Rick Warren’s recent comments on the Bible and dependency show him to be profoundly out of touch with the scripture he claims to hold sacred, as well as lacking a basic understanding of government programs related to poor people. Here’s the quote I am referring to:
Well certainly the Bible says we are to care about the poor… But there’s a fundamental question on the meaning of “fairness.” Does fairness mean everybody makes the same amount of money? Or does fairness mean everybody gets the opportunity to make the same amount of money? I do not believe in wealth redistribution, I believe in wealth creation.
The only way to get people out of poverty is J-O-B-S. Create jobs. To create wealth, not to subsidize wealth. When you subsidize people, you create the dependency. You — you rob them of dignity.
Warren here is clearly showing his own dependency on right-wing mythology. First of all, no one I know in Democratic or progressive politics (and I do know a lot of folks) advocates that everyone has to make the same amount of money — that is the ultimate mythological conservative straw man. (The only writer I know that actually advocates for that is the author of the biblical Book of Acts: “all who shared the faith owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and distributed the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed.”)
In fact, the vast majority of government assistance (over 90 percent, in fact) for lower-income people consist of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid-related nursing home coverage for senior citizens; school lunch, Head Start, pre-natal, early childhood, public education money, and other programs for young children; student loan and job training programs for students and laid-off workers looking for jobs; and SSI checks and other programs for those too disabled to work. Then there are government jobs themselves — teachers, cops and firefighters, road construction workers, etc., which Warren ignores completely. So unless Warren is expecting 85 and 5 year olds, or maybe desperately ill people, to work for their bread, this dependency thing is a load of bunk. Finally, it is important to note that some government benefits also go to people working full or part time whose wages are so low they are still below or close to the poverty line. Maybe Pastor Warren knows these facts, maybe he doesn’t, but when you have his platform in life as a person so many people listen to, it is morally important for you to check out your facts first instead of being dependent on partisan and mean-spirited mythology.
Beyond his bad facts and ugly mythology about government spending to help low-income folks survive and maybe gain a toehold into the middle class is Warren’s apparent lack of any knowledge about what the Bible he claims to revere says about helping the poor. Let me give the good pastor some examples of what I mean.
I don’t think Pastor Warren has ever read the Book of Isaiah, for example. You don’t have to read far: in the very first chapter, Isaiah calls on the rulers (yes, the government, not just individuals) of Israel to hear what God tells them:
You multiply your prayers, I shall not be listening. Your hands are covered in blood, wash, make yourselves clean. Take your wrong-doing out of my sight. Cease doing evil. Learn to do good, search for justice, discipline the violent, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow.
A little later, in chapter 10, Isaiah is at it again, attacking the government of Israel but not for creating dependency:
Woe to those who enact unjust decrees, Who compose oppressive legislation to deny justice to the weak and to cheat the poorest of my people of fair judgment, To make widows their prey and rob the orphan… To whom will you run for help, and where will you leave your riches?
Isaiah goes on and on like this, for chapters and chapters. But maybe you haven’t read Isaiah, Pastor, or perhaps you just don’t like it very well since it teaches such pro-dependency lessons. Maybe we should turn to some other prophets you might like better. Oh, wait. Jeremiah says to the rulers of Israel “the very skirts of your robe are stained with the blood of the poor.” Lamentations says about Israel, “All her people are groaning, looking for something to eat.” Ezekiel speaks of the rulers of Israel this way: “You have failed to make your weak sheep strong, or to care for the sick ones, or bandage the injured ones.”
Okay, maybe you never liked reading the prophets. What about Psalms; they are so comforting. Oh, wait, maybe not, or at least not to conservatives. There’s Psalms 9-10, for example, talking about the wicked ruler who “watches intently for the downtrodden, lurking unseen like a lion in his lair, lurking to pounce on the poor.” Or Psalms 22, which proclaims that God “has not despised nor disregarded the poverty of the poor, has not turned away his face, but has listened to his cries for help… The poor will eat and be fulfilled.” Even if it creates dependency, I guess.
And Pastor, sorry, it doesn’t get any better for you on this dependency notion you have in your New Testament. Jesus’ mother Mary in Luke said her son would “pull princes from their thrones and raise high the lowly” and “fill the starving with good things, sending the rich empty away.” She didn’t mention whether that would cause dependency, but I tend to doubt she was too worried about it.
In Jesus’ first sermon in Luke he called for a year where the rich would be forced to forgive their debts to the poor. In Matthew 14, Jesus’ disciples told him he should send the crowds away so they could buy food for themselves, and Jesus replied “there is no need for them to go, give them something eat yourselves.” In Matthew 19, he told a rich man that he should go and sell all his possessions (in spite of the fact he was a job creator!) and give all the money to the poor.” And in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus said that God would gather all the nations (yes, the nations, not just individuals, something conveniently overlooked by conservatives) to judge who had given food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to those lacking them, who had welcomed strangers and helped prisoners and the sick.
All this must sound a lot like promoting dependency to Warren. And by the way, whether poor people are helped by government or individual charity, wouldn’t it be promoting dependency all the same according to conservatives? (Right-wing hero Ayn Rand sure thought so.)
Now you may think I’m being selective with these particular quotes, that these are the few times in the Bible where helping the poor are mentioned. Sorry, Pastor Warren; take a look for yourself, go ahead and read the entire thing. The poor are mentioned more than 2,000 separate times in the Bible, well over a hundred by Jesus himself — and unless I missed something somewhere, not one time is it to castigate them for their laziness or fret that they are growing too dependent on help.
I am consistently stirred to anger by these false prophets of Christianity. Pastor Warren, you have every right to have whatever religious and political beliefs you want to have, but don’t proclaim you are preaching the Christian Bible and then reject most of the things the people you are supposedly following said.
Michael Lux is the co-founder and CEO of Progressive Strategies, L.L.C., a political consulting firm founded in 1999, focused on strategic political consulting for non-profits, labor unions, PACs and progressive donors. In November of 2008, Mike was named to the Obama-Biden Transition Team. Previously, he was Senior Vice President for Political Action at People For the American Way (PFAW), and the PFAW Foundation, and served at the White House from January 1993 to mid-1995 as a Special Assistant to the President for Public Liaison.
This piece was first published on The Huffington Post.