Why Evangelicals want Nothing to do with Jesus' Social Agenda

There is an interesting article in the Huffington Post by Phil Zuckerman and others about a recent Pew  Survey of the social and political views of Evangelicals compared to the teachings of  Jesus (including the Sermon on the Mount).    Here is the intro paragraph…..

“The results from a recent poll published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (http://www.pewforum.org/Politics-and-Elections/Tea-Party-and-Religion.aspx) reveal what social scientists have known for a long time: White Evangelical Christians are the group least likely to support politicians or policies that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus. It is perhaps one of the strangest, most dumb-founding ironies in contemporary American culture. Evangelical Christians, who most fiercely proclaim to have a personal relationship with Christ, who most confidently declare their belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, who go to church on a regular basis, pray daily, listen to Christian music, and place God and His Only Begotten Son at the center of their lives, are simultaneously the very people most likely to reject his teachings and despise his radical message.”

And here is the last few sentences.

“Of course, conservative Americans have every right to support corporate greed, militarism, gun possession, and the death penalty, and to oppose welfare, food stamps, health care for those in need, etc. — it is just strange and contradictory when they claim these positions as somehow “Christian.” They aren’t.”      And if that hasn’t gotten your juices flowing,  here is the link to the article—


See what you think.   Thanks to Darryl Schafer for the heads up.

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  • Dan

    I agree that our beliefs about gun control, the death penalty, war , and other social issues don’t reflect the teachings of Christ. I believe in non-violence, and I’ve been embarrassed at how little interest we have in loving our enemies.

    However, while I am passionate about Jesus’ social commandments, and I’m not partial to either political party, I think it’s unfair to criticize Christians who don’t support government efforts to take care of the poor.

    The traditional difference between Republicans and Democrats is whether the government fundamentally exists to protect or our rights, or to solve our problems. (although Republicans have had an identity crisis in the last few decades – hence the Tea Party) I’ve seen studies that say conservative give much more to non-profits. It’s not that conservatives don’t always care about the poor, it’s about whether it’s the government’s role to do that, or it’s up to individuals and the church.

    The government is many things, but efficient is not one of them. Obviously billions of dollars are wasted every year. The postal service is losing money and wouldn’t be in business if it wasn’t subsidized. Who can blame those that don’t want the government to handle social programs?

    Non-profits with high management ratings tend to get more money donated than those who waste it. Many believe that a free-market approach to charity would be much more efficient than having the government distribute money.

    Obviously, not all Christians vote for this reason. Some are just selfish with their money. Some simply don’t care about the poor. But I don’t think a refusal to support government social programs means Christians are apathetic about helping the poor. They just don’t want an agency that can’t balance a budget to distribute money.

  • mason

    I think one of the reason for this is that conservatives believe that the gov’t is the least efficient method of providing for the poor. When the govt asked for 35% of what is God’s that I am to be a steward of and then spends it on programs that are not biblical (such as abortion, death penalty, war etc) why would I encourage them to take more? We evangelicals have abandoned our calling to take care of the needy and rather have the gov’t do it. That is to our shame. At the same time we can not sit by and encourage the govt to take what I am going to be held accountable for and use it contrary to God’s word. I know that God will judge nations but nations are people who are christians so I do not know how that is going to work. Do i stand before God and say well LORD they used what u gave me for some good, but also to killed 5 million babies and wage war and I went along with it because we did help the poor (which u said.we.would always have.with us) That will be an interesting conversation to say the least. Give all of what God has entrusted to me to me and let God hold me accountable, do not give more to people who can’t manage what they already have..I think that too is biblical. Just b/c some christians do not give and support social programs do not judge all followers of Jesus by their poor example. Have we gotten to the point that we will suffer some things for the greater good? That is a slippery slope. And no one tell me that Jesus did not forbid abortion or the death penalty. Those are old arguments.

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    I hear these laments loud and clear, and here is what I say. I am a pragmatist when it comes to the poor—- I want them helped by whatever means necessary, and since the church does such a pathetic job with this responsibility, I am fine with the government helping more. No diatribes please about wastefulness, which we all agree is wrong. Without some sort of social safety net, all sorts of children in America would not only have no healthcare, they would have no food and this is wrong.

    Enough said.


  • dave doty

    Ben – I very much concur with your closely… provision by inefficient means is better than no provision at all. And may it provide the safety net until we get our act (the church) together and take back the responsibilities we have shirked.

    If we believe so adamantly that government should not do these things then we should be willing to do them ourselves. Any port in a storm…

  • dave doty

    I meant to say *closing* not closely.

  • Joe Watkins

    Does the article frame the situation fairly though? Does being against the current welfare system, or proposed education reforms, or the recently passed healthcare bill mean that a person is against helping the poor (individually or as a nation), educating children, or fixing a broken health care system? While I do believe that many Christians have uncritically linked arms with conservatism in America, I’m also not convinced that many of the social programs listed above actually help the people they are aimed to help.

    I will fully admit, however, that I have a limited amount of knowledge about these sorts of things so I may very well be wrong here. It just seems that the statement the article is trying to make sounds a bit like like, “You silly evangelicals – you think Jesus was a conservative/Republican when it’s obvious he was a liberal/Democrat.”

    That being said, I would love to see the church step outside the right/left debate and begin to offer new solutions based on Jesus and the Kingdom of God. If the evidence of scripture is anything to go on the powers that be in both parties would find themselves upset with some of what is said.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  • Jarrett Cooper

    Did anyone else find it odd that abortion was not mentioned in the article? I’m sure “White Evangelical Christians” are maybe, just maybe, concerned about the abortion issue and being pro-life. Possibly this is a position Jesus Christ might hold?

    There is a book Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compasionate Conservatism Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters The author, Arthur Brooks, in his research finds out the”Surprising proof that conservatives really are more compassionate–and more generous–than liberals.” And, yes, many of those conservatives are White Evangelical Christians.

    The question when it comes to the government and social programs, will end up being a philosophical position that you hold about the government. Unfortunately, there’s been some social programs that’s done more harm than good, and it’s up to the social scientists to determine which social programs will have benefits that outweigh the costs.

  • aaron

    This article is essentially a strawman argument which assumes that Jesus would fully support the social welfare system in America and then blasts Christians for not supporting it. The strange thing is that this argument is quite old and it seems odd that it is posing as news.

  • pf

    There is no evidence that the government is less efficient than charity. Besides, no charities can collectively do what government does.

    But ignoring that, the behavior of christians is a big part of the reason why I lost faith. Not the entire reason, but the fact that people who claim to have a personal relationship with a figure and then act in almost the opposite manner in all instances is evidence that such relationship doesn’t exist.

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    Joe I would say this—- I have no problems with critiquing the flaws in existing safety net systems, but you do not stop holding on to the hand of someone hanging off the cliff perform you put a substitute net adequately in place. In other words, calls for reforms do not warrant in any way denying someone the means of subsistence and survival.


  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    I meant before you put…..

  • pf

    You guys who are making this about government are off base, although it is a good illustration of how one’s position about Jesus is derived by political and social views.

    On abortion — tell me what Jesus said about it. Because that would be a blank page.

    Jesus did speak against killing and hating enemies, yet christians are the most pro-violence people in the US. Jesus spoke against judging others, yet christians are the most judgmental people by far. Yet they are obssesses with gays and abortion, two issues on which we have exactly nothing about his views.

  • Jarrett Cooper

    @ pf,

    You be surprised if you worked or know someone who has worked for either governmental and/or international aid organizations. A man (who is an agnostic) was emphatic in telling me and others that there is much more corruption and inefficiency in those government and international aid organizations than their Christian counterparts who was also doing aid work.

  • Jarrett Cooper

    @ pf,

    I’m sure Jesus was against abortion, and since a fetus is a human being — abortion = murder. “”Which ones?” the man inquired. Jesus replied, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony.” (Matt 19:18)

  • Leanne

    After reading the article, I came to the conclusion that Christians sound too much like one party or the other. We should sound like the Kingdom. There are places the Republicans get it right. There are places the Democrats getting it right. But truthfully the Republicans pro-life is not pro-life enough by the standards of the Kingdom. The Democrats help for the poor is not enough by the standards of the Kingdom. So perhaps, the call is for Christians to sound like the Kingdom rather than like the Republicans or the Democrats.

