My Brother's Keeper

... for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.

Someone tossed out this New Testament scripture (Matthew 25:35-36) in a discussion about health care reform. They added their own addendum, 'I needed healthcare and you gave me affordable insurance' expecting, of course, for everyone to come to the conclusion that Jesus supports Obama.

In July religious leaders from "a wide spectrum of faith traditions" issued a statement of support for health care reform, proclaiming it an urgent need. In August, President Obama participated in a national call-in and audio webcast to rally support from the religious community for his (or someone's) plan. He took that opportunity to declare providing health care for all an ethical and moral obligation, and even threw in a few King James Version phrases, "bearing false witness" and "brother's keeper". Which do you think is more authentic, Obama quoting scripture, or Karl Rove rapping?

Our pastor wrote in this month's newsletter that "Jesus was a liberal." In this week's Sunday School lesson the author writes "Giving priority to the welfare of persons over profits rouses fear and resentment in many hearts" and makes the argument that many are fearful of Christianity because it is a threat to our Western culture and, presumably, capitalism.

I am wary, and weary, of people who use religion as a weapon in social policy and political debates.

Dad didn't go to church. Somewhere around 1970 an elder from the church Mom took us to told me that I needed to 'work on' getting my father to church, but I wasn't about to talk church with Dad. He once told me that as a kid he was baptized every time a Baptist or Methodist tent preacher came to town, which was at least twice a year, and he was pretty sure he was covered. Anyway, this elder informed me that if Dad didn't come to church, he'd end up in hell. I never mentioned the conversation to Dad; his reply wouldn't be hard to imagine. I've never fully trusted "organized religion" since.

This story is just a little background to illustrate my life-long distaste and distrust of anyone who uses 'faith' or 'religion' or 'GEE-zuss' to justify their actions or promote their agenda. If the elder was truly interested in my father's soul, he should have been talking directly to him, not through a child. Simplifications like 'Jesus was a liberal' and 'capitalism is evil' tell us much more about the author's political opinions than they do about Christ. And does any rational human being, religious or not, believe that bombers, whether the suicide or abortion clinic type, are doing God's work? If God does not work at the political extremes, why would He work in the middle? In my opinion, God is not a politician, and the Bible is not a position paper (or a science book).

Now Cain talked with Abel his brother and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

This Old Testament scripture (Genesis 4:8-9) is the original source of "my brother's keeper." Cain is essentially asking God, sarcastically, if he is 'responsible' for his brother. Most people assume that God's answer is "Yes, of course you are!" Of course you should help your brother ... it's the moral and ethical thing to do, it's what Jesus would do, it's what compassionate Christians should do ... you should always take care of your brothers and sisters.

You can, however, interpret this story in other ways. Animals in zoos have keepers, not the people made in God's image. Would Abel want to be 'kept' by his brother Cain? These are grown men with careers; Abel was described as a 'keeper of sheep.' If Cain had said, 'My brother is not a sheep and I am not his keeper', which seems a fair rephrasing, would President Obama be using this scripture as the moral foundation for his (or someone's) health care plan?

In this Biblical story God did not answer "Yes, you are your brother's keeper." Instead, the first thing God says is, "What have you done?" This is not a lesson about failure and omission, of simply forgetting to 'keep' your brother. This is a lesson about being responsible for your actions. Cain killed his brother. He took his life. Cain didn't forget to be compassionate toward his brother, he used his strength against his brother in a fit of anger and jealousy. The question from this scripture that should be used in the health care debate is not "Am I my brother's keeper?" but rather "What have you done?"

Assume for a moment that the current iteration of Obama's (or someone's) plan passes. How would we answer 'What have you done?' Have we provided affordable health care for all? No, we have not - not practically and not personally. Have we become our brother's keeper? No, we have not. We have instead handed our brother over to be kept, by the government. We have imprisoned him. Have we become more moral and ethical? No, we have not. We will have abdicated those obligations to the government, and to the "rich" and unrepresented future generations, who must pay for it.

