Politics of Poor Plight and Prophetic Priorities: A Brief Response to Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney recently made an interesting comment about his lack of concern for poor people. According to him, we need not care about poor people because America has a safety net. Rather, he is concerned with America’s middle class because they are the ones who are struggling. Yes, that’s right, the people with more resources than poor people are the ones who are hurting most in this economy, according to Mitt’s logic.

While I am thankful that we do have a safety net in America, considering the thousands who have died from the famine in the Horn of Africa in the past year, I can not fathom how one could argue that poor people are doing well in America and the middle class is the group suffering most. This is so ridiculous that I won’t spend any more on that point.

However, as a Black Anabaptist Christian shaped by the Israelite scriptures and it’s fulfillment in the person of Jesus, I have particular priorities that shape my own ethics/politics. My Jubilee-Shalom-Kingdom of God politics must always prioritize “the least of these” among us, to not do so would be to disregard God’s  intervention and revelation in the world, particularly the Bible. The Bible clearly keeps watch of, defends, and centralizes the concerns of poor people throughout the entire narrative. To be in continuity with the God of scripture, and specifically Jesus the Crucified One, we must embrace the same ethics concerning poverty that is consistently woven throughout scripture. It compels us to embody Jesus’ story now in our own contexts. A faithful reading of scripture demands from us particular prophetic priorities to enact if we are to claim to be Christian (Christ-like), and they are not really optional. One of those ethical priorities is our care, sacrifice, and provision for the poor. To state that you do not care for poor people is to reject the Israelite narrative and ultimately to reject Jesus, that is assuming we can not slice him up and then choose which parts we like and which we do not like as if Jesus were a buffet line.

Sorry Mitt, but you have absolutely no credibility with me. (Neither do any of the other candidates, so please don’t take this as an endorsement for anyone). Finally, let me make myself clear by stating that as far as I am concerned, both major political parties in America are off the mark when it comes to the issue of poverty. One party (in my eyes) is aggressively against poor people, and the other (again from my perspective) pays lip service and offers a few minimal government programs, however each fall drastically short of the Jubilee paradigm from the Old Testament that Jesus continues to echo in his own ministry. As Christians, our ethics and political priorities ought not be confined to the arguments of the day between two imperial political parties, but ought to begin and end with theological vision rooted deeply in scripture and particularly in Jesus the Christ, as they are manifested in love for God and others.

Here is a tiny fraction of the biblical passages that remind us that we ought to prioritize the poor as a part of our Christian ethics and witness.

Psalms 82:3 “Defend the cause of the poor and the fatherless! Vindicate the oppressed and suffering!”

James 2:5-8 “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters! Did not God choose the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor! Are not the rich oppressing you and dragging you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme the good name of the one you belong to? But if you fulfill the royal law as expressed in this scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.”

Dueteronomy 15:11 “There will never cease to be some poor people in the land; therefore, I am commanding you to make sure you open your hand to your fellow Israelites who are needy and poor in your land.”

Proverbs 14:31 “The one who oppresses the poor insults his Creator, but whoever shows favor to the needy honors him.”

Luke 6:20 “Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God belongs to you.”

Ezekiel 16:49  “‘See here – this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had majesty, abundance of food, and enjoyed carefree ease, but they did not help the poor and needy.”

Galatians 2:10 “They requested only that we remember the poor, the very thing I also was eager to do.”

1 John 3:17 “But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow brother in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person?”

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13 thoughts on “Politics of Poor Plight and Prophetic Priorities: A Brief Response to Mitt Romney

  1. Some will probably attribute Romney’s words to misspeak. It certainly indicates a fundamental lack of understanding about the plight of the poorest among us. Certainly we’ve all said things that do not accurately express our heart. I didn’t really hate my Dad, I just didn’t like the fact that he didn’t let me go to the party. However, if it is truly “out of the abundance of the heart” that the mouth speaks, then often what we say is indicative of how we really feel.

