For People Who Think

October 13, 2011

PIETY and the POOR

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 3:04 pm

October 12, 2011 at 5:19 pm by Dan Lynch

As a kid growing up in a small city in upstate New York, I was raised in a world divided into Catholics, Protestants and Jews.

I knew why the Jews weren’t Catholics, like my family. They didn’t buy the story that Jesus was the son of God. I wasn’t sure why all those Protestants weren’t Catholics, like normal people. They came in a perplexing variety of flavors – Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Dutch Reformed, Quakers, Assembly of God, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and a whole bunch of other sects whose belief systems were utterly mysterious to me.

There also was a brick building near my elementary school with a sign proclaiming it to be the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. My parents told me that the people who went to church there were called Mormons and that they were Protestants, too. To me, that just meant that they didn’t have to smear their foreheads with ashes once a year, as I did.

So, imagine my surprise the other day when I discovered that Mormons aren’t Christians. I learned that when I turned on the TV and saw this minister from Texas, Robert Jeffress, saying that Mitt Romney, a Mormon, is part of a “cult” and that, “I just do not believe that we as conservative Christians can expect him to stand strong for the issues that are important to us.”

Jeffress added that even though the U.S. Constitution says explicitly that there should be no religious test for pubic office, “I do not think evangelical voters are going to be motivated to go out and vote for Mitt Romney … Private citizens can impose all kinds of religious tests.”

Well, he’s certainly right about that. You can vote for or against somebody for any reason – because he’s bald or fat, because he’s a jerk, because he goes to the wrong church or goes to no church at all. You can vote against him because he’s a her, or would like to be, or because he’s the wrong color. Hey, this is America. Believe what you want and vote accordingly.

But all this stuff about religion and politics confuses me, frankly. Herman Cain is a perfect example of what I mean. He’s an associate minister at Antioch Baptist Church North in the Atlanta suburbs. The other day a CNN reporter asked him about all these demonstrations against the Wall Street people, and he said, “… If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself … it is someone’s fault if they failed.”

Growing up Catholic, I never saw much of the Bible as a kid. The Church never encouraged us to read it. That’s what priests were for. Nonetheless, I found myself curious about how Jesus might react to that view of poor people expressed by a man who takes religion seriously enough to become a minister. So, I looked up some of what the Bible says about poor people. Here’s what I found:

Proverbs 14:21
He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy.

Proverbs 14:31
He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

Proverbs 19:17
He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward him for what he has done.

Proverbs 21:13
If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.

Proverbs 22:9
A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.

Proverbs 28:27
He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.

Proverbs 31:8-9
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Isaiah 58:6-7;10
…if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

Ezekiel 16:49
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.

And that’s just the Old Testament. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John express the same sentiments.

Luke 14:13 & 14 reads, “ … when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Matthew 19:21 reads, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”

Matthew also quotes Jesus as saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself. [Matthew 22:39]

So in everything, do to others as you would have them do to you. [Matthew 7:12.]

If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. [Matthew 19:21].

I also read that Rev. Jeffress supposedly operates a megachurch in Dallas, with many thousands of people praying there regularly. I wondered what Jesus might think of an operation like that, so I looked up what Jesus had to say on the topic.

In Matthew 6:6 & 7, Jesus said, “And when thou pray, thou shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou pray, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret …”

So, the whole business can be fairly confusing, I think. And maybe, when we talk about politics, it might be a good idea to leave religion out of it. Apparently, at least some of the people who are deeply into both religion and politics haven’t read the Bible all that closely.

I have a strong hunch that the guy who said that we should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s would prefer that we handle our democracy that way.

1 Comment »

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