I know, I know. He’s the leader of a global religion and an antiquarian nation-state. The Catholic Church is rife with problems, scandals, and inconsistencies. The man is, as he says, a sinner. (Maybe it’s the Mdiv/MFA in me, but when he says things like, “I am a sinner. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner,” I’m interested).
All of that said, the focus of his papacy is squarely on God’s preferential option for the poor and on works of mercy, justice, compassion, and love as being at the heart of the Gospel and, dare I say, at the heart of Jesus. He speaks of the Gospel’s beauty and fragrance with the love of a sinner radically encountered by the love and grace of God as revealed in Jesus. There is something about the prophetic nature of grace going on here. Taking nothing away from past transgressions, Francis is doing something right, and I don’t believe I’ve seen anything like it in global Christianity — Catholic, Protestant, or otherwise — ever. It’s one thing for Bono to talk like this (and I’m glad he does), but quite another for someone called the Pope.
At the same time, the United States House of Representatives yesterday completed the single greatest violence against the nation’s poor in recent memory. $40 billion cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Why? Because, Republican leaders say, it’s widely abused and wasteful. Unfortunately for them, study after non-partisan study has shown an abuse rate of 1% or less across the board, a stunning efficiency. With unemployment north of 7.5 percent, with 1 in 7 Americans living in poverty, with 1 in 6 of us not knowing where our next meal is coming from (1 in 4 children), these cuts are not merely tone deaf, vindictive, and ignorant. They are also sinful. That’s no mere political term or literary genre. That’s the cold, hard truth across religious or irreligious systems of belief. God help us.
How about those meta tags?
Last night I shared this piece to Facebook. It shares some of Pope Francis remarks from yesterday about redemption through Christ being for all. I summarized them by saying “do good, leave the rest to Jesus,” and then affirming this sort of hyper-public discourse. (It’s the pope, after all…very few leaders have their words so quickly entered into the tapestry of public ideation.)
By 7:30 this morning, there were quite a few comments and good conversation. There was a robust consideration of the degree to which this pope can be lauded for human rights advocacy given his views on homosexuality and gender. There were also questions about being saved by faith and not through works, reminders about the historic difference between Catholic and Protestant doctrine and so on. People also talked about the good we can do through this give and take.
I thought for a while and responded with the thread below:
These certainly aren’t all my thoughts on the matter. I’m joyful for a Christ who is bigger than I can imagine, never smaller.
“Conservatives are about to find out
that it’s not only those poor Negroes in urban areas who depend on food stamps.
My experience has taught me that quite a few working head of households, college students, and hardworking families who are trying to make ends meet in America depend on food stamps as well.
Yes, there is fraud, but show me an area of society where there isn’t fraud. I guarantee you that if we were to put a microscope to some of these politicians passing these draconian laws against people they consider powerless we would find that their milk isn’t exactly clean, either.”
FN goes on to say that of the three scandals the Obama administration is mired in right now, only the AP case is actually scandalous. I’m not so sure about that, but I do agree, wholeheartedly, that the pending SNAP cuts in the Farm Bill will substantially hurt working families and the working poor in general. That, certainly, is scandalous. Call your representatives.
I work with SNAP recipients every single day. The needs are real, and the conditions that conspire to make SNAP necessary, even for working families, are so much closer to all of us than so many of us think. Middle class people, please hear me: many of us, even in two income households, are one pink slip away from qualifying for and needing SNAP. Without it, more homes will be lost. More children will go hungry, under-perform at school, and fall into other parts of the system. Let me say it again: working poor will be hurt by these cuts, and so will working middle-class families in which both adults aren’t currently gainfully employed, and not for lack of trying. Know anyone like that? Yes. We all do.
When President Obama next takes to the air to talk about his evolution on the issue of marriage equality, he should be keen to more deeply explain the process within the context of his Christian journey. Part of this is political necessity: 1 in 6 Americans believe the smoking, pork-eating, beer-drinking President is a Muslim, and not just any Muslim: a Muslim this Muslim must be secret Muslim.
But there’s an even bigger social and religious story here. If Obama really has progressed on the issue (that is to say, if the process really was a personal journey and not merely a political one) due in large part to a better or more gracious understanding of the breadth of Christian kerygma, he’d do well to empower committed Christian progressives by outing himself more clearly as one. As a Christian who has progressed on this issue myself since young adulthood, I can only imagine how helpful this would be for thousands of young Christians across the political spectrum who, regardless of other political ideologies, nonetheless intuit together that homosexuals deserve equal protection under the law.
Progressively progressive Christian young people from conservative backgrounds they can no longer reconcile with the life and work of Jesus need to know there are many places for them in the church and in the world. In a personal capacity, Obama could shine a light on the committed progressive Christians in mainline and emerging traditions.
What I want the President to fundamentally understand is this: the table is set for an influx of young, serious evangelical and other Christians into the broader table of the mainline and into the kinds of discussions about religion and politics the President would prefer over debates about abortion and sexuality. I say this as a progressive, pro-life Christian who believes that most abortion is as morally outrageous as budgets that would end SNAP funding and policies that continue to disenfranchise the poor. I believe that progressive, prophetic political witness must speak these truths to power.
President Obama, I suppose what I’m asking is that you say more and lead from a place of moral and political conviction, and that you show by example that committed Christians, gay or straight, progressive or politically in flux, do, indeed, have places in our churches and in our politics, that the national dialogue does, indeed, get better. I’m also asking that you drop that states’ rights canard. No one believes you on that anyway.