    The sad part is that when he tried to clean it up he made it worse. It’s like PepsiCo saying that a man could not have found a rat in his Mountain Dew because it would have been dissolved. If the poor of our country are to languish solely in government dependency programs, we’ve missed the boat. Thanks PD.

  2. I agree, and I think Romney’s paradigm of “we choose who we focus on” is misguided from the start. I don’t believe that any presidential candidate is supposed to focus on “certain kinds of people,” regardless of who they are. If Romney said he was only focusing on poor people for his election, I think that would have been wrong as well. Your job is to focus on everybody. That’s why you become president of the entire country. Furthermore, it’s problematic to imply that we can split up Americans into three groups of poor, middle class, and rich and affect one group at a time. Certainly, class distinctions are not packaged that nicely and these policies will affect everybody in some way, regardless of social standing. I get that he needs his soundbite, but it makes him sound simple-minded.

    But, MUCH more importantly, I think this should remind us as Christians to not wait on the government (and, yes, that includes you, Obama) to help those most in need. The Bible commands believers (not politicians) to take care of the poor. As individual Christians and as the global church, we need to take that burden upon ourselves, while Romney and his cronies do back flips into their golden swimming pools full of money.

  3. Thank you so much for posting this. It is so true. When listening to the rhetoric of the religious right you would think that Jesus’ ministry centered around the rich and powerful. You would never know that his ministry centered around, as you said, the “least of these”. While I agree that neither party has it totally right…statements like these really enrage me concerning the republican party due to the fact that they claim such a high degree of piety yet they miss the mark completely when it comes to what it truly means to work out your salvation.

  4. So many directions to go with this topic but overall this seems to be the season of disdain for the poor. It is assumed by many that poor people are in their condition because of their own doing or because of a personal decision to be poor. Unfortunately, poverty can run from generation to generation because of structural inequities tied to class, race or ethnicity and not simply a personal decision to be poor. In a sense Mitt may be a key part of the reason there are real structural inequities in American society–he is a member of the American oligarchy, a son of privilege. Privilege demands priority and preservation.

    From my vantage point Mitt has simply echoed the words of Newt on this topic. The narrative follows this direction, “If those poor folk would develop a work ethic then they wouldn’t be poor.” The condescending gaze of these powerful men are reminders that the colonial experiment of those other ‘sons of privilege’ is alive and well. This is the gaze of the colonialist who wrote so eloquently about liberty as they enslaved generations of families who worked without the freedom to own anything except the hope of death and freedom tied to the afterlife. It is also the gaze of preachers who utilized the Scriptures to shape ‘virtue’ in their own favor ignoring many of the words and works of the Messiah.

    It’s amazing that one corner of American society has high jacked the concept of “values”, “valor” and “integrity” and everything associated with “good ole…” Some of the hardest working, most trust worthy people I know are poor, dirt poor. Christ intended to be born into poverty–it could be said that Christ would fit in well in societies less desirable communities and not so much in our ‘gated communities’.

  5. Pastor Drew, I agree whole heartedly with your assessment of Mitt Romney’s comment but if you don’t mind I would like to hijack your post and change the focus a bit. There is no question that constitutionally the government is suppose to represent the people (all people). However the Biblical mandate rests upon the people of God. Certainly God’s Biblical principles and truth applies to everyone saved and unsaved. So if everybody would yield to the dictates of the scripture this world would be a better place. But can we really expect the unregenerate world to uphold Biblical truth? I remember when I was young my mother quoted to me this proverb/story:

    “There was once a little boy who was about to cross a river and a rattle snake came up beside him. The snake looked at the boy and said, Would you be so kind to take me across the river? The boy looked at the snake and said no way, you bite! The snake said, No, I promise, I will not bite you. So the boy trusted the snake, picked the snake up and took it safely to the other side. As soon as the boy put the snake down, the snake rattled and bit the boy. The boy said, Hey you promised not to bite me! The snake said, You knew what I was when you picked me up, what did you expect?”