  • pf

    Jarrett: you are sure what Jesus would say? That’s incredible.

    To be clear, I don’t think this is about liberals and conservatives. Jesus lived in a time in which world views were so different that it would be impossible to reconcile today. For example, he would have assumed slavery was natural, he would have not seen anything wrong with the government executing people without cause or women being considered property. Trying to ascribe modern political positions to him is foolish.

    Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. He thought god would get rid of the bad guys and usher in a kingdom of peace and justice led by Israel. His ethical statements reflect the conditions of the new kingdom. I don’t think he had reforming government in mind.

  • Jarrett Cooper

    @ pf,

    Never once did I say I know what Jesus would say. However, I can feel confident about certain stances Jesus would have (given what the authors of the New Testament wrote), and in this case on abortion. Given Jesus’ views on life and views against murder raises the credence of Jesus being against abortion very likely.

    I mean, come on, Jesus didn’t talk about bestiality, but we can still infer that he was against it.

    I’ll let Biblical scholars argue against the views that Jesus would say antebellum slavery, or any other type as “natural”, and the other view like women were property, and that governments can execute people without a cause, and that Jesus was just a mere apocalyptic prophet.

    However, I do agree with your last sentence. We can create just about any form of government by choosing certain texts of the New Testament. Much of Jesus’ preaching was beyond the earthly kingdom, though by the same token, much of what he said does apply to how we presently live.

  • Craig

    I agree with Dr. Witherington that the Church is doing a pathetic job with its responsibility to the poor, and I am thankful that our government provides a social safety net, but I hope being “fine with the government helping more” does not mean being okay with Christians (whether liberal or evangelical) attempting to force their ethic onto a secular government and its citizens who are not bound to that ethic. I do not think Ben is suggesting this, but I know far too many American Christians who look first to our fallen secular government, rather than the Church, to provide ethical “solutions” to our nation’s problems, and this can lead us down a Constantinian slippery slope. It is time for the Church to take back her responsibilities, and to stop attempting to legislate the Gospel.

  • Chris

    I agree with the substance of Dan’s opening response (#1). Just one flaw, the postal service is not receiving tax subsidies from the federal government–although it does have a level of mismanagement being quasi-federal in its approach. While it is losing money, which has to do with the economy and the changes in communications, it is adapting slowly to the changes in our society.

    As a believer, we can do only so much to change the ethos of the federal government, regardless of the party in power–but what we can do is care for those in our day to day path–overcome any barriers set up by prejudices or status of wealth or society–and stop being the consumerist driven pampered hedonists that is pushed as the new American way.

    Live simple, give what you can (and then some) and love always, for the sake of the kingdom of Jesus.

  • http://www.frostmartinhazel.org Hazel

    Fantastic article, although not being from the USA I’m probably not really entitled to have an opinion.

    I also really liked Joe’s response of “I would love to see the church step outside the right/left debate and begin to offer new solutions based on Jesus and the Kingdom of God”… certainly this is relevant to my own culture and I suspect probably to the USA too… Christians should be leading the way to social justice… read Amos, read Proverbs, read pretty well anywhere else you like and if we really take our Bible seriously then it starts right there, not whether God is on the side of republican, the democrat, or any other political system from whatever nation you’re born in.

    In the meantime, I suspect Ben’s probably right… for as long as we carry on not offering anything better, then we’re probably not qualified to do anything other than give our support to the half-baked and inefficient safety nets which are at least better than allowing people to die of poverty. So if that doesn’t motivate us to get out and do something….

  • Drane

    Dan wrote:
    “However, while I am passionate about Jesus’ social commandments, and I’m not partial to either political party, I think it’s unfair to criticize Christians who don’t support government efforts to take care of the poor. ”

    Here’s why it’s fair. Most of these same believe that the US is and ought to be a Christian country. They believe the government must take a Christian position on government issues. Yet, they oppose government caring for the poor or providing healthcare of any kind as “socialist”, or “communist”, or even “fascist” (never mind that some of these terms are mutually exclusive). Especially, never mind that it is a Christian thing to do.

