Unholy Laws: Establishing Religion in N.C., Starving Children in Tennessee


UPDATE: Sen. Stacey Campfield, who proposed the original welfare bill in Tennessee and responded to this post in the comments, has withdrawn the bill, asking it be studied over the summer. Clergy and activists in Tennessee and around the country put the pressure on and quashed the bill.

I was profoundly saddened to hear the state legislature of North Carolina won’t be considering a bill that would have allowed it to establish a state religion.

Of all the hackneyed ideas put forward by conservatives, this one at least was interesting.

Not because I think everyone should be Christians or that the state should force everyone to be Christians or even that one should have to believe in God to hold elected office.

Rather, I thought it might be helpful to establish Christianity as the state religion, particularly in light of all the unloving and uncharitable (read: oppressive) laws Southern states have been considering in recent days.

Now, I realize establishing a state religion is unconstitutional, and plainly offensive to people of other faiths or of no faith. I’m not seriously advocating abolishing the establishment clause. But it is interesting to think, if Christians were to take their faith seriously, exactly what that might mean for a state.

The first result of establishing Christianity as the state religion, of course, would be to abolish private property and require that it be held in community for the benefit of all. All laws related to private property, including tax incentives and loopholes, would be immediately repealed. Following the teachings of Jesus and the early church presented in Acts, the state would ban excessive wealth and any policy that contradicts the equality of all, including equality of religion. This, of course, would essentially dismember capitalism in the state.

Maybe the North Carolina Speaker of the House Thom Tillis considered all this when he decided to kill the bill today.

Perhaps he decided it would be unwise to establish as the state religion whose founder told wealthy landowners to sell all they had and give to the poor, who instructed his followers to give to all who ask, who said it was easier for a camel to squeeze its hump through a needle’s eye than for a rich person to be a part of God’s kingdom.

Or maybe he considered all the jobs and military bases he would have to kick out of the state. Maybe he thought about how it would be impossible to square the military drones that are piloted from a base in his state with a state religion of Christianity. Maybe he realized he didn’t want to uproot the already established civic religion of the military-industrial complex with the faith of a man who willingly went to crucifixion rather than pick up a sword and fight.

Speaking of which, Tillis would also have to abolish death penalty if Christianity were the state religion.

In this light, one might not be surprised the bill was killed so quickly.

Now, again, to be clear, I am an advocate of the separation of church and state, and am not in any way suggesting that Christianity should be established as an official religion of the state. I love the pluralism and diversity of faith in this world and in our country, and I have had my own faith deepened through the open-hearted faith of Hindus, Muslims and Jews and the open-minded dialogue with atheists.

But, when I see an unholy and cruel bill like the one in Tennessee’s legislature, which ties parents’ welfare benefits to their children’s school performance, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if the state house did indeed get a little religion. It doesn’t have to be Christianity or really even religion per se, just any ethical framework other than the one currently operating in Tennessee whose dehumanizing, paternalistic, racist, classist and selfish values supports this bill.

Jesus didn’t ask his followers to interrogate the poor about their work ethic (which is usually unrelenting) or about their grades (which is profoundly affected by poverty, environment and hunger). He asked them instead to throw feasts and invite those that could not repay them, to invite the destitute and downtrodden and give them the honored seats at the table.

Jesus didn’t ask what the little children’s grades were before he welcomed them with open arms. He didn’t ask how involved their parents were in their lives before he told his disciples to let them come to him.

Jesus didn’t ask his followers to require the destitute to degrade themselves by requiring them to document their destitution, but instead to give to all who beg. Not only that, but Jesus says that he is the destitute, that he is incarnated by the least of these and that if we want to see him, we should look among the oppressed, the very people who would be subjected Tennessee’s welfare bill.

Is this how we would treat the hungry and impoverished Christ? Indeed, I dare say we do already.

To be honest, considering all this, the Way of Jesus really is no way to run a government.

But, then, Jesus didn’t ask his followers to build a state religion. His kingdom, he says, isn’t of the world. Instead, Jesus invites his followers to be citizens in a kingdom that turns the world and its conventional wisdom of power and violence upside-down.

Establishing Christianity as a state religion would be an easy way out, a way to conflate the Way of Jesus with the American way.

It is much harder to follow Jesus than it is to establish religion, much harder to live into the faith of the kingdom than to live under the religion of a state.


"Have you ever seen this scene where the "future belongs to me" is sung from ..."

The Songs We Sing After Charlottesville ..."
"The American flag SHOULD be taken out of the sanctuary. Why? Well first off, my ..."

God Bless America. Are you sure ..."
"Every nation in "European" (as opposed to African and Asian) wars prays to the same ..."

God Bless America. Are you sure ..."
"Very good and thoughtful questions however you fail to continue questioning and stop at your ..."

The Redemption of Time: The Christian ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • http://www.facebook.com/guy.gold Guy Gold

    Many of those that the Christian right define as “lazy” are individuals that are on the left side of The Bell Curve (lower than 100 IQ) and can’t compete very well in a capitalist economy. I wish the liberal left would accept this fact and not use so much political correctness to try to deny it-because telling the truth is the best way to defeat the Republican argument regarding laziness.