    You see Mitt and all of the political elite (obviously not all but allow me to paint with a broad brush for a moment) are simplying doing what comes natural to them… protecting their own and lining their pockets. What more could we expect? The truth is that God has given the church the mandate to uphold His Word and take care of the poor. Could it be that we (I am part of that collective we) have fallen down on the job… fallen asleep at the proverbial wheel? Many times in our church services we quote 2 Corinthians chapter 9 in an effort to encourage the saints to give. Perhaps this giving is targeted toward the building fund or some other endeavour. But a careful look at the scripture says that the purpose of this particular offering, outlined in the aforementioned text, is to send to the church in Jerusalem mind you the poor in Jerusalem as they had fallen on hard times. I can only imagine what would happen if the church began taking up collections for the sole purpose of alleviating some of the suffering of others. Yeah I know we have our benevolence fund and we give a certain percentage to missions, but in the grand scheme of things how much does this compare to the amount that is collected? I don’t have insight into any church budget but I am going to go out on a limb (and I am confident it will hold) and say that the bulk of the money that is collected goes toward purchasing buildings, building upkeep, programs, all sorts of overhead, but nothing really to do with helping the poor. I am afraid there is something seriously wrong with this picture. Judgement must first begin at the house of God. You see the problem in Washington, the world and the church is a heart issue, and no amount of public policy will fix it. I am not against Christians participating in the political square. In fact I am for it and believe that we should work for laws that are just and hold our public officials accountable. However we must not get caught up in what Chuck Colson calls “the political illusion”, (the idea that politics is going to solve all of our problems). The kingdom does not come through Washington, but rather through the people of God as we uphold is Word and put it into practice. Romney and others will only speak and do what their flesh dictates, but let us, the people of God speak and do what God’s Word dictates.

  6. Hey everyone thanks for the discussion, some good stuff. The one area which I have some varying perspectives is in the area of Christian responsibility for the poor, especially in the context of a democracy. I agree with the sentiment that Christians are the one’s who are called with the task, but I think about what that means a bit differently than most. I see it as a bit more complex than whether or not we ought to expect our politicians to do right or not. Especially given as Kyle talked about, the existence of systemic and structural realities that negatively affect people’s lives. What responsibility does the Christian have in relationship to unjust policies and laws that make it hard to escape generational poverty? That is worth wrestling over in my eyes. Given that, I decided I would write a second blog as a spin off of this discussion. Feel free to read it, and if you disagree (or agree) with what I say, I would love to hear your thoughts and perspectives.

    And just to be clear, I do agree that the Kingdom will not come through government. This will hopefully be more evident in my next post. Glad we all agree that Mitt Romney was out of pocket!

  7. I believe Nadine and Jason brought it back to the important point which is that the Biblical mandate is to Christians.
    As soon as we veer from that point, we get into “that which seems good in our own eyes”
    Like “FAIRNESS”
    What is fair?
    Is taking property away from someone and giving it to another fair?
    Obama speaks of having people “paying their fair share”
    Adam and Eve seemed to think that disregarding private property rights was fair…
    Who owned that tree? Was He within His rights to demand them not to eat from it? Or could they have argued that it was fair since they were underpriviliged and God is overpriviliged…?
    I prefer to keep the mandates of God personal and on an individual Christian basis onless He spicificly states otherwise.
    Politics holds no place in Christianity although Christianity should do all it can to influence Politics.
    And not that anyone else would agree with me – but if Romney gets elected President and turns the economy around The rising tide will lift all ships and allow those of us who are Christians to have more money so that we can spend it on the underprivilidged.

  8. So will God hold accountable those governments that have neglected the poor and oppressed? What about those who have been agents of oppression? If we say that those texts of Scripture that address justice issues and rescue of the oppressed are for individuals only then we have a major problem.