    Yet, Jesus healed the sick, the early church cared for the poor and sick, (the 2nd century church at Rome cared for 1500 widows). Christians throughout history have healed, and started hospitals, (literally, STARTED hospitals), yet these are values that are shunned by christians when it comes to any christian influence on a positive government policy.

    Yes, this is a fair criticism.

  • Joe Watkins

    @Leanne – I think that’s the point I wanted to make in my comment the most. I’m frustrated with the feeling that as a Christian I feel compelled to find Kingdom solutions to these problems and yet from a social and political perspective there seems to be a vacuum of ideas.

    To Ben’s reply, I would not want to discard the net we have before replacing it with a better one. I’m just hoping the church (myself included) will begin really imagining what a better net might look like.

    I struggle with envisioning it and what it means because the conversation has become so muddled with sound-bite solutions that ignore the complexity of the problems and force people to one side or the other. How DOES the church as a whole stand as voice for the Kingdom, and call for an ethic of love to be used in our policies both domestic and foreign?

  • Craig

    Although America was founded on some Judeo-Christian principles (synthesized with many presuppositions of Modernity), and despite arrogant claims that America is a “city upon a hill,” there is no such thing as “Christian nation” (at least not this side of the eschaton). America is no exception. Not matter how many American Christians may wish it to be otherwise, Jesus’ Dominion (or Kingdom) is “not of this world,” and America, like all worldly nations, is corrupted by sin and part of the fallen powers and principalities.

  • Craig

    Correction: “No matter…”

  • pf


    You are right about there not being any Christian nation, but I think the idera that Jesus taught the kingdom was not of this world is wrong.

    First century Jews thought the Kingdom was om earth, and Jesus was no exception. The prophets taught that God was going to overthrow the powers of this world and establish a Kingdom on earth that would be ruled by Israel. That’s what Jews believed (most of them) and that is what Jesus taught. The meek shall inherit the earth and all that.

    Just one more example of christians not believing Jesus. He said that god would forgive those who forgive others, but christians don’t believe that. They say we need to believe that he died for our sins, which means he didn’t teach people the right way to salvation. Or something.

  • Scott

    My perspective is that the government wants churches out of the charity business, if you don’t believe me read this. http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7381016.html . If it his hard for a rich man to be saved because he relies on his riches, it must be hard for those who rely on government. Why do they need God? The government provides all they need from cradle to grave. If you give to the needy out of your own resources that is worthy of praise. If you take money out of other peoples pockets that is theft.

  • Craig

    First, there were many different Jewish sects in the first century and they did not all believe the same things (e.g. Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots). Second, although what you say is true in a general sense – many Jews did expect the Messiah to come and overthrow Rome and set up his kingdom on earth – this is not at all what Jesus believed or taught. Third, Jesus’ teaching on the meek inheriting the earth was not about the earth as it is now, but the earth transformed and renewed, the New Earth, which will be created at the eschaton. Many of your views on Christianity seem to be misinformed or taken out of context.


  • Rick

    Sorry this is so long…I started writing and couldn’t stop. Hopefully this helps some people understand the non-pacifist, anti-government-intervention perspective.

    I find it pretty ludicrous that this is considered a subject on which Christians cannot, in good conscience, disagree. I find it ludicrous that there is a “Christian” answer to every problem, based in Scripture, and that those answers require government intervention (or they are not Christian). That sounds rather startlingly close to theocracy to me, and I had really rather hoped that Christians had learned from what happens when we take secular power to use for the Kingdom: the Crusades, the Salem witch trials, etc. Christians are no more to be trusted with governmental power than non-Christians and, thus, we should strive to find non-sectarian answers which do not require us to betray our faith and allow us to live out our faith in public but non-coercive life.

    I see very little from Jesus (or anyone else) on the proper role of government, except that we should pay our taxes (or at least that paying taxes is not inherently contradictory to a proper Christian identity) and that government bears the sword to punish the wrongdoer — and does so with authority from God.

    I also reject the notion that Jesus’ intention was to radically reject the ethics of the Torah, the Writings, and the Prophets. I think that he reframed some of those ethics to help us understand the purpose they served and the context for which they were intended, but I don’t see any reason to believe God’s ethical sense did a complete 180.

