Sex vs. Poverty

Via Michael Kruse, a Presbyterian pastor believes the biblical call to care for the poor doesn’t have to mean increased government spending:

Yes, I know that the Bible does teach us to care for the poor, and I accept that, in principle, just as my colleagues accept fidelity and (to some extent) chastity – in principle. But if we begin to ask the same questions about caring for the poor that my colleagues have asked about sexuality, the Bible’s teaching becomes not so clear or imperative.

The Old Testament clearly teaches care for the poor. For me, that’s good enough. But that’s not good enough for those who wish to play the home version of the game “Marcion.” If we can dismiss the Old Testament’s teachings on marriage and sexuality as outdated and non-binding, the same can be said with equal force about its teachings on the poor, or any of its other teachings. And if we say that Jesus assumed and reaffirmed the Old Testament’s teaching on the poor, the same can be said for his stance toward its teachings on sexuality. As Jesus proves in his teaching on divorce, if Jesus had disagreed with the Judaism of his day on any subject, he would have undoubtedly corrected our misunderstanding…

The understanding that Jesus comes to us in the face of the poor and needy whoever they are (a la Mother Teresa) is a relatively late development (post-Enlightenment), as shown in the historical survey in Sherman Gray’s dissertation The Least of My Brothers. And certainly all of us have seen a long line of panhandlers and abusive needy people where we could say, if that’s the face of Jesus, then atheism begins to look extremely attractive. No, not every poor person is the face of Jesus. I believe that Jesus never intended his words to be understood that way. Could it be that God now expects us to understand it that way? Could be, but that’s more of a leap of faith than to believe that God created us to be heterosexual and monogamous.

I know it’s popular to dismiss the apostles as inferior to the red-letter teachings of Jesus. But actually, the apostles do a clearer job making Jesus’ teaching more explicit for the rest of us. James asks, What good is the faith that says to a destitute person, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” without giving the person what they need? (Jas 2:15-16) Likewise, 1 John 3:17 asks how God’s love can abide in someone who sees a fellow believer in need but sends them away empty.

But now it’s time to hit the Context button. Look at this issue in context. What we consider “poor” in 21st century America is a far cry from the poverty that Jesus and his apostles were talking about. What is God’s authoritative poverty index? Read Robert Rector’s article about “Plugged-In Poverty.” Today’s poor in the developed world have a standard of living that would have made Caesar green with envy: 63.7% of our poor have cable TV, 54.5% have a cell phone, but only 1.3% of our children suffered “reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns,” according to the USDA.

Perhaps I sound like W. C. Fields reading the Bible “looking for loopholes.” Such is also what it looks like when I see those who reject the historic understanding of the Bible on sex. Let me make it clear, I do believe that the Bible does command us to care tangibly for the poor. I struggle to obey, and I try not to make excuses to avoid doing so. I have no intention of scrupling that command. I would prefer that we accept both the Bible’s teachings about sex and about poverty as equally authoritative.

Kruse adds the following:

Hobson is right in one important respect. Each ideological camp tends to be able focus, with laser precision on, the nuanced contextual readings of Scripture that show that the text does not mean what their opponents think it means (for example, debunking six-day creationism or traditional sexual standards) while simultaneously proof-texting favored agendas (for example, anti-markets or more open boarders.) I think most of us overreach for biblical justification for our political agendas. Instead of saying, “Here is my reasoned perspective,” we want our views to carry the authority of Scripture and deny that authority to our opponents.


I think both authors have a point.  While I do think there is a biblical call to care for the poor, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t say anywhere that it has to be via increased government spending.  That doesn’t mean I don’t think there is a case to be made for government spending more to care for the poor, I just to don’t think God commanded one and only way to do it.

Kruse’s point is also important, because I think more often than not most American Christians use the Bible to further their own agendas without even knowing they are doing it.  At the end of the day, though, the Bible isn’t a rule book to be used to slam those we don’t agree with; it tells the story of God working in history and it helps us see where God is in our own story.

Love to know what others think.


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