The Least, First

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Poverty, government, and the Bible

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[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

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Harkin: An Apology For Slavery

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Iowa’s Sen. Tom Harkin spoke on June 18th in support of a bill that made an official government apology to black Americans for slavery in the United States, and for the government’s long failure to act against it. I am proud that one of my state’s Senators was a key mover in the apology. Every time America honestly faces the dark sides of its past, we become a better people.

Does it end racial division? Of course not. But, as with all trauma, healing only happens in small steps. Words are always part of those steps.   Some may say “Talk is cheap, nothing is solved, this Senate didn’t cause slavery anyway.”  But we are responsible for our history, and I’ll take an apology over official silence any day.


Today, Senator Tom Harkin delivered remarks on the Senate Floor just prior to the passage of S. Con. Res. 26, which he introduced and co-sponsored. The transcript follows.

“Madam President, the clerk just read for the first time ever in this body what we should have done a long time ago. An apology for slavery and the Jim Crow laws which, for a century after emancipation, deprived millions of Americans their basic human rights, equal justice under law and equal opportunities. Today the Senate will unanimously make that apology. Read the rest of this entry »

Jesus, ooey-gooey, and The Onion (Sermon of Nov 23)

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Jesus paints the end of time over and over in the runup to Matthew’s version of passion week.  But, whew! The implications of these stories are startlingly controversial.

He tells of a great sorting of people (Matthew 25:31-46).  Goyim —gentiles—people, perhaps, like me.  The method of his sort, though, I never heard in Sunday School.

He's an Author and Homeless i...

He explains his choice to the group invited into his “kingdom:”

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.

“Say what?” they respond.  “We never saw you like that.”

His answer?

Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me-you did it to me.

Huh.  Wonder what that means.  To him?

Don Jail

Now the second group, whom he says are “good for nothing but the fires of hell.” And why?

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

“Say what?” they respond.  “We never saw you like that.”

His answer?

Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me-you failed to do it to me.

The “goats” go off to their doom, the sheep to their reward.  The end.

But wait, this is going to get very strange. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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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 »

You know the Voice [sermon for April 13, 2008]

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His Masters VoiceFourth Sunday of Easter

April 13, 2008—Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

Let’s say you breed beautiful, valuable hunting dogs. You have new puppies. You keep them in your fenced yard.

One afternoon, you come home early, walk into the house, look out the kitchen window. You’re watch the puppies play – when a stranger pops his head up beyond the fence, looks around, throws one leg over, and rolls over into the yard. Read the rest of this entry »