The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Search Results

Poverty, government, and the Bible

with 11 comments

[Please note that many helps came via Ron Sider’s excellent but aging book Just Generosity: A new vision for overcoming poverty in America. This page is also saved as a post, under the title A Bible Argument for Government Aid to the Poor. The text is about the same there, but the comments of others—and my responses to them—are different. Thanks for thinking along!]



Madison Free ClinicEvangelicals often struggle with the idea of a government role in addressing poverty. Often, I hear questions like these, from an honest blogger called RenaissanceGuy:

  • I want to hear a reasoned biblical argument for government-run health care.”
  • … if people are coerced, though the income tax code, to support the poor, then are they actually pleasing our Lord?”

Others put it like this:

  • “Is it government’s job to care for the poor, or should the church and their families do it?”

While sectarian government is antithetical to American democracy, people of faith in the USA do have the privilege of holding and sharing political values consistent with what they understand to be good. Those values may not well fit in either conservative or liberal camps, but there will be common ground that can be shared with both.

In order to do that, people of faith have to be deeply aware of their own faith, and not just the arguments of right or left. So here’s an attempt to think aloud on one of those issues.

Especially for evangelicals:

a Bible argument for government aid to the poor:

First, some assumptions on which I think all can agree:

1. Jesus, as described in the gospels, is much more focused on the poor than our evangelical theologies have been. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Monte

January 12, 2008 at 12:24 am

Posted in

A Bible argument for government aid to the poor

with 38 comments

[Please note that many helps came via Ron Sider’s excellent but aging book Just Generosity: A new vision for overcoming poverty in America. This post is also saved as a page, at the link shown in the blog’s title bar (above) called Poverty, Government, and the Bible. The text is about the same there, but the comments of others—and my responses to them—are different. Thanks for thinking along!]


Madison Free ClinicEvangelicals often struggle with the idea of a government role in addressing poverty. Often, I hear questions like these, from an honest blogger called RenaissanceGuy:

  • I want to hear a reasoned biblical argument for government-run health care.”
  • … if people are coerced, though the income tax code, to support the poor, then are they actually pleasing our Lord?”

Others put it like this:

  • “Is it government’s job to care for the poor, or should the church and their families do it?”

While sectarian government is antithetical to American democracy, people of faith in the USA do have the privilege of holding and sharing political values consistent with what they understand to be good. Those values may not well fit in either conservative or liberal camps, but there will be common ground that can be shared with both.

In order to do that, people of faith have to be deeply aware of their own faith, and not just the arguments of right or left. So here’s an attempt to think aloud on one of those issues.

Especially for evangelicals:

a Bible argument for government aid to the poor:

First, some assumptions on which I think all can agree:

1. Jesus, as described in the gospels, is much more focused on the poor than our evangelical theologies have been. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Monte

October 18, 2007 at 12:09 am

Give to Caesar what’s his (readings for Sunday, Oct 19)

with 3 comments

The Imperial Denarius

The Roman Imperial Denarius

I hear from zealous anti-tax folks from time to time, who usually pop by to take issue with my Poverty, Government, and the Bible essay.

Some are eager to prove that government shouldn’t be involved in helping poor people—catch your breath and plunge in here—because taxation is theft because it’s taken against our will and since taxation is theft it obviously isn’t God’s plan for governments to help the poor because God would not be pleased by stealing the money it would take to do so nor by helping the poor against the will of the stingy.

Well, hokum. Read the rest of this entry »

Pentecost, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Cyclone Nargis (sermon for May 11, 2008)

with one comment

Day of Pentecost
May 11, 2008

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23

Meet With Me; You Are the One; Light the Fire; Meet Us

Acts 2 [sermon follows]

A Sound Like a Strong Wind

1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force-no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

5-11There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?

Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Even Cretans and Arabs! “They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”

12Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?” 13Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”

Peter Speaks Up

14-21That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk-it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:

“In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people: Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters; Your young men will see visions, your old men dream dreams. When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit On those who serve me, men and women both, and they’ll prophesy. I’ll set wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, Blood and fire and billowing smoke, the sun turning black and the moon blood-red, Before the Day of the Lord arrives, the Day tremendous and marvelous; And whoever calls out for help to me, God, will be saved.”

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

What’s on my mind is how much God cares for the whole world, and how much I want my own heart to be that way. His story is always so “go-ey.” Here, the guests in the city understand – in their own language. See? God causes people to go communicate with other people.

This kept coming up this week. Human culture isn’t often that way.

A friend blogged about a Muslim boy who fell under the spell of some extremists, was going to be a suicide bomber, got caught, probably went to prison. My much-valued friend is an agnostic, and she saw the fault of religion in it—especially given the fact the the books of our faiths (my own included) seem to advocate violence sometimes. She ends:

Reality-based morality is the only way humanity is going to make it to a peaceful future. To see the oneness of our species shows the violence for what it is: brother killing brother, an abomination.

[At that sentence I saw a glimmer of familiarity in the eyes of my friends in church. They liked it!]

I found that moving. So I wrote back: Read the rest of this entry »

Fear: the other Palm Sunday emotion (Palm Sunday sermon, 2008)

with 4 comments

Provoking the Gospel of MatthewKeenerThis sermon leans hard on Provoking the Gospel of Matthew: A Storyteller’s Commentary by Richard W. Swanson and A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew by Craig S. Keener, both of which I gladly recommend. I don’t think I have any direct quotes from them—but I’ll bet I come pretty close! Swanson’s approach, especially, left me with a desire to “set” the story this year, and let it make its own points, rather than turn it into a “sermon,” in the modern sense. My hope is that doing so anchors the Easter story a little more clearly in the discomfort and confusion of its day. Thanks for reading! – Monte

Liturgy of the Palms; Sixth Sunday in Lent; March 16, 2008
Matthew 21:1-11; Psalm 118:1-2,19-29

[See also the 2006 Palm Sunday sermon Whose Kingdom, Christian?]

It’s hard to feel the background of Palm Sunday. To us, it’s fun. Light.

2,000 years ago, Palm Sunday was ominous. Life under Roman rule could be terrifying; a competing king was reason enough for slaughter. News of Jesus’ arrival brought both hope and dread.

The best cultural analogy I can think of is modern Gaza. Here’s a recent description:

Israel has militarily occupied Gaza for forty years. It pulled out its colonials in 2005 but maintained an iron grip on the area, controlling all access, including its airspace and territorial waters. Its F-16s and helicopter gunships regularly shred more and more of the areas—public works, its neighborhoods—and inflict collective punishment on civilians in violation of Article 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. As the International Red Cross declares, citing treaties establishing international humanitarian law, “Neither the civilian population as a whole nor individual civilians may be attacked.”

You understand collective punishment. It’s as if your neighbor were accused of murder. Rather than being arrested, an F-16 thunders past, blasting his house into flying splinters with a missle.  Your neighbor is instantly killed, along with his wife and children. Your house falls as well; some of your children are screaming in agony; some will never cry again. You’ll never know if your neighbor had actually hurt anyone.

According to The Nation magazine, the great Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, reports that the primitive rockets from Gaza, have taken thirteen Israeli lives in the past four years, while Israeli forces have killed more than one thousand  Palestinians in the occupied territories in the past two years alone. Almost half of them were civilians, including some 200 children.  [“Israel,” Mr. Bush says, “has a right to defend herself.” – M.] Read the rest of this entry »