Wallis fumed in an interview that Congress should be cutting defense spending instead of health or nutrition programs. "House Republicans want to beat our ploughshares into more swords," he said. "These priorities that they're offering are not just wrong or unfair, they're unbiblical." Unbiblical! Does Wallis really believe that no one advocating budget cuts he opposes can have serious ethical grounds for doing do? It must be wonderful to be so certain that what Wallis wants is precisely what God wants. Not all of us are as confident that our religious faith translates as readily into a detailed partisan agenda.
A more fundamental problem with the "What Would Jesus Cut?" campaign is its planted axiom that Jesus would want Congress to do anything at all. Yes, we are emphatically commanded by Scripture to help the poor, to comfort the afflicted, and to love the stranger. But those obligations are personal, not political. It requires a considerable leap of both faith and logic to read the Bible as mandating elaborate government assistance programs, to be funded by a vast apparatus of compulsory taxation. I admit that I am no New Testament scholar, but I cannot recall Jesus ever saying that the way to enter Heaven is to dole out money extracted from your neighbors' pockets.
In a new book (Jesus: A Biography from a Believer), the historian Paul Johnson points out that Jesus of Nazareth "took no steps to disturb the political status quo" and "was not concerned with political arrangements." His purpose "was not to found a new regime but to portray a new way of life." He was speaking to individuals, not to Congress. The Sermon on the Mount was meant as ethical instruction, not as a blueprint for federal budgeteers.
To be a lawmaker in a democracy is to choose, and the choice is often between alternatives for which reasonable arguments can be made both ways. For religious believers, Judeo-Christian principles may sometimes offer guidance on difficult issues of public policy. But God is not Republican or Democrat, socialist or libertarian. Above the Speaker's rostrum in the House of Representatives are engraved the words "In God We Trust." But He doesn't tell congressmen how to vote. And Jesus won't tell them what to cut.
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