    • http://www.facebook.com/luv2karaoke Darla Hailey

      As a current educational statistics student, I agree. However, to acknowledge that as a population nearly half of us are “below average,” would mean that school grading systems would have to be revamped to adjust. I don’t see that happening.

      • Guy Sajer

        Grading systems that are based on a bell curve are really stupid and regressive. They should be based on standards. Anyone who achieves the standard gets a good grade. Standards based education lets far more kids achieve, encourage cooperation rather than cut throat competition, and bring better results in terms of kids actually learning the material and achieving.

    • pierider

      So “the poor are just stupid” is your contribution? Here’s some liberal political correctness for you: F**K OFF MORON

  • Steve Broggie

    Wonderful article!

  • http://www.facebook.com/tanja.j.martin T Jay Martin

    what an awesome article thank you for that and i will share it liberally

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.rowe.75470 Michael Rowe

    This is brilliant. No other word for it.

  • Celia

    Great stuff… But how do you *reallly* feel? ( joke)… I would have to agree. Outrageous.

  • D Lowrey

    I believe the author of this article has his brand of Christianity that Christ spoke about with the brand we see with TV evangelists. I believe the latter is where North Carolina was coming from. Heaven forbid if the fundamentalists see/understand the truth and live it.

  • macky

    thought i would laugh at this the whole way through, but you’ve made a great point in writing this. thank you for the insights. i think there should be a watt to do this without involving government

  • http://www.facebook.com/clare.crabb.7 Clare Crabb

    Thank you for this. It was beautiful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rhonda.brownign Rhonda Brownign

    And whose brand of Christianity would they establish as their state religion?

    • Surroundedbyfanatics

      You can be sure that it would not be Jesus Christ’s brand of Christianity.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Var-Enyo/100001058251205 Var Enyo

        I think that the new improved right wing Jesus is the one coming back with the sword that they always mention or perhaps in this case, an AK.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pjenks2 Peggy Jenks

    This was so well written and thought out. Thank you so much for sharing it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/edith.bluhm Edith Margarethe Bluhm

    Thank you for your eloquent words. I am horrified that this reprehensible bill has made it past subcommittee and committee already. Many many good people in Tennessee are pushing back as hard as we can against this legislation, but dealing with the current legislature of our state is like playing an endless game of Whack-a-Mole, so many terrible bills are being proposed and passed. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one as mean-spirited and misguided as this one. As a former school teacher, I know that these children live under enormous stress, and struggle with hunger every day. It is AMAZING what many of them accomplish despite their circumstances, but to suggest punishing them, and their families, if they aren’t performing in school is heartless. Heartless, and stupid – it won’t accomplish *anything* positive for the children, their families, their schools, OR the state. But “heartless and stupid” isn’t surprising anymore.

  • Robin

    Jesus loves the little children, ALL the children of the world

  • Amy Bramblette

    Thank you. My thoughts exactly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stacey.campfield.5 Stacey Campfield

    NOTHING in this bill would touch any food stamps, SNAP, WIC, school lunches, 15 other federal food programs, housing credit program or any of the over 70 charities that give out free food in Knox county alone. This program would only cover a small portion of a straight cash payment the state gives out.

    I think we can both agree the top tickets to break the chain of poverty is education. To achieve a quality education is like a three legged stool. The state has put a lot of responsibility on two legs of the stool (schools and teachers) to improve student performance. If the children don’t produce, it could impact the pay of the teacher and the standing of the school with the state. We have pushed for results based scoring of the student performance and we are getting them.

    While those two legs are important, one other leg has proven to be more important. The third leg has shown to have a greater impact on the children performance than the school, than the teacher, than race of the child, than the income of the parent, than the location or school of the student.

    The third leg of the stool (probably the most important leg) is the parents. We have done little to nothing to hold them accountable for their child’s performance. What my bill would do is put some minimum responsibility on parents for their child’s performance.

    If your child is failing their classes, if your child is not showing up to school, if your child has quit school. That is unacceptable. It is highly unlikely that child will ever escape poverty. To me that is a form of child abuse that will last a lifetime. The state can not continue to support the generational cycle of poverty. Just because parents may have quit school does not mean it is acceptable if their child does. Parents are responsible to make sure their kids are ready for school and that they get an education. If parents are not holding up their leg of the job (and your kids are not special needs, learning disabled,etc.) then the state is going to start directing the parents with some simple options.

    The parent can enter their child in a FREE tutoring class OR they can begin to tutor the child on their own OR they can enter a FREE parenting class OR they can attend FREE parent teacher conferences OR they can provide proof they have been attending the FREE parent teacher conferences. If the parent refuses to do ANY of these simple and FREE things to help their child get an education so they can break the cycle of poverty then, yes, the state will hold back a portion of the parents cash payment and give that money to a parent who will do those things who can not get on the program now.

    The goal is not to punish anyone. No one will necessarily or instantly lose benefits because of this bills passage. The goal is to encourage parents to do what they should already be doing. We have to start breaking the cycle of generational poverty.

    I cant tell you the number of calls and e mails I have received from teachers thanking me for this bill. It has been overwhelmingly positive. Most don’t blame the child. Instead they tell the stories of “The parent drops the kid off at 11:30 in their pajamas because thats when they got around to it.”, “The parent refuses to take our calls”, “the parent cussed us when we say we have concerns about their child”, “They blocked the school phone number”, “they say the children are our responsibility, not theirs”. The stories are not isolated. They are numerous.