    I believe, as Christian libertarians generally do, that in order to maximize individual liberty we should focus the efforts of government on protecting people’s rights and the efforts of the church (and society, so much as we can influence it) on helping people. To me, you taking my money at gunpoint to help your pet cause is robbery. (And having the government do it for you is the same thing, in the end.) While there are many Christians who are hate-filled and just want to see people suffer, I think that many more Christians call for harsh punishment of crime because they love and wish to protect the innocent. Yes, I will take a man’s life, without hesitation or remorse, to stop him from raping a woman or killing an innocent man or molesting a child. Hatred of the wicked, in this case, is the natural consequence of love for the innocent. (I also think that the Scots-Irish-influenced culture of the South remains one of the last powerful redoubts of public Christianity in the States and, thus, the secular aspects of that culture tend sometimes to be conflated with the Christian aspects.)

    If your love extends to everyone equally and you refuse to protect the innocent when necessary, then your agape for them is empty feelings. It’s nice to have feelings, but actions are more important. And I am quite firmly of the belief that chosen inaction is an action. Abstaining from acting in the face of human wickedness is not love, nobility, or compassion. And merely standing in front of the guns of wicked men to ensure you die first is not Christlike. Christ died knowing that his sacrifice would be efficacious. Dying first is just ensuring that you don’t have to suffer seeing the consequences of your own squeamishness.

    I also believe in relatively lax gun control because I believe that, as we have seen in Libya, it is sometimes necessary for people to defend themselves from their governments. Sometimes governments fail to defend their people from criminals. Suggesting that government should have a monopoly on power is suggesting that tyranny should face no challenger. Police officers who have a problem with the people being armed are, I assume, police officers who will guarantee that police brutality will never occur and that they will always be there to stop criminals. If not, then they have no right to complain.

    I don’t think that there is a set of proper Christian answers to most political questions, barring genocide and such. I despise conservatives who insist that all Christians must oppose gay marriage or oppose abortion or no-fault divorce laws or whatever because that’s what Jesus would want. I also despise liberals who insist that all Christians must take specific views on the role of government intervention in alleviating poverty, or that because Jesus forgives sinners the government must release criminals as quickly as possible. Both groups use their faith to inform their views, and that’s fine. But I’m sick and tired of left-wing Christians and right-wing Christians trying to put the authority of the Gospel behind their political views. Can’t we all agree that we should all do our best to protect and care for the weak and needy, and then accept that we will sometimes disagree on how best to do that?

  • Tom

    It is a “given”….the church universal does not do this well…and it must do better.

    But the teaching of Jesus was not then, isn’t now, and never will be about government policy. His teachings were remarkably “government neutral”.

  • http://pambg.blogspot.com PamBG

    If I may offer a perspective as an ordained British Methodist Minister who has recently returned to the United States after 21 years in the UK (I was born in and am currently living in Ohio).

    I have also given up on the United Methodist Church partly (although not entirely) for “political” reasons. (After a year struggling with UMC worship and theology, I’m attending a congregation of another denomination.)

    I have absolutely no problem with the stance “There are massive inefficiencies in our governmental system and every tax dollar that we spend should be effective.” In fact, I have a number of good friends who believe this and who tend to vote Republican in consequence.

    But I have been frightened – as a cultural outsider – by all the talk that I’ve heard about what I’d call safety nets for the poor being “social” or “communist” agendas or agendas for “the government wanting to strip us of our rights”. Also, in many, many instances there *is* a knee-jerk, dualistic association of right-leaning politics with Christianity and this whole “constitution worship” seems like an idolatrous form of biblical fundamentalism.

    I agree with Ben. What would Jesus do? He would feed and give healthcare to the poor, even if it were “inefficiently” (he would not object to our trying to be more efficient either). He would not say “Let’s defer help until we can do it perfectly.”

    It’s the lack of compassion that really bothers me.

  • http://johnmeunier.wordpress.com John Meunier

    Rick wrote:
    To me, you taking my money at gunpoint to help your pet cause is robbery. (And having the government do it for you is the same thing, in the end.)

    Whoever said it was your money, Rick?

    All we have and all we are comes from God. We are to use God’s gifts not according to our will, but God’s will. If government does accomplish God’s purposes then that is a proper use of God’s money.