    @DR…You mention “fairness” and then go on to utilize the “Garden of Eden” as an analogy. I am not sure it is a good analogy in the discussion. There were no “systems” in the Garden of Eden and therefore no opportunity to render individuals “underprivileged” and “over-privileged”. Additionally, there were simply two individuals in an ideal environment arranged by God Himself. You are correct; there was stewardship in the Garden. The original inhabitants of the Garden failed to be good stewards of the opportunity God provided them. As a result of their failure—sin increased and it could be safely said that injustice or lack of “fairness” amongst mankind developed alongside of, and because of individual idolatry. As society grew the systems of oppression began to take hold in society and created what we may call the underclass/lower-class.

    [Concerning the topic of fairness and property you might want to check out the Homestead Act of 1862 which basically gave land (240,000,000 acres) previously inhabited by Native Americans to US citizens without sale or negotiation. Here is an example of the powerful dominating the weak…certainly not just or fair]

    Much of what you speak of concerning individualism seems to be a Western construct. Western individualism can be, and often times is at odds with God’s admonition to live in community with others. The commandments ‘Love Him and Love Others’ as found throughout the Biblical narrative govern community life–here are some other text that underscore the point. (Matthew 5:44, 22:36-40, Luke 6:27, 1 John 3:16-18) In these passages God extends love beyond the individual—community is the focus. I actually sense that “what seems good in our own eyes” is probably a selfish preoccupation on our individual lives rather than the “least of these”, the people that Jesus primarily focused on.

    Maybe you could clarify for me—I am not sure why you would disavow the system of politics when it is simply the way communities govern themselves. Politics is not evil; the people within politics can be evil or they can have noble motives. If Christians ran from politics then the civil rights laws would not have been passed that provided justice and fairness for people of color in this nation.

    Lastly, the rising tide that will lift all individuals assumes that Christians will spend money or give to those who don’t have. This may happen but generally it doesn’t because of our [Church] neglect of the second great commandment.(Matt 22:39) A rising tide may resolve some problems but I tend to think that there may be a coastline filled with folks trying to get their ‘boat’ into the water. I must admit that Romney is not someone that I would vote for but I certainly hope that if he is elected the rising tide will catch the marginalized and oppressed of our land.

    • Kyle,
      Thanx for your response.

      If God holds Governments accountable for their sins (Governments being made up of individuals and representing all their individual citizens) who than can be saved? I hear and read that He will ‘judge’ the nations and that he will ‘condemn’ sinners to hell.

      No, after mentioning “fairness” I spoke of private property rights and I maintain that God was perfectly within His right to say what He did and for it to be respected. The scriptures paint a picture of Eve taking Satan at his word that she in effect didn’t have all she could and that it was because God was withholding it. I maintain that this is the essence of the underprivileged vs. overpriviliged scenario I’ve read in these posts and that because Eve felt that someone with way more than her had something she didn’t and she wanted it – it was “fair” to take it.

      “System”? Oh Yeah there was a system all right – “‘I am God and you are not.” And Adam and Eve rejected it by way of seeking a fairer outcome through wanton disregard of private property rights. Just as many today follow in those same footsteps by way of supporting redistribution of private property through governmental strongarming.

      Homestead or otherwise.
      If it is unjust – I don’t agree with it.

      As far as “Western Constructs of individualism”… – My “construct” of individualism is one of mutual respect for all others, their family members, property and beliefs. When did that become just Western?

      You said – “Maybe you could clarify for me—I am not sure why you would disavow the system of politics when it is simply the way communities govern themselves.”

      I believe I said that “politics holds no place in Christianity.” Because as I see it, politics is the system by which people stratigize and organize to gain power, influence and control.
      I’m not sure how Christlike all that is…
      I always thought the way of Jesus was to present more truth to all situations through love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness. Maybe I missed something and it was supposed to be by way of politics?