    Any money saved by the state will go back into the program to provide services for those who are taking the steps to improve their situation. I, nor anyone, can assure a perfect 100% solution where everyone gets everything and no one ever loses benefits. but if we can pull 99% out of the cycle of poverty I will take that step.

    We know the “just give them a fish a day for the rest of their life” system is not working. Linking benefits to a parent doing some absolute minimum things to help their child’s performance in school is showing incredible results in over 40 countries. I think it’s worth a shot here.

    Yours in service,

    Sen. Stacey Campfield

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      Stop spamming my blog Sen. Campfield. Don’t just cut-and-paste your talking points on here. This is not your campaign stop. http://lastcar.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-third-leg.html

      Judging from this spammy comment and the fact that you don’t engage with my actual arguments in the post (which have nothing to do with WIC or free food), I am tempted to delete your comment.

      What I will say is that your bill may be many things, but the one thing it is most certainly not is Christian. In fact, it is against the teachings of Christ (anti-Christ) and the early Church.

      Your bill is not only redundant to current TANF requirements related to schooling but it is also punitive, and punitive excessively toward entire families. It is paternalistic and participates in the creation of a conservative nanny state. If you want to stop the cycle of poverty, the first step is not vicious, inhumane, cruel and anti-Christian legislation. Rather, the first step is meeting with those who are impoverished and coming alongside them as allies. Rather than telling those who are poor what to do, ask them instead what you can do. Then you will be both theirs and mine in service.

      Ethically and biblically, as a Christian, the welfare bill is unsupportable. It goes against everything that Christ stood for and taught. If you would like resources on the Bible’s teachings on poverty and just societies, I have a number of resources that might help you see more clearly how this bill perpetuates oppression.

      Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” Luke 11:46

      • http://www.facebook.com/TheSynergisticPen Chevin S. Stone

        bravo! bravo!

      • http://www.facebook.com/daisy.tharnaby Daisy Pioneer Tharnaby

        Thank you David! You are a true Christian!

      • cliffcashcomedy

        Sen Campfield, I whole heartedly agree with this concept which is why I am encouraging Tennessee law makers to immediately begin work to tie their salaries to test scores, employment numbers and the poverty levels in your state. I’d also like prescription pain pill addiction added in there as a gauge.

        In addition, let’s tie corporate welfare in your state to pollution rates. Now, I realize that your state’s polluting industries aren’t just ruining your state but that it is trickling down the Tennessee Valley and ruining air quality in other states but we’ll start right there at home. SO…you work on unemployment, insane amounts of pollution, above average poverty and the fact that every elected official in your state looks the other way while people die of prescription narcotic addiction AND as soon as you knock all that out, we’ll mail your salary check and you can keep playing golf with your polo shirt buddies who have no idea what it is like to truly struggle and fight let alone what it means to possess the love of the real Lord.

      • Eric

        That’ll preach!

      • Guy Sajer

        Wow, now this is a cool set of ideas. Never thought of them, but they are good.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lorece.bridei Lorece Lory Bridei

        BRILLIANT, cliffcashcomedy!

      • Sarah Warren


      • winnieme


      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rebekah-Becky-Majors-Manley/100000808133635 Rebekah Becky Majors-Manley

        WELL SAID.

    • Karen Deakins

      Sen. Campbell, you embarrass me as a Tennessean and a Christian.

      • bobzchemist

        I lived in TN for 5 years. Too many are just like this Senator – “heartless and stupid” is a way of life there.

      • http://twitter.com/GoonrGrrl GoonrGrrl


        Has anyone else noticed the blatant and absolutely fatal flaw in The Senator’s claim that his proposed system “is already working wonders in over 40 countries”? When you actually READ about the system that IS working in those 40 countries, it’s NOT that of The Senator. It is a cumulative, incentivized system rather than a reductive, punitive system. The system that WORKS in those 40 countries is to INCREASE the funds and benefits available to “the least of these” if their kids stay in school and make good grades, not PUNISH them by REDUCING funds and benefits for an entire family b/c one kid is a problem! The system that “works wonders in over 40 countries” is the exact, polar OPPOSITE of that proposed by The Senator.

        I’m sorry, Mr. Senator, but we have functioning brains over here on this blog, and your make-believe economics and false claims do not fly here.

        Peace out.

      • http://www.facebook.com/tjgray Tim Gray

        He is actually correct that it works in other countries. But he failed to mention that the children in those countries also go to fully funded schools with well-payed teachers, and counselors and nurses on staff. That the study halls are safe, clean, well stocked with books and internet, staffed with librarians and IT staff. Also those children are supplied with healthy breakfasts and lunches …

    • Juliet Neary

      You’re a vile, despicable creature.