    Government putting money to unholy purposes is bad, but no worse than you and me doing the same thing with “our money.”

  • RightWinger

    I’m one of the guys this is about. I’m more conservative than 90% of Republicans, and a fundamentalist Christian. So maybe I can answer your questions about ‘why’ I’m this way, without necessarily having to claim that my way is the only right way … it’s just what I believe is right, and why many of us are overcome with temptation to anger:

    My ancestors came to North America to gain opportunity, accept huge risk, and get out of Europe. My (personal) ancestors were among those who rebelled against England and later against the Union. The basic idea was that ‘we’ (our families, neighbors and churches) wanted to be free to care for our own, without interference, either for evil OR for good. It’s simply about who gets to keep, use and distribute what I work for, what I earn and what I took giant risks to earn.

    Later immigrants came to this nation and brought Europe with them. They weren’t coming for the same reasons. They want to maintain their European roots and heritage and identities. The US for them is a place someone else built, and now that it’s good, strong and free, they want to leave Europe’s difficulties, but keep their ways. Many of these folks are Catholics and those who live in big cities [I'm not trying to bash catholics, it's just a different mentality].

    These people have never known the risks of independence. They’ve accepted the mentality that comes from being a serf to a lord, or one who must be ‘cared-for’ by a benefactor – government, church, or whatever.

    BW states “Without some sort of social safety net, all sorts of children in America would not only have no healthcare, they would have no food and this is wrong.”

    That’s factually inaccurate. Children wouldn’t have healthcare INSURANCE – but they’d have healthcare, even as they always have. As for food, some would go hungrier, many would not. We have history as our witness: poverty INCREASED after LBJ’s “great society.”

    What BW calls a “safety net” makes me cringe all the way to my toes. I loathe the thought of being a kept citizen. But what makes it worse is that you steal the nation my ancestors built in the name of Jesus, and force me to be just another gear in the machine.

    It sounds good to people with that old feudalistic mentality that our lords should care for us, and that we have the ability to force them by means of voting to do so. I get it.
    So why not go back to Europe?

    We came here because we’d rather die than take handouts. We view charity as a shameful thing unless it’s absolutely necessary. There are no starving people at my church, nor have their ever been at any of my ancestor’s churches. When my grandfather’s neighbor got sick, all the other famers chipped-in and helped with his harvest – they didn’t put on a concert or ask the government for a handout.

    We liked it that way! It was hard, but we got to keep what we earned, and we got to choose how to distribute our earnings – among our own family first, our church, and the local needy folks. And because they were local, we knew them and knew who was truly needy and who was just plain lazy.

    The doctor cared for sick people – whether they could pay or not. Eventually that grew into church-built hospitals (not government ones), orphanages and senior care facilities.

    I agree that it’s a shame that a few decades back some preachers started converting dixie-crats into republicans by telling them that true Christians should be republican. But it should be clear that they were only doing what they learned from predominately black churches and the power they wielded to get JFK through the primaires.

    And now that more than a few of my fellow conservatives are also duped morons, I’m embarrassed, but unchanged. Democrats and socialists have their own long laundry list of issues.

    Let’s remember that while conservative Christians are being labeled as ugly, war-mongerers, it was liberal democrats that got us into WW1, Korea & Viet Nam. It was a “kind” zillionaire that took us to the Bay of Pigs, and led us closer to the brink of nuclear holocaust than any other leader in human history.

    Social Security, national (not state, county or local) welfare, healthcare, education, and income tax. One thing at a time we become just another nation of serfs. But hey – you get to be a ‘nice’ serf, and pat yourselves on the back and claim that you’re smarter, better and kinder than we are.

    congratulations, your moral superiority is acknowledged.

  • Rick

    John — that is a fair question. I would argue that, as citizens in a secular society, we are obligated to treat everyone’s property as their own. I don’t get to re-claim your property for God because my conscience tells me you don’t need it and that you should help me more. God can claim it for his own and, if you have any ear to the voice of the Spirit at all, you will already have a good idea of what he wants you to do with your money. Indeed, to me this is an argument against government confiscation of property to feed the poor: God may already have an idea of what he wants us to do with our talents and time and possessions, and the more government confiscates the less we have to give specifically to the Kingdom. My point, ultimately, is not that I am not obligated to look after the widow and the orphan in their distress; my point is that acknowledging that obligation does not also oblige me to campaign for government involvement in this. I might decide government involvement is the best solution as some of you seem to have done; I’m only suggesting that it’s a bit absurd to claim that this is the only acceptable American Christian response. And it seems a bit absurd to me that since Ben seems to be a pacifist based on his previous posts (though I might have misunderstood, in which case forgive me), it seems a bit inconsistent to support the use of force to compel others to act Christian.

    Although RightWinger and I would doubtless disagree on a great deal, I think we can both agree that what rankles us is not the implication of an obligation to one’s fellow man. I agree with this and it sounds like RightWinger does as well. We have a problem with the idea that the only Christian response to that obligation is mass compulsory participation in the system. (Correct me if I’m wrong, RightWinger.)

    The other thing I’d add is that I think that much of the corporate greed which libertarians and conservatives are excoriated for tolerating only reaches the apex of harmfulness with the collectivist idea that forcing everyone to participate in the same system is acceptable. The various food industries and lobbies often cheerfully campaign for more regulation because they can afford the extra costs imposed while small, local businesses cannot. This is where capitalism becomes harmful, and it is directly aided and abetted by collectivist ideas of widespread, mandatory participation.

  • Mark

    It is a bit hard to get overly worked up by a web post that has a complete non sequitur in its lead paragraph. The conclusion “Evangelical Christians . . . are simultaneously the very people most likely to reject his teachings and despise his radical message” does not follow from the premise “Evangelical Christians are the group least likely to support politicians or policies that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus.” The premise itself begs the question, that there are politicians and policies on offer that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus.

    Perhaps it is the case that many politicians by the policies they propose intend to promote “the actual teachings of Jesus.” The regrettable irony is that when enacted by governments, the benefits intended in conception are replaced by detriments experienced in practice.

  • Mark

    I just finished the rest of the article, and there’s still not a lot there. Its potential impact is mostly dissipated by settling for contrasting a caricature of Evangelical Christians with a caricature of Jesus. In other words, Aaron at comment #8 has summed it up pretty well.

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    Wow rightwinger, that’s a mouth full. What disturbs me about what you say is a lot of things, not the least of which is that you believe some sort of mythology about your ancestors and the inherent goodness of radical individualism, as if it were true that an individual by themselves can create their own life, their own property etc. just by hard work. But of course, it isn’t true. Your very life was given to you as a gift by God through your parents. You wouldn’t even exist without them. Your very opportunities came your way not merely by individual effort or hard work, but through others— others who provided you with food, others who built the boat your ancestors sailed on, others who lived in an America before your ancestors— namely the native Americans. I would suggest you do a better job of learning your own history, read John Donne’s poem “No Man is an Island” and stop assuming your own personal experience is somehow typical of all such human experiences— say for instance those people who were dragged to America against their will as slaves.


  • http://www.lambpower.net Steve D


    One of the major issues I have found with LibertarianConservative thought is the idea of the “rugged individualist” ala John Wayne. Truth is that we are actually made to live in community. Look throughout the Bible, there are no individualists to be found.

    “That’s factually inaccurate. Children wouldn’t have healthcare INSURANCE – but they’d have healthcare, even as they always have.”

    Truth is that if individuals don’t pay the cost gets spread to everyone else. I’m sure that you would agree that doctors and hospitals don’t work for free.

    “The doctor cared for sick people – whether they could pay or not. Eventually that grew into church-built hospitals (not government ones), orphanages and senior care facilities. ”

    Doctors did get paid. Maybe not in cash, but they did get payment. FYI most hospitals now are for profit operations. Hence, someone has to pay.

    I find it and interesting paradox that you claim that people didn’t get paid, when you espouse the idea or keeping what’s yours.

  • RightWinger

    Wow, cool … I thought no one would read my long note … but thanks!

    First, let me respond to Rick … correct. I support my church and ministries we do. We’ve been to several other nations to help, and several inner cities in this country. The coolest is the ‘undercover’ work that gets done in Myanmar/Burma, where our government is locked out, and they suffered a far worse hurricane than Katrina. But my government representatives want to take my money (that would have gone to Burma) and use it for whatever vote-mongers deem appropriate.