      And… Thank you for taking my softball pitch and knocking it out of the park by saying that the Church is the one failing in its mission. Satan is doing fine in all his endeavors – but the church and the members who make it up are very often failing

  9. @ DR…No disrespect but I can’t see your reasoning. The systems that we’ve been speaking about in the post are not in the garden…there are no underprivileged individuals in the garden and neither is there personal property. They, Adam and Eve, are stewards of God’s property–not owners. What you describe in your second paragraph is “sin” not an “underprivileged” class. An group of people identified as “underprivileged arise because of large scale social oppression by another dominant group. The systems that we are describing in the various post occur after the fall in communities not in the “Garden”.

    When I speak of “systems” what I am describing are pieces of society (e.g., military, commerce, education, government, etc.) You may be describing the essence of the sinful desires exemplified through Satan and the allure of disobedience by Adam and Eve but by no means do we see “systems”. Systems are more complex constructs that develop over time as government develops outside of the Garden of Eden. What is seems you are describing with regards to Eve is the act of selfishness. I believe that selfishness can show up in social systems but I just think your analogy doesn’t work—that’s just me.

    You say, “My”, when we are talking about society at large. Most communities outside of the West consider the community or ‘village’ more important than the individual. This is widely accepted by believers who analyze cultures in and outside of the U.S. (If you read the Law of Moses you will recognize that most of what is prescribed governs the community or family.) In the West we have a preoccupation with “personal property” and “individual rights” to the neglect of the larger community that we live in.

    By the way, who is taking property and giving it to someone else? I gave an example of this happening on a large scale (e.g., Homestead Act).

    People seek control whether it is by way of politics or some other means. I think politics is often times the scapegoat that many use to deflect the real issue–which is our own inability to love our brother or sister sacrificially. We are called to be Christ-like in the political system–spread truth, love, etc as we reach those without hope. Politics is not the problem–our inability to practice justice and mercy within politics is the problem. The system of politics can be redeemed when we are Christ-like within the systems.

    I agree the church as a whole is negligent about its calling and so we agree on that point.
    Also, judgment can be distributed on government as in the case of Ninevah, or Babylon, Persia, Egypt and even Israel. This does not necessarily mean that every individual damned to a Christ-less eternity but judgment can be distributed in the form of disease, loss of power, depression, etc. The pages of Scripture are replete with examples. (Old and New Testaments)

    Great conversation…no disrespect intended. Maybe we are simply missing each other.

  10. Kyle,
    We both stand at the side of a river that flows through many lands and times. It affects many people in many ways.
    There is no way I’m going to take offence as you describe a time of great flood (the Homestead act) by the same river that I describe when I take you to a small trickle flowing from the side of a mountain way back upstream. They are both the same river. I’m not offended as you describe a deep muddy water expanse that’s able to support many water crafts carrying people and lives as I describe a starting point where that same waterway looks totally different but is still the same river.

    You look to describe what you see from your vantage point and attempt to prescribe solutions based on what you see and know. Now, in the same way, come, let us reason together… and see if we can look at the same river from a different point and different times
    My perspective (as you noted) is different from yours. I see God as the source of what you call ‘systems’. In the beginning He was ‘the system’. All else flowed from that. I see Him as the originator of ‘private ownership’ He created the world and everything in it and owned “the cattle on a thousand hills’ as it were – He owns it all, it started with Him. We’re not going to beat a dead horse here but suffice it to say when you write:

    “The systems that we’ve been speaking about in the post are not in the garden…there are no underprivileged individuals in the garden and neither is there personal property.”

