Saturday, March 12, 2005

Condemned to hell

Some may be surprised to discover that I agree with Jim Wallis, the editor of Sojourners, when he proclaims that budgets are “moral documents.” Moreover, I welcome a moral audit of the budget recently presented to Congress by President Bush. A vigorous debate concerning the spending priorities of the federal government would be helpful. What should be the moral priorities of government? What is the proper relationship between government and civil society? Answering these questions would provide a valuable civic education. However, I am amused by some of the moral and religious language used to bludgeon the President.

A few days ago, a group of mainline protestants released a statement recalling the Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man. When the poor Lazarus died, he joined Abraham in comfort. When the rich man died, he received fiery torment in hell. These mainline leaders compare proponents of the Bush budget to the rich man.
Like many Americans, we read our daily newspaper through the lens of faith, and when we see injustice, it is our duty to say so. The 2006 Federal Budget that President Bush has sent to Capitol Hill is unjust. It has much for the rich man and little for Lazarus.
Although the mainline leaders don’t say so directly, by analogy, they condemn to hell those who support the President’s budget.

In principle, I don’t object to speaking about divine condemnation and specific evils. The Old Testament prophets certainly had no difficulty with that rhetoric. Nonetheless, in practice, I am more than a little reticent to condemn particular folks to hell. Where I’m wimpy, these mainline church leaders are willing to call down God’s wrath on supply-siders. Still, there remains a nagging irony. What if someone used the same rhetoric of eternal punishment about those who violate marriage vows, advocate heretical teachings, or celebrate particular moral failings? These same religious leaders would be the first to cast the charge of judgmentalism or self-righteousness. They would preach eloquently on logs and specks. Somehow they want it both ways. Sadly, the cause of the poor is too important, morally and biblically, to cheapen by overblown rhetoric.

No comments: