Shane Claiborne once said,
“Christianity is at its best when it is peculiar, marginalized, suffering, and it is at its worst when it is popular, credible, triumphal, and powerful.”
If he’s right (and I think he is), the United States may be the worst thing to ever happen to Christianity. I’m not sure where we went off the rails, but the current American dream, aptly summed up by the saying “He who dies with the most toys, wins” is slowly but surely destroying the church in America. Younger people look at a landscape dotted with ornate megachurches just blocks away from grinding poverty, led by people who tell them to abstain from all sorts of behavior, but seem to have more in common with Caligula than Jesus and say “Not no, but hell no.” The button-down, Republican-friendly faith of their parents is not for them.
The problem is not just huge churches and their leaders who have corrupted the way of Jesus, though. If the Gospels tell us anything, it’s that Jesus was a huge advocate for the poor, the suffering and the marginalized. He consistently told people to give to the poor, usually telling them to give everything they had. How do evangelical Christians in America respond to that call? A recent study from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that:
- 56 percent of evangelicals support cuts in aid to the world’s poor.
- 40 percent would like to decrease government spending to the unemployed.
- 38 percent would also like to decrease funding towards environmental protection.
- Approximately 22 percent of evangelicals support a decrease in military spending.
- 45 percent of evangelicals support an increase in military defense.
- 68 percent of evangelicals support a decrease in educational spending.
(figures and link from Study on Budget Cuts Finds Evangelicals’ Social Priorities ‘Have Faded’ on God’s Politics)
My personal experience bears these figures out. I work in a very conservative environment in what is one of the most conservative regions of the country and I hear these very proposals expounded upon quite often. Evidently, many of us Christians seem to think that poor people in America are somehow different than those Jesus ministered to in the 1st century. I say that because we praise Jesus for all he did to help the poor of his time; yet, when confronted with the issue of poverty in our own place and time, we seem to think that if you’re poor in the U.S.A., it’s your own damn fault. Compared to how our less fortunate brothers and sisters live, we “Christians” lead lavish lifestyles with large homes and multiple vehicles. While their our brothers and sisters are worrying about feeding their families, we “Christians” throw away enough food to sustain those starving families for weeks, if not months. While our brothers and sisters work two and three jobs (if they’re lucky enough to find them) to provide for their families, we “Christians” take expensive vacations or indulge in pricey hobbies like golf, fishing or hunting. While our brothers and sisters sit at home with a sick loved one, because they don’t have health insurance and a trip to the doctor wouldn’t just strain their meager resources, it would shatter them, we “Christians” endulge in all kinds of elective and cosmetic surgeries. Then, when the someone says “We need to do something about the poor, let’s raise taxes so we can provide some services”, we “Christians” go off the deep end and practically crucify the speaker. We’re not Christians in this country, we’re Pharisees.
Where did we go wrong? I’d say it was when we allowed our own safety and security to become more important than our neighbor’s. When pressed on the subject, Jesus told people to give everything they had and trust God to take care of them. Nowadays, we’ve perverted that to “Give the church 10% of our gross income and God will not only meet your needs, He’ll make you rich”. I’ve looked several times, I have yet to find any place where Jesus said being his follower would provide you with even moderate comfort, much less make you a millionaire. In essence, we’ve taken a faith that provided hope to the hopeless, care to the needy and comfort to the suffering and turned it into a pyramid scheme. Kinda sick, when you think about it. How about we stop clinging to all our crap and start trying to live the way Jesus commanded. One way to do that is not shitting on those less fortunate by pulling the only help they’re getting right now? Think of it this way, “What would Jesus cut“?