    I beg to differ… You seem to miss the perspective I’m bringing. God owned all the property and from Adam and Eve’s point of view, they were underpriviliged in their situation because they were up against the original, ultimate, overarching in every way ‘system’… The God who is.
    I understand that you want to point out their stewardship position in a wonderful paradise and that it was a step up from the fact that they were clay (Adam) or a rib (Eve) the day before… but from their perspective, can you see that ‘stewardship’ looked more like ‘slavery’ to them when Satan’s words were added to the mix? I’m talking about origins.
    Why am I talking about origins?
    Because on this river of life there are things that happen and there are people who react in good ways and bad ways… And will always do so – but it is hit and miss as to wether or not it was worth it.
    The topic of this post was “The Politics of Poor Plight”

    Jesus said, “the poor you will have with you always”. Wow! What an opertunity.

    There will be those that react to the poor who have been swept over by whatever ‘system’ is in place at the time by jumping into the river and devoting their lives to living among the poor and doing all they can for them. There are those who won’t go that far but who will offer ‘cups of cold water’ from the shore in the form of money, services, time or what ever they have to give to these workers and the cause they wage. There will also be those who simply use the poor as the pedistal upon which they stand and pontificate endlessly. Not to help the poor but to self agrandize or simply just to enjoy a good discussion and feel better about themselves for have done so. It’s amazing how many responces there are to a situation that will be around as long as the world lasts don’t you think?
    While my family falls into the middle category for the most part (that of offering over 100,000 cups of cold water one dollar at a time) we have been known to take into our own house those who can not support themselves due to situations and whatever ‘system’ overcame them at the time. But, when it comes to blogs and discussions I am more interested in knowing and understanding origins and God’s place in the creation of the unfairness of life…
    Yes, we will have the poor among us always because God created it so. He stiches each individual together in the womb. Creating some geniouses and others dolts. He creates the races and allows in that creation the ability to use the differences for evil. He created the whole thing unequaly and I am wondering where fairness was and what He had in mind for it as things like your place of birth, the family you are born into and even such things as the ever changing climate can have an effect on wether or not you are over or underpriviliged.
    Yes, man has created a ‘politic of and about the poor’ and discusses it endlessly while pointing fingers in every direction but where does that get me? Who can I go to to understand the reason for this inequality that was built into the system from the beginning?

  11. P.S. Kyle,

    1. You say: “By the way, who is taking property and giving it to someone else? I gave an example of this happening on a large scale (e.g., Homestead Act).
    I’m pretty sure you know what the term “redistribution of wealth” means – you seem pretty educated and know that so much of the tax revenue to the government is taken from the top 25% of the earners and more than 50% of it is spent not to help the poor but to buy votes and power. Right now we are at the tipping point in this country. Just over half of the people in this country are receiving money\benifits paid for by the producers of this nation. Those receiving that money (as in Greece) are never going to want to have it stop. As time goes by – more will be added to those rolls causing the tab for those of us paying it to become a weight too heavy to lift. In your own life I am guessing that you don’t spend more than you can afford nor do you get it in your head that you can max out your credit and use as a solution – to demand more money from your employer. Yet too many people think that way in regard to our national spending and debt.
    2. “We are called to be Christ-like in the political system–spread truth, love, etc as we reach those without hope. Politics is not the problem–our inability to practice justice and mercy within politics is the problem. The system of politics can be redeemed when we are Christ-like within the systems.”
    I’m guessing you know you are making my point when I said that “Christianity should do all it can to influence Politics.”

    3. “Most communities outside of the West consider the community or ‘village’ more important than the individual.”

    And I’m guessing that this would be in countries and places where the standard of living is at or below Haiti where you absolutely have to depend on the community because everyone is destitute Or in countries where the dictatorial powers that rule make life so hard the people have to work together just to hide enough food and clothing to be able to survive winters.
    I didn’t hear you mention the fact that America and Americans see the world as very important as proven by how much aid we give in coparison to EVERY other country for any and all types of hardships around the world – so I’m not quite buying your story on our sense of individualism compared to our sense of community and responcibility to it. When was the last time I heard China, Russia, Cuba, Central America, South America, Africa, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia or Myanmar sending aid to anywhere?

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