    • CharlyChap

      If you want to be a right wing social engineer, that is one thing, but to do it while standing behind a bible is hypocrisy at it’s worst. We force our children to take a one size fits all test and you want the pittance they are subsidized with to be tied to this? How shortsighted and foolish can you be? To take away an impoverished child’s means of support is so cruel that this bill and you should nerer be taken seriously in any way and you should be ran out of town on a rail. Why don’t you tie corporate welfare to the environmental grade they receive by WE the people? I am sure it would save your state a bigger chunk of money than this piece of cruel legislation.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jeffrey.mcfadden.14 Jeffrey McFadden

      Education does not end poverty unless there are more employment opportunities and unless those employment opportunities pay a decent wage, families have no real chance to escape poverty. It’s a myth that the harder one works, the more wealthy one grows. That might have been true earlier in our history but not today, when politicians such as yourself have outsourced jobs, cut social spending, slashed educational training funds, made student loans more difficult to procure, and passed anti-union legislation. Americans now have a much more difficult time achieving upward mobility. And taking food away from children and their families is no way to improve anything. Do you really believe that a high school education breaks the cycle of poverty? If so, you are really out of touch with reality.

    • Ashamed TN Resident

      It is ironic, Sen. Campfield that you say that the “give them a fish a day” system is not working. I seem to remember a funny story I heard once about some fish and loaves of bread. Now who was it that was giving those out to the poor? Oh yes, His name is Jesus.

      I like to take the time to try to counter almost everything you said in your nonsensical diatribe with Biblical quotes, but my sense of fair play won’t let me. You make far too easy a target. But I will say this, and I hope you take it to heart – the sun shines on the wicked and the holy. God sees everything that we ALL do for and against one another. I put it to you that Jesus commanded us to take care of the poor without condition, without question, without anything but love. And…He meant what he said about helping those in need, and forsaking them…”When you did so to them, you did so to me.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/john.scaife.14 John Scaife

      This is the same argument to encourage workers to worker harder by providing them with less wages. For the CEOs the opposite is offered for compensation. To blame parents for not doing their part you are passing judgement that is not your to give. So says the Lord. Judge not lest ye be judged.

    • http://twitter.com/lharman73 Leslie Harman

      Don’t hide behind the Bible and call yourself a Christian when what you legislate speaks nothing of what Jesus called on us to do. If you want to call yourself a Conservative then so be it, but don’t denigrate the impoverished and call yourself a yourself a Christian. This bill isn’t about improving a child’s performance in so much asit is ensuring the state won’t have to give anymore aid to “the least of these”. And next time, try reading the article before hit copy and paste, Sen. Campfield.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=663361640 Terri Powell Wiersma

      Perhaps the Senator’s points would be better made if his own post wasn’t riddled with grammar & punctuation errors. Just sayin’…..

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000454265573 Lacey Stewart

      Stacey, you’re the vilest of “carpetbaggers”: you are only re-inforcing the stereotype of the bigoted, ignorant southerner. I am profoundly ashamed that there are enough voters among your constituency with the stupidity to keep re-electing you to office. It stops, now. You will not be re-elected. Your opponent, whoever they may be, will be inundated with campaign contribution from the farthest reaches of the country, let alone the state. We are tired of your bi-polar antics slandering what is a truly loving, open-minded region of people who, unlike their representative, DON’T have their heads firmly wedged up their own asses.

    • Nicole F

      Senator, do you REALLY want to put this kind of pressure on young people? “Get good grades or risk you and your family starving”?

    • http://twitter.com/FrauMorris FrauMorris

      We all know that socio-economic status is the single biggest indicator of student achievement. How about improving anti-poverty measures, like the simplest, which is raising the minimum wage? How about making sure that full time work earns a living wage? I suspect many parents have difficulties helping their children succeed in school because they are saddled with multiple jobs just to make ends meet.

      While we’re at it, let’s make sure that schools in poor neighborhoods have the resources they need to help the students. How many of these schools have large class sizes and lack resources? Let’s stop punishing everyone and actually provide the resources needed for families to live with dignity and for schools to provide a high quality education for all children.

    • http://twitter.com/robgmartin Robert Martin

      Senator Campfield,

      Your bill is about one of the MOST un-Christian bills I have seen come out of your party AND from you in SOME time and you, sir have brought out some REAL doozies. I won’t even TOUCH the other bill you proposed earlier in the year. While I might agree that parents need to be involved in their children’s lives in and out of school tying benefits to a child’s performance is a new low. While you think you are pressuring parents to parent responsibly you are in fact pressuring and, via the government, bullying that child from families that are already barely able to make ends meet. Do you remember the words of Jesus? Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14. You seemed to have forgotten that. You also seemed to have forgotten the Lord’s second Greatest Commandment “‘Love your neighbor as yourself” Matthew 22:39. You, sir, seemed to have forgotten those. There is something Jesus also said to those who didn’t have hospitality and concern for others in their hearts “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” Matthew 10:14-15. Understand what they are talking about here, i.e. preaching the Good News. If a town did not abide by that and instead rejected the Good News and what it entailed then the apostle was to leave and judgement would come from God. By being inhospitable to others, rejecting love for your fellow man, and not even suffering the little children… Well, sir, I think you can see where this is going…

    • http://www.facebook.com/myles.ikenberry Myles Ikenberry

      I’m a hardcore liberal (at least in far-right skewed modern America) and think this idea is a good one. As long as you are merely requiring parents to some minimum of enrolling in free programs and putting in sincere effort (so they don’t get punished if they try hard but can’t make their kids improve), I don’t see a problem at all. Thanks for your response, regardless of what others say.

