Truth Telling

For the third time in the past week I've seen a Bernie Sanders (Senator - Democratic Socialist, VT) quote posted on facebook. It's a sort of catch-all for my liberal friends ... blaming Bush, advocating for more government, an "independent" political voice, class warfare and claiming the moral, compassionate high ground all rolled up into one arrogant, partisan, rabble-rousing, ill-informed, but marketable, quote.

What I know of Senator Sanders is that his vote can be bought, that he stoops to the lowest form of rhetoric in his fundraising efforts, and that his favorite political tactic (and socialism's in general) is to promote class warfare. He also likes to trumpet his "independent" status while caucusing with the Democrats and voting with them 99% of the time. He strikes me as your typical uber-left, know-it-all, elitist who panders to the fringe by being an obnoxious jerk to everyone else. He thinks the know-nothing majority is not smart enough  or enlightened enough to embrace his ideas on their merits. He is the worst kind of politician, promoting himself as a middle class hero while his policies and ideology punish them.

If you can't tell, I do not like Bernie Sanders. And I do not like The Christian Left who are using this Sanders quote and others to imply that if you do not support progressive politics, well then, you aren't quite as good a Christian as they are.

We are The Christian Left. We’re all around you. We’re among the people. Take a look. We’re part of the Body of Christ. We’re Christians. We’re Liberal. We make no apologies. In fact Jesus' ways are “Liberal.” That’s why He was killed. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the conservatives of their time. This is clear. 

It's interesting that a group that considers itself egalitarian and doesn't want to be labeled, has no problem segregating "the Christian Right" from the body of Christ and labeling anyone who is not politically "left" as a legalistic literalist opposed to Christ. Also, they make it sound as if they are a voice from the religious margins, an oppressed minority group, but in fact the religious left is the dominate political power in most mainline protestant denominations, which may be an indication of why mainline denominations are failing. They are failing not just in terms of membership, though the decline is dramatic, but also in their mission. Despite the frequent use of scripture on their website, it's pretty obvious that the focus here is more on "Left" than on "Christian" and you don't have to read the original Greek to understand that obvious insincerity in using faith to promote politics is not the Gospel message.

We have here, in one simple, and frankly unattractive, graphic, two myths that need a counter argument. The first is the actual Sanders quote, which by my calculation is about 86% false. The second is that Jesus would unequivocally support progressive political policies.

Bernie says that we have "a serious deficit problem." That is the only completely truthful statement in the quote.The rest are either factually inaccurate or pure political spin. The deficit was not caused by two unpaid for wars. That may not have helped, but they certainly didn't cause it. Neither did huge tax breaks for the wealthy. The truth is that entitlement spending, what Bernie conveniently labels as "the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor" is the primary driver behind the deficit.

The second statement that needs a balancing argument is what is implied by the graphic, and explicitly stated by The Christian Left ... that Jesus' ways are "Liberal." I've written before about Jesus in this blog ...  how he should not be labeled as politically liberal, how his message implies personal action and sharing, how I am suspect of political arguments that invoke Jesus  and about the fear that prevents spiritual and intellectual discovery. I've tried, in various approaches, despite my membership in an unquestionably "left" PC(USA) church, to think "out loud" through this blog about my faith, my political opinions and how they can be reconciled. Though primarily a personal exercise to develop some consistency between my spiritual and political beliefs, they do demonstrate that conservative political opinions can be consistent with Christian faith, despite what The Christian Left would have you believe.

I've been reading a book, Left, Right & Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics, by Lisa Sharon Harper and D.C. Innes. Unlike The Christian Left, who condemn the political right and lay claim to complete knowledge of Jesus' political philosophy, this book is a theological discussion of political issues from both the Christian evangelical left (Harper) and right (Innes) perspectives. As you can see from the links above to previous blog posts, this is a topic I've thought about a lot. I bought the book to help me understand the politically left position of evangelical Christians and so far it is much more helpful and encouraging than anything from the Bernie Sanders fans.  Early in the book, in a discussion about the role of government, Innes writes the following:

