God might want to consider retaining a lobbyist. Or at least think about sending down an angel or two to referee the way his name gets invoked in the current debate over the federal budget.
As that debate heated up earlier this spring, a coalition of progressive Christian organizations, led by Sojourners’ Jim Wallis, took out a full-page ad in Politico to launch their “What Would Jesus Cut?” campaign. The pitch was pithy. Like any good ad campaign, the message was easily digestible and memorable, a play on the “WWJD” message popular among evangelical Christians.
The group even devised one of those brightly colored plastic bracelets every do-gooder cause has to have.
Invoking Christ directly in a debate over federal spending is a pretty audacious stratagem. As any Sunday school student knows, Jesus was all about helping the poor, and he had some things to say about the rich that should make many a country club Republican squirm. So, surely he wouldn’t support the cuts the Republicans seek to force through Congress, the Christian progressives implied.
Wallis’ group staged a highly publicized fast during Lent, joined by 28 Democratic members of Congress, to protest the deal reached between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner to eliminate $38.5 billion in federal spending — cuts Wallis denounced for disproportionately hurting the poor.
Interjecting religion into politics has traditionally been Republican territory, and conservatives were quick to heap scorn on these poachers. That beacon of radio piety Rush Limbaugh lashed out to claim Democrats cozy up to the Lord only when they find it convenient.
“When they can convince or try to convince everybody Jesus Christ was the patron saint of liberalism, then they will herald Jesus Christ,” he fulminated on his radio show.
Yet Wallis’ coalition has been growing, adding more than two-dozen evangelical, Catholic, mainline Protestant and other Christian organizations. Calling themselves the “Circle of Protection,” they are vowing to protest cuts in any efforts to cut programs that protect the poor.
“Budgets are moral documents, and how we reduce future deficits are historic and defining moral choices,” the group’s website states ( www.circleofprotection.us). “As Christian leaders, we urge Congress and the administration to give moral priority to programs that protect the life and dignity of poor and vulnerable people in these difficult times, our broken economy, and our wounded world ”
Casting the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt and federal spending as a moral issue is an intriguing contention, one I don’t whole-heartedly disagree with. As a Christian, I find it hard to neglect Jesus’ call to protect “the least of these.”
And, yet, when we use Scripture to buttress arguments about public policy there is great potential for oversimplification. To use religion to anathematize our opponents accomplishes little more than to add more rancor to our already dysfunctional politics. It’s what has made so much of the conservative rhetoric of the past few decades so loathsome.
Obviously, this is the left’s attempt to answer the right’s consistent and far more effective religious branding of its political program. We’re used to godly ideology infusing the debate over any number of social issues: abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research and so forth. This is the religious left’s chance to turn the tables.
But it’s a dangerous game to insinuate that God likes my political party better than yours.
One would like to believe the secular merits of the left’s case would be enough to win over voters. The ranks of the poor have exploded over the past few years; the poverty rate for American children now tops 20 percent. And the Republicans’ proposals to gut Medicare as we know it, if they ever come to pass, will quite possibly plunge millions of middle class seniors into poverty.
So is God a Democrat, a Republican, a tea party stalwart or a libertarian? Save that question for Judgment Day.