Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Hypocrisy, Christians and Food Stamps

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
I Corinthians 1:26-29

The Corinthian church contained few people who were rich or successful in the ways that riches and success are usually measured. By worldly standards, they were embarrassing. But Paul took their lowly position in the world as evidence of God’s power. They were transforming the world, in spite of the fact that by the world’s standards that was quite impossible.

When Mahatma Gandhi said, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ," he was not talking about those who are “low and despised.” He was talking about people with the power to shape events and impose their will on others, who called themselves Christians but paid no attention to Christ’s teachings.

In the on-going debate in congress over the farm bill, Representative Stephen Fincher of Tennessee has been doing his best to confirm Gandhi’s judgment.

First, he has argued for cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as Food Stamps, by quoting II Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” Never mind that Paul was talking about people who were not working for the common good because they were just waiting for the second coming of Christ, rather than folks who were unemployed because they could not find work. Or that Paul was recommending this drastic step as a last resort. And never mind that Paul was also preaching about establishing the Kingdom of God on earth, where everyone has a place at the table. However you look at it, it is a fundamentally unchristian thing not to help those who are poor and hungry.

But the second part is worse than the first.

The farm bill is about more than Food Stamps. It is also about farm subsidies. And it turns out that Representative Fincher is one of the largest recipients of farm subsidies in Tennessee history. Between 1999 and 2012, Mr. Fincher received $3.48 million in cash subsidies from American taxpayers. That averages about $250,000 per year. Do you think we can find a Bible verse (or maybe a thousand) about rich people oppressing poor people?

I have read the story of Representative Fincher and the farm bill in several places, and almost every time, the article has mentioned that he is a Christian. (I resisted the temptation to type that with quotation marks, “a Christian.”) I saw the story most recently in an essay by Mark Bittman in the New York Times.

In his essay, Bittman chastises Fincher for ignoring “the fact that Congress is a secular body that supposedly doesn’t base policy on an ancient religious text that contradicts itself more often than not.” I am well aware of the contradictions in the Bible, but “more often than not” would seem to be an enormous overreach. And although we can all agree that we shouldn’t be enacting public policy based on any religious text, I am very comfortable with using the Bible to inform our approach to the great issues of our time.

At another point in the essay, Bittman says that in order to keep up with legislative issues relating to hunger he routinely consults with David Beckham, president of Bread for the World, which Bittman describes as “a principled anti-hunger group.” In fact, Bread for the World is a Christian lobbying organization engaged in mobilizing individual Christians and churches to influence our lawmakers. If you go to their website today (bread.org), you will find a link for sending an email to Congress on the farm bill.

The vote will be this week. There is still time to send an email.


  1. Sending the email now.

    I'm sick of "Christians" like Rep. Fincher.

  2. I'm emailing too.
    Thanks Pastor Bill for a powerful essay. I will share this with my FB friends.
    Sadly there a some elected officials who choose to use their "Christianity" in a way that suits their purposes not the way that the scripture is written.
    SNAP is a vital program not only for the unemployed but also for the working poor who for many despite being employed cannot make a living wage.
    Christ calls us to love one another as he loves us - making sure people have food to eat is just a small part of that commandment.

  3. A Farm Bill SO bad that even 62 Republicans voted against it!

  4. "'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy."....Ezekiel 16:49.....how would Representative Stephen Fincher of Tennessee react to this verse?