      • http://www.facebook.com/myles.ikenberry Myles Ikenberry

        Although David is right, you aren’t addressing anything he talked about in his column. Still, breaking the cycle with benefit-based incentives is a good idea. Maybe, to avoid punishing people in ways that will devastate their families’ ability to feed/clothe/house themselves, we could just give people powerful incentives when their children do well? We could pay for it with a slight tax increase on the ultra-wealthy. Very Christian! I don’t want those poor rich people to have the same chance of getting to heaven that a camel has of passing through the eye of a needle. Do you? Tax them for their own salvation!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1397712206 Patricia Brandt

      Senator, Did you pay someone to “Like” your comment or did you “Like” it yourself? Whoever the teachers are who are supposedly sending you messages of support, they are either as self-righteous as yourself or are so clueless that they should not be teaching.

    • cliffcashcomedy

      Sen Campfield, I whole heartedly
      agree with this concept which is why I am encouraging Tennessee law
      makers to immediately begin work to tie their salaries to test scores,
      employment numbers and the poverty levels in your state. I’d also like
      prescription pain pill addiction added in there as a gauge.

      In addition, let’s tie corporate welfare in your state to pollution
      rates. Now, I realize that your state’s polluting industries aren’t just
      ruining your state but that it is trickling down the Tennessee Valley
      and ruining air quality in other states but we’ll start right there at
      home. SO…you work on unemployment, insane amounts of pollution, above
      average poverty and the fact that every elected official in your state
      looks the other way while people die of prescription narcotic addiction
      AND as soon as you knock all that out, we’ll mail your salary check and
      you can keep playing golf with your polo shirt buddies who have no idea
      what it is like to truly struggle and fight let alone what it means to
      possess the love of the real Lord.

    • anna

      “I think we can both agree the top tickets to break the chain of poverty is education.” No, I think you are mistaken. People need food and shelter and a bit of financial security before education comes into the picture. Who can learn when hunger gnaws?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Miller/100000855160561 Michael Miller

      Senator, you alluded to the old and wise “Teach a man to to fish…” adage. Your bill seems to say, “If a child fails to learn to fish, maybe he’ll do better if his family has no money for bait.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jason-Catalyst/547099770 Jason Catalyst

      As a progressive who despises conservatives, I applaud you for putting aside your belief in the supernatural in order to do what works here in the world of reality. Money talks. Bull-stuff walks. As the author said, the Way of Jesus is no way to run a government. People who have never lived in your area don’t understand the welfare culture there (and elsewhere, but especially there… have you been to Memphis?). We need to empower people and help those who will help us to help them. The others should not be allowed to bear children. <— Libs and Cons can both suck on that one.

    • Shannon Wenger

      Senator, what happens when the money you take from that family is what they would have used to keep the electricity on or pay the rent? They would lose their federal housing voucher for either of those things. I am on assisted housing and if I can’t pay to keep the lights on, I lose my voucher. It was made very clear to me when I was given the voucher. You are devaluing people because they are poor. I challenge you to live on what someone on TANF does for a month and see how well you can take a test.

    • Sarah Warren

      This isn’t holding parents accountable, this is putting responsibility for getting food on the table on kids who are underperforming. That’s appalling,

    • http://www.facebook.com/fred.kohn.3 Frederick Jacob Kohn

      Senator, if the goal is to improve education, wouldn’t it make sense to improve it for all, not just welfare recipients? Leave the welfare system alone and offer cash incentives to all families!

    • Julia

      I am with Marion–“Senator, why are you persecuting the poor? Don’t well-off parents also sometimes have kids who don’t perform up to standards in school? Is there a provision in your bill to require THOSE parents to forgo, say the child tax credit, or to attend parenting classes? Do you think by lowering their available funds you are going to give poor parents more time to help their kids? No, they’ll have to work more hours to make up the difference. How is that going to help kids do better in school?” What you are proposing will cause many children to drop out and work to help there families when they know they are bad in school. Just what Tennessee needs, more drop outs.

    • http://www.facebook.com/karen.underwood.3705 Karen Underwood

      Senator Campfield: The first thing I noticed about your post is that it’s riddled with grammatical errors and missed punctuation. For example:

      Capital “C” on “Knox county”

      “Top tickets”….is–shouldn’t “ticket” be singular?

      “To achieve”…OK, this is modern usage, so a split infinitive isn’t a major sin, but a gerund might have been less awkward (Achieving…..)

      “if your child has quit school. That is unacceptable.” Sentence fragment.

      “holding up their leg of the job…” I know you are continuing your metaphor, but this construction creates the wrong image.

      “(learning disabled,etc.)” Spacing is messy throughout this. One space after a comma, two after a period.

      I could go on, but I have to get to work.

      Does this mean that your folks would be losing money if you were one of these kids? You can consider the above FREE tutoring.

    • http://www.facebook.com/edith.bluhm Edith Margarethe Bluhm

      Senator, as a former teacher, I can assure you that the vast majority of parents – impoverished or not – desperately want to help their children succeed. Below the poverty line, parents often have no transportation, or no way of keeping a consistent phone number. It is very often the case that they are in danger of losing their minimum wage jobs if they take time off to come to the school. Engaging parents meaningfully takes creativity, empathy, and time. Even then, yes, there will be some terrible parents – and those are precisely those who we do not want to pit against the child in the fight to keep food on the table.

