hurricane Katrina was caused by the sinful nature of the people in New Orleans” come as no surprise.

    The Religious Right’s views on the causes of poverty are perfect for a ruler who wants to create a large pool of cheap labor for the ruling oligarchy—to the fundamentalists, poverty is caused by sin, not low wages, lack of jobs, or inadequate education. Bush’s “Marriage Initiative” is the first step Bush is taking in order to eliminate public assistance programs—despite the fact that many of the women he manages to marry off will be in abusive homes, and be worse off financially than they were before. This plays along with many religious extremists’ views regarding patriarchy—that women should be oppressed, and are only fit to take care of children and the house.


    Prometheus 6:
    Well, let's see. In 2001 (the latest year a linkable web page is available for) of 853,458 abortions , some 12,000 were performed nationwide where the pregnancy was more than 20 weeks along...that's 1.4%, by the way...and 32,907,000 people (11.7%) below the poverty level. Almost 40 times more poor people than there were abortions performed at all. And yes, tha's a comparison that makes as little sense as the one Mr. Hetrick makes.
    But how many abortions were done solely for economic reasons? How many were NOT done for economic reasons, and how do those children suffer because of their poverty?


    Random Ravings:

    Honestly, I have no problem with people attempting to further a conservative agenda. They are wrong, but they have every right to do it. What I do have a problem with are groups that call themselves Christians but align themselves much more with conservative, Republican philosophies than Biblical principles. And in turn, they cloak their philosophies in religious language in order to mobilize their "followers". Don't get me wrong - I am not questioning whether or not the leaders of followers of these organizations are authentic Christians. This is not an individual attack on individuals' religious beliefs. But it is an attack on the organizations that claim these beliefs but act differently. ...

    It is clear that the Bible not just talks about helping the poor, but emphasizes it. And strangely, these groups understand that (as is seen in their push to help Africa) - as long as it does not interfere with their politically conservative agenda.
    Imagine if all of those that came out opposed to abortion also came out against the death penalty.

    Imagine if all of those voting to discriminate against gays also voted to support helping the poor.

    Imagine if those that screamed about Terri Schiavo also screamed about the lives that we are ending in Iraq.


    Representing the Red Team:

    Newsbusters:

    ... the Post makes the typical liberal Wallis assumption: that the Christian imperative to help the poor is completely synonymous with favoring government welfare programs. Christians apparently must give at the office, instead of giving from their own wallets and hearts.

    The Tension:

    Liberals love to have it both ways.

    Check the piece linked below about conservative Christians choosing to opt out of a joining a group named, 'Call to Renewal,' to protest against budget cuts to public programs. It's understandable that conservative Christians say no to liberal protests; they would much rather be doing something from within their own community to address social problems than to simply complain. Keep in mind that far left liberal groups have targeted Christian principled programs from the Boy Scouts, to federal aid supporting churches involved in Katrina relief (when no other aid infrastructure existed in their areas). Also keep in mind that for the most part, churches are better equipped to handle the poor and homeless on the front lines.

    It takes a lot of nerve to whine up the fact that conservative Christians won't dig in and get behind liberal programs when all liberals can do is continually dog conservative Christian dogma.


    Get Religion:

    The Washington Post carries some water today for Jim Wallis, an evangelical social activist. The story, by domestic economic policy reporter Jonathan Weisman and religion reporter Alan Cooperman, is about Christian approaches on Republican spending policies.

    As a recovering economist — and reporter who covers federal programs — I have to make a point in defense of statistical analysis. It’s no secret that reporters enjoy budget analysis about as much as we like sources who burn us. But math is our friend. It keeps us from beginning stories this way:

    When hundreds of religious activists try to get arrested today to protest cutting programs for the poor, prominent conservatives such as James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell will not be among them.

    If last year your boss gave you a 6% raise and this year you only receive a 5% raise, is that an income cut? In Washington, D.C., it is — but reporters should know better. An increase in spending, no matter how contentious, really should not be called a cut. Anyway, without making any comment on whether this budget change is worthy of protest, the story is that the House of Representatives voted to slow the increase in the rate of spending. But we’re Get Religion and not Get Math, so let’s proceed:

    That is a great relief to Republican leaders, who have dismissed the burgeoning protests as the work of liberals. But it raises the question: Why in recent years have conservative Christians asserted their influence on efforts to relieve Third World debt, AIDS in Africa, strife in Sudan and international sex trafficking — but remained on the sidelines while liberal Christians protest domestic spending cuts?

    Don’t you love news stories that read like opinion pieces? ...

    Without contrasting the outcomes of church and state charity for the last couple of thousand years, isn’t it weird that reporters never write news stories that put those folks who support governmental charity on the defensive? Should reporters investigate the motivations of those people who advocate for housing projects that breed crime, subsidized income programs with incentives for bearing more and more children out of wedlock and welfare programs that drive fathers away from homes? Or have reporters settled the debate that the preferred way to show concern for the poor is through massive federal programs, regardless of their results?


    The Unalienable Right:

    It didn’t seem to occur to the writers of the piece or the liberal “theocrats” who are protesting these “draconian” cuts in the federal budget that federal government spending and compassion for the poor are not synonymous. ...

    There is a [biblical] mandate to take care of the poor. There is no dispute of that fact,” he said. “But it does not say government should do it. That’s a shifting of responsibility.”

    As we’ve noted several times before, liberals are not opposed to religion in politics, they’re opposed to conservatives in politics. This is just one more example of that.


    And for the Purple:

    Either End of the Curve:

    Now, I'm definitely not upset that powerful evangelical leaders don't participate in protests. Frankly, I'm not sure that they really accomplish much, and I'm generally skeptical over most forms of national demonstrations over issues like this, especially in this country, where there are more effective means. (Local expression strike me as a slightly different animal.)

    But it very definitely is bothersome that these powerful figures really do seem to take a backseat when it comes to advocating for the poor in this country. Downright irritating are some of the lame justifications offered for that failure. ...

    First, what does partial-birth abortion have to do with the issue at hand? Second, concern over one set of social issues doesn't preclude simultaneous attention to another. I mean, gee whiz, I can get up in arms about very late term abortions AND advocate on behalf of disadvantaged Americans. (And I can walk and chew gum, too! What talent!) ...

    Now, I don't have a problem with extending the referenced tax cuts; in fact, I support that. And I do have great sympathy with smaller-government advocates and do believe that lower taxes benefit society economically and otherwise. I also believe that many of the programs we put into effect under the War on Poverty (and then expanded later) had some disastrous consequences, from which vast swathes of our society have yet to recover (by the way, where's the next Daniel Patrick Moynihan?). But that, I believe, has more to do with kind and degree than the mere existence of programs for the poor, working or otherwise and disadvantaged. Further, I believe that government definitely must play a role--ethically, morally and practically speaking. (That's in no way to diminish the good work of various charities and churches, but it's not enough, it never will be, and some people will always fall through the cracks.)

    So in this case, I'm on the side of those people (including some evangelical activists) calling on Congress to try again.


    But you gotta give Wonkette the last word:

    Missing from this faith-based fandango? Prominent member of the religious right. And there's a good reason for that. They care about the poor, but they care more about fetuses. Or, as you might call them, the "pre-poor." Says a Focus on the Family spokesman:

    'It's not a question of the poor not being important or that meeting their needs is not important. But whether or not a baby is killed in the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy, that is less important than help for the poor? We would respectfully disagree with that.'

    In other words, poor people, if you're cold and hungry this Christmas, the right would love to help you. You'll just need to find a womb to crawl into first.

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