    Dr. W, I concede your point about self-reliance completely. And Steve D, if you want a great example (better than the Duke) you should see “Shennendoah.” the prayer Jimmy Stewart prays is a perfect example of the folly of self-reliance. I can quote it for you, if you want. But seriously … I’m not advocating that self-reliant attitude.

    My point wasn’t that my ancestors were completely self-reliant, but that they were willing to take risks to get a gain, and in return they got to reap the rewards without government interference. I’ve been told one in seven people on the Oregon trail died. We don’t lose that many in the middle east in war today! But these people were willing to take a huge risk to build something and accept the consequences. In my neighborhood I can’t even change my water heater legally w/o zillions of government regulations telling me how to do it, and if I hire someone, they have to belong to certain clubs, unions, etc.

    Obviously many groups besides the later European arrivals fall oustide the category of my ancestors … and that’s my point. A different vision rules this country than the one that built it.

    A simple solution would be to leave more things up to the states, and allow for a wider range of differences.

    Oh … and yes (Steve D), many, many doctors worked for free and still do. I’ll be happy to introduce you to many who perform medical missions at great personal expense or volunteer their time in poor domestic environments. Flying Sams, Doctors w/o borders, etc. Tons of them. In my area we have lots of poor latinos who aren’t even citizens, and local university medical schools, churches, and others tend to them for free every single day. I also know for a fact this happens in Memphis, TN, and assume it happens throughout the nation.

    I’ll wrap up with this: I’ve personally accepted the inevitable. The nation can’t go back. Maybe it shouldn’t. But I wrote this to try to EXPLAIN why many of us are frustrated.

    I respect BW’s scriptural work SO much! And it hurts when he makes statements that claims people like me “want nothing to do with Jesus’ social agenda” – just because we’d rather work on our own – or through our church than through governmental social programs. We may not be right, and some of us are possibly morons – but we are not all anti-Christ.

  • Mac S.

    Dr. Witherington,
    Interesting post. As many of the comments here point out, the HuffPo piece is overly simplistic and unfair to Christians who care deeply about the poor but don’t see government as the best vehicle for helping them. Nevertheless, some of the underlying points of their article seem to ring true. Conservative Christians often do ignore or minimize Jesus’ commands about non-violence, about economics, and about our relationship to the kingdoms of this world. I’m teaching the gospel of Matthew and Bonhoeffer’s reading of the Sermon on the Mount this week, and I may use this article as a discussion starter.

  • Wiglaf

    Perhaps these evangelical Christians understand the difference between grace and justice. Charity cannot be entitled and still be charity. It instead becomes legalized theft, and yet you call it good.

    “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

  • http://www.evangelicalmonk.com/apps/blog/show/6346215 Bill H

    Dr. Witherington

    A most scathing indictment of the so-called conservative evangelicals in America – and while I find at times the broad brush to be overly broad, nevertheless, aimed in the right direction.

    My issue with this idea of a social agenda, whether by government or not, is that it seems, to me, to be hardly in congruence with the teachings of Jesus and the NT. While I heartily agree with the idea of feeding the hungry, and the verses from the Sermon on the Mount I am not convinced a governmental/programmatic effort hits the mark. There remains a significant danger, borne out by history, that such activities are more than likely to be co-opted and corrupted – a process that doesn’t always fall along the lines of conservative and liberal.

  • PJ

    It’s refreshing to read posts that are so well thought out and actually courteous. Thanks to all of you for very enjoyable reading.
    I also found the article to be a very broad brush paint of the Christian community. Perhaps it’s because what most Christian organizations do, isn’t covered by the mainstream media. In my experience, I have found that the local church’s efforts don’t take up more than a tiny article in the local paper. Things such as food and clothing drives may wind up on a community marquee, but that’s about it. Farther afield efforts such as working with villages in Africa to put in wells for fresh water and provide seeds for crops are often kept within church walls. Christian NGOs that were already on the ground when the earthquake hit Haiti did get some news coverage, but only insofar as it pertained to their work with the victims of that disaster. It isn’t the church’s business to toot their own horn about what they do. They just do it to show the love of Christ to others, whether they be believers or not.