      You list the many programs this does not affect, as if to say “These kids will be fine.” But they won’t. They already aren’t. In Davidson County, over 75% of children in public schools receive free or reduced lunch, and they are hungry ALL THE TIME. Taking away ANY of the assistance their families need will quite literally make it impossible for them to learn. Law makers keep asking why Tennessee’s children aren’t succeeding on national tests, and keep tinkering with methods and programs. You want these kids to succeed? FEED THEM. Give school systems enough money that the meals they serve are nutritious and healthy and meet the needs of growing children. Give teachers the money to buy supplies. Give schools enough money to support their teachers. It is an investment in our state, and our future.

      You said elsewhere that you “don’t expect these kids to become rocket scientists.” Well, I do. I expect them to become rocket scientists, poets, and legislators. I expect them to run the world when I am old an infirm. And if they are going to do that, we need to support them now – not starve them in some Dickensian laissez-faire nightmare. We tried the system of poor houses and gruel for centuries. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.

    • KB

      And how do you propose to punish those parents with all the resources in the world when their children don’t perform well? This bill is reprehensible and targets the most vulnerable among us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/revrannulf Randy Creath

    Nice work, David! I like it!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/dale.levine86 Dale Levine

    Wonderfully put!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Barbara-Blackburn/703664717 Barbara Blackburn

    I really love this blog. For so long I have wished to see the most vocal of Christians actually act like Christ instead of politicians and angry nutcases. Sorry, I don’t want to stoop to anger here, but I guess I have, because I am angry that for so long I bought into the lie that being a conservative Republican was somehow the only way to be a Christian in the U.S. I am so thankful God opened my eyes and let me see the truth and read the truth in the Bible. It’s funny that fundamentalists say they believe the Bible so awfully much, but then they really do not follow the basic teachings of Jesus written in the Bible. It’s really sad because they actually seem to believe their own delusions.

  • Megan Turner

    100% correct, Mr. Henson. Such reprehensible ideas are simply hideous in their cruelty. Thank you for an articulate, well-reasoned, examination.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JanetLynnRoach Janet Roach

    These people wouldn’t recognize Jesus Christ if he appeared and slapped them on the back side.
    Amazing article.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1503159649 Sean Riley

    Well said. I agree that it would be interesting to see where a bill like this would go in the whole process.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ramona.lowe Ramona Lowe

    Well said. And excellent rebuttal to the bill’s author. And for Stacey Campfield, this long time teacher of students in poverty thinks it’s just about the worst idea she’s ever heard. Your comments about students “producing” are repugnant.

  • Jcarg

    Senator – “Hold the parents accountable” for the children’s performance in school? The same parents who had to deal with the same problems their children are facing. It is very difficult for parents to help their children in school if they themselves had difficulty in school.
    If a child’s parents are barely getting by in their day to day existence, if they have disabilities, or mental issues, how are they supposed to be helping their child in school? How is that child supposed to do better with less support? The cycle continues over and over again till we really step in and pull these kids up.
    Consider spending some time with the people that these laws affect. Spend some time in an inner city pediatric unit in a struggling hospital. I think you will find that you have grossly underestimated how the odds are stacked up against the poor. Find the places that Jesus would have went to (the modern day tax collectors and prostitutes) and try to see what Jesus would have seen.

    • pierider

      How about holding Senators accountable for their job performance?

  • http://www.facebook.com/rosemary.lafollette Rosemary LaFollette

    Suffer the little children to come unto me… I don’t know how we can legislate such anti-Golden rule measures as the one TN proposed. The way to success for all our citizens is to practice a true sense of inclusion, care, love and oneness. All children are our future and part of our collective family.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aprilmoorechandler April Moore Chandler

    Fantastic analysis. Thanks for your thoughtful perspective. Brings to mind Matthew 25:45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

  • Frances Twiggs

    Thank you for your thoughtful, inspiring words. As a Tennessean, now New Yorker, and with family still in the Volunteer State, I was appalled when I heard of this awful legislation. Also, will keep you in my prayers as you continue your journey to ordained ministry. Frances Twiggs+

  • Anthony

    Well said David. You are a true brother in Christ.

  • http://www.facebook.com/margrok Margaret L Ryan

    This is a thoughtful and eloquent essay .As Jesus said, whatever you do unto the least, you do unto me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1437427704 Gary Denton

    Anyone advocating for an official state religion has more in common with Osama bin Laden than Thomas Jefferson.

  • http://www.facebook.com/noel.harshman Noel Harshman

    Just think. If all those idiots proposing this legislation got their pay checks based on how much they personally accomplish each pay period, they’d be standing in the food stamp lines!

  • http://twitter.com/robgmartin Robert Martin

    GREAT essay David… Those who profess Christian values need to, in my opinion, REALLY be looking back at WWJD and what I am seeing is a very strong negative in that respect. You summed up some of my thoughts exactly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stac1023 Stacey Clinton

    Who just saw the Daily Show? I was laughing the whole way through the segment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/janice.stewart.1840 Janice Stewart

    The US constitution is based on separation of church and state….AND YOU KNOW IT IN NC!
    Christ taught us to care for the sick and poor, especially children…. AND YOU KNOW IT IN TN!
    I am so ashamed of TN I could cry.

  • Kristy

    While I am technically agnostic, I have to say that I find great peace in what you write (here and on other subjects). A big part of the reason I left the church so many years ago was due to people like Sen Stacy Campfield and idea/policies such as the cruel bill you mention here.

    There is no justification in the world to make children suffer as this bill proposes. Even in the worst case scenario where there are bad parents, taking away funds would only hurt the kids in the end. Probably in more ways than one.

    In my youth, I had an extremely difficult time in school with grades bouncing all over the place. My mother tried everything, but I just had a hard time with concentrating and paying attention. Because of my father dying at a young age, we were on social security. My mother worked full time, sometimes with additional jobs, so she could put food on the table. If we had not had that extra assistance, then in all likelihood, I would have a very different life, instead of the successful, college-educated one I do now.

    Having seen kids that simply struggle (even with the help of a tutor), I find the Senator’s response to be completely idiotic. Maybe a parent has cancer, maybe he/she suffers from mental illness, or maybe they are just bad parents. Maybe the child has no way to get to a tutor or has to pick up their baby brother immediately after school. There are so many different reasons why someone couldn’t meet the criteria, but taking away money will do zero to help and do a lot to harm.

  • nadineharris

    So well said. Why have these so-called “Christians” forgotten their faith? Someone told me last week on the internet that “Jesus never said it was bad to be wealthy.” What goes on in those churches?

  • Marion

    Senator, why are you persecuting the poor? Don’t well-off parents also sometimes have kids who don’t perform up to standards in school? Is there a provision in your bill to require THOSE parents to forgo, say the child tax credit, or to attend parenting classes? Do you think by lowering their available funds you are going to give poor parents more time to help their kids? No, they’ll have to work more hours to make up the difference. How is that going to help kids do better in school?

    I have a learning disabled daughter. I also, until she passed away this past January, cared for my 70 year old mother at home. She was sent home from the rehabilitation nursing home because the 100 days of skilled nursing care medicare benefit ran out. She was bed-ridden, had to have liquid food pumped into her jejunum via a tube through the stomach wall, on oxygen, urinary catheter, diabetic and required over 50 different medications to keep her alive. I’m lucky that I could afford the $580/week to have a CNA stay with her during the day so I could work, but once I got home, she required so much of my time that I didn’t have nearly enough to devote to helping my daughter. My husband is a contractor and frequently works out of town. I know my situation is not unique. I am not on public assistance, but I can see from my experiences how cutting funding to a family on the edge, for a variety of legitimate reasons, can be devastating on many fronts, and can not possibly help a child do better in school. There are many reasons why parents may not be able to provide sufficient additional help to get their children’s grades up. Their own lack of education possibly, language barriers, lack of transportation (which means a longer commute to work, as well as making it much more difficult to transport their child to extra tutoring sessions, even free ones, especially if they have other children/disabled family members to care for. And you can say that there are exceptions for learning disabled children, but often learning disabilities are not identified right away. My daughter’s disability was initially just classified as a speech impediment, it took two and a half years for testing to show that she has an expressive/receptive language processing disorder. So were we poor, I would likely have lost assistance during that time.

    In your comment you keep saying “FREE”, but it’s not free if it requires a parent to take public transportation, shorten their work ours and hire a baby sitter for their other children to attend these FREE parenting classes/tutoring sessions/parent-teacher conferences.

    I think your bill is poorly thought out. If the goal is to help kids, it can not possibly accomplish that by punishing entire families. If the goal is save a few dollars by making children suffer, it may succeed, but Heaven help all of our souls if we allow it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rebekah-Becky-Majors-Manley/100000808133635 Rebekah Becky Majors-Manley


  • http://www.facebook.com/joseph.ianiro Joseph Anthony Ianiro Jr.

    I live in New Jersey and cannot believe this!!!! Are you sure??? Perhaps you were reading something from 1950? Are you sure? Why oh why do WE allow politicians to rum amucK?

  • SWC

    Thank you, David, for your insightful article. I am constantly appalled with the type of governing that is the proposed under the name of Christianity, with no regard for the life and teachings of Jesus. Even worse, why are we ignoring the many wonderful caring people of other religions or those who do not claim a religious stance? Our government needs to represent all of our people and make everyone’s chance for a good life our priority. Doing our best for all does not have to have a religious label.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Bates/100001025355153 Chris Bates

    Beautifully written! There are many in this once great nation who have eyes but can not see, and ears which can not hear. Slowly but sure they will whither away as brush in a fire.

  • JC

    Well said – thank you for writing this. I hope it opens some hearts and minds. What would Jesus do? Certainly not punish children and parents based on their performance when all that is supposed to matter is what is in their hearts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jwin74 Jon Winchester

    So there is a version of Christ’s teachings where he directed the state to take income taxes by force, and redistribute as the rulers see fit? How nice! Removes individual responsibility to care for our neighbors. Please tell me where I can read more about this Christ character, because I never saw anything like that in the bible.

    • LaurieInSeattle

      If every Christian in the US tithed a full 10%, and the churches took Jesus’s mandates seriously and spent much of this on the poor instead of on swimming pools for their members and helicopters for their pastors, there would be no need for the government to help the poor.

      I tithe, Jon. Do you?

