Jim Wallis of Sojourners asks the question, “What would Jesus Cut?” His campaign to criticize the proposed Republican budget borrows its rallying cry from the bumper sticker phrase, “What would Jesus do?”—and thus attempts to hijack the moral high ground in the policy debate.
Wallis is one of the leading evangelical left activists whose political views cut against the grain of typical evangelicals who generally side with conservatives. Tony Campolo is another familiar evangelical aligned with Wallis and liberal Democrats on economic issues.
These men are true Christian evangelicals regarding the Gospel and have a commendable concern for the needy. I’ve heard both Wallis and Campolo in radio interviews (by conservative hosts) and must note that they conduct themselves as fine gentlemen. Nevertheless, they are misguided in their application of Biblical teaching to political policy—at least in the eyes of The Common Sense Drummer. So hopefully your cuddly drummer boy will lay down the proper groove.
The Mandate to Help the Poor
The “What Would Jesus Cut?” campaign is motivated by the Biblical mandate to care for the poor, widowed, and sick. The question that Wallis and his supporters fail to address before invoking the Lord’s name is “Who is subject to the mandate?—all people, individual believers, the Church, or government? Does the Bible really teach that the call to care for the needy means that we are to “force” our neighbors (including non-believers) to cough up funds for our “generosity”? Furthermore, does the Bible command (or even allow) us to determine the amount of funds to extract from our neighbors’ pockets? No, it does not.
God Loves a Cheerful Giver
The New Testament stipulation for giving is quite simple:
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (II Cor 9:7)
But taxes are compulsion–and using them to do the work of the Church cannot produce more cheerful givers than would freedom of conscience, as God wills according to the above verse. Compulsion robs people of opportunity to act freely. Even worse it robs people of the reward for choosing rightly. Effectively, compulsion crowds out love—even God’s love. Welfare entitlements lead people to depend upon the government instead of God.
Government’s True Mandate
Of course the government must levy taxes, and we are required (ouch!) to pay them; but the purpose is for promoting domestic order, not to replace the work of the Church. Romans 13:1-7 establishes the mandate of governments to bear the sword in order to punish evil doers. (also note 1 Tim 2:1-4) This obviously applies to law enforcement, but it also includes military services to protect populations from aggressive armies and terrorists. Jesus, Paul, and John (the Baptist) all viewed soldiering as an honorable profession. (Luke 3:14, Matt 8:5-13, 1 Cor 9:7, 2 Tim 2:4) Nevertheless, Wallis presents a distorted (and unbiblical) view of our military in his Huffington Post article:
“. . .But our military and defense budget, which sends our young adults off to kill and be killed, would receive an $8 billion increase.”
Here in an effort to disparage Republican priorities, Wallis misstates the purpose of the military. He contrasts military spending with budget cuts for worthy charities (including World Vision which employs a number of my church mates) and bemoans the potential loss of lives that he is certain will follow in proportion to the cuts. His view ignores that the Lord intends a more appropriate source for charities than the government and expresses tantamount to doubt that the Lord can accomplish this purpose according to His word if the Republicans were to pass their budget. The Lord’s ministry is not crippled without government help—or with less government funds (a more accurate depiction of the Republican budget).
Furthermore, Wallis fails to consider the potential lives killed (or imprisoned and starved) if we underfund our military. A prime example is the staggering casualty rate of American forces at the outset of WWII, partially due to outdated equipment relative to what the enemy had. Yes, we did win a major battle at Midway a few months after Pearl Harbor, which changed the tide of the war; but it still took more than 3 additional years to end the war.
Many lives (on both sides) would have been saved had we been able to succeed in shorter time. Consider the cost of Midway alone. Our aircraft were outdated–in particular our torpedo bombers which suffered heavy losses. Torpedo Squadron 8 suffered 100% loss of airplanes with only one human survivor. Even today, I am occasionally haunted by the thought of potential children and grandchildren of Torpedo Squadron 8 who could never be born. I would that more of “Caesar’s” coffers had been applied to “Caesar’s” primary mandate.
The Golden Goose
The proverbial “golden goose” for liberals is the much maligned and targeted “rich” class. Liberals pooh-pooh the common sense concept that it is unwise to rob the goose’s lunch (profits) and are on a never ending quest to confiscate whatever portion they want from the most successful producers in our economic engine in order to fund causes that those who did not earn the resources deem noble.
Perhaps they should heed the parable of the talents and note that Jesus thought it more prudent to take from the one who had less (and produced nothing) and give to the one who produced the most. Granted, this parable is intended to teach stewardship of spiritual gifts, but the economic metaphors cannot be ignored. Wallis wants to increase tax rates on the most productive class (who already pay higher rates) at a time when our economy critically needs the economic growth that the productive class creates.
Politics of Envy Violates the 10th Commandment
The subject of progressive taxation (taxing larger income at higher rates) deserves an entire article dedicated to it, particularly to discuss the competing theories of economics. Wallis claims that the conservative model does not work, and I will gladly scrutinize his views in the light of “Econ 101” in another article, but my concern for this article is his claim that the Republican budget is immoral and unbiblical.
The Republican budget isn’t perfect (or even close to perfect), but I do consider it hypocritical and ungodly to tax another man’s income at a higher rate than what you pay. Even if you are one of the rich who would be taxed at the highest rate, it is wrong to pander to people’s propensity to covet your stuff. So the perpetual collective “casing” of the rich’s property (with intent to burgle) rubs my moral sense the wrong way. I certainly wouldn’t be invoking the name of Jesus to support this practice.
Don’t Use the Lord’s Name in Vain
The point of this article is to caution all of us who revere the name of Jesus that we ought not expropriate His name for political gamesmanship—even when we think our goal is worthy enough to justify our means. This goes especially when our means (that may feel so right) would defy God’s written word.
How shall we respond to Jim Wallis? We should love him like the brother he is while exhorting him to avoid the pitfall he is treading over (misappropriation of the Lord’s name). Furthermore, we must fulfill the mandate for Christians to care for the needy through churches and personal generosity and therefore relieve the government of this burden. The government already has its hands full with its primary purpose.
Choosing to give is biblical, as is encouraging others to give; but forcing charity is anti-biblical. When your policy violates God’s word, please leave the name of Jesus out of the promo. A sound policy would be even better.
P.S. Notice that I didn’t really answer the title question. Rather, I tended to argue against invoking that very question for political leverage. The “What would Jesus do?” parent question is a potential booby trap to begin with, because we are not Jesus—nor do we have the same role as was purposed for Him. Are we expected to remain single, father no children, restrict our travel to 50 miles from home, and die on a cross in our early 30’s? Not likely (and I’d be a bit tardy on that last one). We should ask ourselves, “What does Jesus want me to do? Then we should study His word in context and apply it accordingly.
P.P.S. That said, I seriously doubt that Jesus would allocate public funds for many programs that draw silence from the “What would Jesus cut?” campaign. Abortion providers come to mind.