Politics vs. Jesus and the Poor

I’ve got a friend who regularly says, “Don’t mix politics with church.” To a certain extent, I agree, but I don’t go as far as my friend. What do I mean? I’ll try to explain.

The Church is a place to focus on the spiritual realities of our world. That means we are concerned with people’s souls and eternal destinies. That part, I believe, we can all agree with. However, our calling as Christ-followers doesn’t end with that.

If we look to Jesus, we can see example after example where he took loving action for the sake of the poor, bruised, and hurting. He took the plight of the disenfranchised people in society and did something about it. He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He associated closely with women and lepers. He broke sacred laws in order to serve a higher purpose; namely, to love others.

In addition to his example, Jesus teaches over and over that we should care for the poor. He doesn’t simply leave his actions and example open to interpretation – he explicitly states that we must care for the poor and those in need. He goes so far as to say that the greatest commandment, after loving God, is loving others.

If a person claims to be a follower of Christ, then a hallmark of that person must be that he or she cares for the poor and needy in some way. There’s no question about that. It is a clear command of Christ.

The problem, of course, begins when we talk about how to specifically live out that commandment. And that’s where politics enters into the discussion. Unfortunately, it has come to a point in American politics where fulfilling Jesus’ command to care for those in need has become a political issue. It has become a point of contention for many debates, and it has even been used as a litmus test to see if a person is a “true” Republican or Democrat.

The problem really stems from the fact that we disagree on who is truly in need, and we disagree about whose responsibility it is to pay for the assistance. Many Republicans seem to think that the welfare rolls are filled with people who could work, but are abusing the system, just living off the backs of the hard-working people of our country. In depth research seems to indicate that while some of that is going on, the most frequent cases of fraud tend to be at the administration level, not the recipient level.

Yes, there are going to be people who abuse the system. That’s just the way it is. We can and should seek to stop that abuse. However, that does not give us an excuse to just write off anyone who receives assistance as a mooch or parasite sucking our resources dry. There are people working a job, sometimes multiple jobs, still unable to afford basic necessities for their families. And there are people who are unable to work due to disability or mental illness. We simply cannot write off programs that help these people because of the abuse of some.

Jesus did not give us a list of qualifiers for helping those in need. He didn’t say, “Help the poor only if they can meet the following requirements…” He simply said, “Help the poor.” When we seek to politicize the helping of those in need, we negate the words of Jesus for our own benefit.

Just to be totally transparent, I am a registered Republican. There are many things I love about the Republican party. Our recent history of politicizing and cutting aid to the poor, however, makes me angry. To me, it’s not just a political issue – it’s a Christian issue. Do we follow Jesus or not?

So do politics belong with religion and in the church? No, in the case of specifically preaching for or against a party or person, but yes, when we face issues that Jesus speaks about, such as helping the poor.

Our faith is not just one segment of our lives; it is to permeate our entire being. It should influence each and every decision we make – because Jesus lays claim to our whole heart, not just a part. If you call yourself a follower of Christ, as I do, then I encourage you to consider Jesus’ mandate to help the poor. Are we doing enough? Where can we do better? Do the policies of our elected leaders match Jesus’ high priority of helping the poor? If not, then we have a moral obligation to do something about it. What will you do?


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