I am not my brother's keeper, nor do I want to be. I also don't wish to be 'kept.' I have no need of Presidents defining morality, or of 'religionists' controlling public policy. It is not moral or ethical to give up personal responsibility or to empower bureaucratic keepers. The Democrats like to frame this debate in terms of "doing something" versus "doing nothing," yet it is the Democrat plan (or someone's) that requires us to do nothing. Health care becomes a government problem. Paying for it becomes someone else's debt, and we won't even have to take care of our brother, someone else will be keeping him.


  1. Hit the nail on the head...unfortunately we have a society filled with too many sheepeople who desire to be kept so they can no be responsible for their actions. But if you read Psalm 23, you find that it speaks of the Shepherd's rod and staff (this was and is used to curb and
    discipline the sheep who go astray). Is this what those who want government-controlled health care want??

  2. Are you sure you are not a politician. For someone who: "distrust(s) of anyone who uses 'faith' or 'religion' or 'GEE-zuss' to justify their actions or promote their agenda." You have certainly taken the good word and put it to good use yourself. The power of God's word is just too real to let it go unteathered. It has way of pulling a reader in and changeing the way they think and then pretty soon changeing the way they act.

    I like your honest statement...

    I am wary, and weary, of people who use religion as a weapon in social policy and political debates.

    How do you balance that phrase in the scope of salvation history, when God inserts himself as a Jewish carpenter into the the heart of a Roman dynasty, calling out the religious elite and political powers by healing a blind man on the sabbath.

    God's use of "irony" and drama as a confrontational medium in the public forum has set a very high bar as a marketing standard for sucessful ad campaigns. I bet God wishes more people would get it too! Maybe your weariness is a sign that some of the scales are beginning to fall from your eyes. I know people who speak of conversion speak of being tired of carrying the weight of disbelief. Tired of their own blindness...

  3. Thanks for the comments.

    I balance the "religion as a weapon" argument with a very simple equation: Religion != Truth

    Truth, especially as demonstrated in the life of Christ, is a powerful weapon, but I see no truth in 'Jesus was a Liberal' bumper stickers. Those who try to guilt people into supporting "health care reform" because "that's what Jesus would do" are no different than the first century religious elites that Jesus called out.

    And these scales causing my blindness ... are you sure it's not just a mote in my eye that you are pointing out?

  4. Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.

    God's challenge here is turned on its head as we render to Caesar the things that are God's.

  5. Good stuff, thanks for the column.

    BTW, I found referenced in a response to a Jonah Goldberg post on NRO.

    v/r, duna sends...

  6. Hi, found in your post cross referenced where you had left a link on "Jesus is a Liberal, Part Deux" (ref J. Foster). Two comments above stand true (to myself)..the Caesar comment has many impacts, in that it is written, "That all the world would be taxed" (in many ways might add!, but did not Satan tempt Jesus with THE WORLD to which he was not tempted? And He Knows Peace not as 'the world knows peace')...but Caesar saw himself as god as many rulers did then, as they still do today..who cannot have a big ego and serve as president?. Truth is Truth..and does not change. "What happens if I don't render unto Caesar?". I can't use "Jesus said to render unto Caesar" as an excuse to follow a lie or to obey evil, the world (otherwise, we would not need to be saved) The bottom line is that if I challenge the government by not participating in the lie, I stand to lose my stuff (things of this world). The Bible is replete with scripture that tells we can't be on both sides of the fence. We can't serve God and mammon. Much of the confusion is actually propagated by the teachings of the PLC. They have to twist scripture in order to maintain much of their doctrinal posturing. And by this they become liars. And if you follow them, you will be a liar also. Politicians are not my keeper, any more than Peter (Petra, Rock/Keeper) as his brother was Jesus's Keeper, because he denied him Three Times. Some day, the 'cock' will crow. :-0...