  • in his stead

    Thank you for writing about this, sadly too many times “Christian” has proven to be anything but Christ like.

  • KhalilaRedBird

    Reading David’s response to the Senator and reading all the wonderful comments in this thread, I was picturing the Senator reading those same comments and truly taking them to heart. Then I realized he was no more likely to read those comments and replies than he was to read what David’s post actually said in the first place.

    Senator, if you want to do some good after all of this bs, see if you can find some effective way to stem the tremendous outflow of funds and resources to those floating on the sea of America’s hard work and bring the rewards of our labor to those who have toiled to produce the goods and services — and to the families, young and old, who are not among the paid workforce but do the work which keeps the rest of us alive.

  • http://www.facebook.com/KevinBurkeOnline Kevin Burke

    No more Calabash restaurants on the coast, either!

  • Tony Litwinski

    Amen, David. There’s nothing “Christian” about the so-called “Christian RIght.”

  • Sarah Warren

    It’s sickening that anyone would propose this bill in the first place, worse that it has got so far.

    That anyone could ever imagine placing the responsibility of “pass your classes or our ability to put food on the table will be compromised” on schoolchildren baffles and sickens me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/linda.hileman.3 Linda Hileman

    Wonderfully stated!

  • http://www.facebook.com/gdeecee G. Douglas Clarke

    Radical, man. Radical. Imagine that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/patrickolp Patrick Olp

    His blog lists his favorite book as “bible”.

    Either he has never read it, or he is illiterate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1317131513 Katie Harp

    I was talking with a friend of mine about the idea behind this bill. He teaches very low income highschool students in a rough neighborhood. He initially thought it wasn’t a terrible idea, noting that by they time they get to highschool, there are many students who only show up for a few days when they need to get paperwork from the school verifying that they at least are enrolled.

    However, his feelings on such a program for children under 14, were that it was draconian to make elementary school students responsible for their own food and shelter via their grades.

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to offer some kind of special BONUS to children who perform particularly well? Why is it that the american education system always looks at punishing failure first, and rewarding excellence second? I suppose because it’s easier to take things away from people than to give them something.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jwin74 Jon Winchester

      Not so long in the past, receipt of a $140 check from the government, for which you didn’t have to lift a finger, would have been considered a “special BONUS.” It’s a pretty sad reflection on American values that now so many people consider it “draconian” to make that free gift contingent on parents doing a few hours of counseling.

  • Venus

    Very good article, although you took quite a while to get to the point.

    As for the senator, I can see he is coming from a conservative stance of privilege, and has no concept of life without said privilege, because he’s had no true experience in poverty.

    Let me say this about his grammatical errors, incorrect use of some words, etc. Usually I don’t like people to harp on that stuff in forum responses like this. It’s not a formal venue, English class, or anything that requires good grammar. Some of the grammar problems bug me, because I am big on words, and their proper use. The words we choose are important, and the way we use them is very important. However, I choose to let my irritation stay with me, unless the flaws mess up the understanding of the words being used. The problem with the senators numerous mistakes, is that he is targeting families with failing school children. His grammar would fail any essay test, English class, and some teachers would fail his assignments even if they were not in language arts, because they are severely flawed. This coming form a senator that says failing grades and failing tests are “unacceptable,” and targets the very students in conditions that make learning and success the most difficult!

    Children that struggle in life, often have a hard time in school. Remove food and nutrition and that becomes worse, as does adding violence,excessive stress, not knowing where you will lay your head, etc. All these things can be real problems impoverished children have to live with from day to day, and all those things make it very difficult to think, learn, and do well in school. They all cause, even the most wealthy well to do people to struggle to think, from anything other than the base of their brain. It is actually fairly easy for a child that struggles with daily life, to fail a big test, fail a class, be less than stellar about attendance. Even with huge amounts of support, and very good nutrition, some students struggle in school, yet aren’t always labeled with some qualifying disability. Those students really flounder when life is stressful, as is the case for the very families this bill is targeting. Taking their cash assistance doesn’t always remove food if they have food assistance, but it does limit ability to do very important things. Things it can immediately stop are things like paying for electricity or gas to remain on, paying for rent, paying for transportation to and from work and appointments. Every single one of those things is devastating to the families this bill is targeting. What this senator is proposing is not helpful, it is cruel. It does not teach them to fish, it forces them to drown! It also massively increases the family stress level, and increases the chance that struggling children will be abused, making the struggle to pass classes even harder.

  • Janet Austen

    Excellent article. Thank you for this.

  • Bud

    You are cherry picking the teachings of Jesus. The Bible is the word of God, and Jesus did advocate that we should take care of the poor, but the Bible also says this.

    2 Thessalonians 3:10 “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’”

    Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint[a] of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

    John 12:4-8 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

    Was Jesus being selfish here? Jesus did not advocate that the government take care of the poor. He said individuals should take care of the poor. Many government programs trap people in poverty, not help them rise above their present circumstances. How many of you who are so horrified about this legislation have given 10% of your income to charity to help the poor?

  • Donald

    Jesus doesn’t require governments to what you should do either.

  • Art Darwin

    We might also recall that every seventh year all debts are wiped out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rebekah-Becky-Majors-Manley/100000808133635 Rebekah Becky Majors-Manley