If it were government's responsibility, even in part, to do the good deeds of society, people would gradually surrender more and more private responsibility to it. For its part, government would gladly expand to take responsibility for everything it possibly could. ... People would become ever more narrowly selfish and childishly dependent. Advocates of activist government would justify every new good work saying, "The government has to do this because people won't do it on their own." Of course, this is precisely what has been happening over the last hundred years. Where it ends is not the sort of noble liberty that God intends for his image-bearing vice-regents. At best, you get the control of well-meaning masters over grateful slaves, or some kind of happy human zoo [ed: My Brother's Keeper again?]. At worst, and more likely, you get the totalitarian rule of a self-serving administrative class over a docile people who have entirely forgotten how to provide for themselves.

The Christian Left posted Bernie's quote with the comment "Pretty sure we're going to post this every day for awhile. This truth needs to go viral. Please share." I don't believe it is truth, but here is something that is ... if you don't deliver your charity and compassion and care personally, if it doesn't require action and thought and personal committment, if you abdicate that responsibility to your government, your church, rich people or people who you think are gullible enough to do it for you then it is not honestly caring for the sick, the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the stranger, the imprisoned. The truth is that the government is gladly expanding. It is taking over our responsibilities for raising our children, caring for our sick, providing for our elderly and we, predictably, are forgetting how to do it ourselves. Advocating for higher taxes on someone else does not make you a better Christian.


  1. Hi I found your article looking up the source of this quote. I appreciate your thoughtful commentary, however, it should be pointed out that Jewish law actually codified how the people are to protect the stranger, the sick, the old, the poor, the widow and the orphan. These were the laws of the land of Israel, and they were not left up to individuals to act on their own senses of charity. I do not believe Jesus was actually arguing for these laws to be dropped in favor of individual choice. The big difference is a tax was not levied for this purpose, but laws regulated personal behavior regarding plowing of fields and such. I'm curious as to how or whether you would propose a change. We have seen from history, and I've seen with my own two eyes in other countries, that if left to the private sector, there isn't enough charity to go around, and you will see a lot more suffering.

  2. Thanks for you comment.

    If we lived in a theocracy under "Christian Law" I would expect things like care for the stranger, the sick, the widow and the orphan to be part of that law, but we do not, nor do I think we want to. Also, if the codification of charity, compassion, care for the other worked so well under Jewish law, why was it necessary for Jesus to constantly remind the Jews he was teaching of the importance of caring for others? Which results in a greater blessing ... giving grudgingly as you are compelled to do by some law, or giving from your heart with the full understanding that by doing so you are doing God's work?

    I understand that there were laws regarding widows, orphans, etc. For example, farmers were to leave the corners of their fields unharvested so that the widows and orphans could gather it. But the law did not compel the farmer to harvest those corners and deliver it to the widows and orphans ... or worse yet, harvest the corners, turn it over to government authorities and let them deliver it.

    I do not believe that Jesus argued for or against any of the laws of man. The New Testament seems pretty clear that you abide by the laws of land while keeping your priority as God's law. But, to take this more toward your point, I definitely do not think Jesus was advocating for any sort of Christian theocracy which is where the "Christian Right" goes wrong ... though I don't think they are really "right" so much as the "fascist left." The political "left" is fundamentally about control.

    Jesus said, in response to a question about which commandment in the law was the greatest.

    He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

    I cannot imaging a society as a whole, with or without specific laws regarding charity, that could completely adhere to those commandments. I can imagine individuals trying, and often failing, to live up to them. It is the individual trying that matters. Forcing someone to be charitable is like signing a contract when under duress or threat ... it should not be considered valid.

    As for leaving charity to the private sector and history and the experiences of other countries, I would ask the following questions.

    Which country has the least suffering?
    Which country is the most charitable?
    Does any country actively work to relieve suffering?
    Among all peoples, even among their enemies? Even at the risk of their own citizens lives?

    Whatever country that is ... we should do what they do.

  3. Thanks for the quote, brother. I'm glad the book was helpful to you. I appreciated these two graphics you supplied in this post. I incorporated them into my own post over at Principalities and Powers. Keep Psalm 16:8 in mind: "I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken."