Public Mood Sours, Continued Criticism of Congressional LeadersIt’s by turns infuriating and farcical.

It has become increasingly clear that the debt ceiling and deficit reduction dramas are manufactured emergencies driven by electoral politics, though the consequences of inaction are very real. The desire to stay in office, to hold on to this or that position of leadership, to stick it to one’s despised political foe with a kind of suit-and-tie snarly glee. These pathological needs now trump everything else. And it’s dispiriting to watch.

Words have lost their meaning — their basic correspondence to things and ideas by which we judge the validity and persuasiveness of human speech. Half-truths and blatant falsehoods are spun into implausible narratives uttered in grave tones and with straight faces. And almost always by middle-aged and older white men. Where are the women in this debate? (Women could knock this thing out.)

Partisan politics in the digital age depends on a distracted, uninformed electorate. It’s not helpful to the cause of conservative intransigence for voters to know that, without fuss or fanfare, Republicans voted numerous times during the Bush presidency to raise the debt limit.

And neither side in this made-up crisis has given appropriate attention to the poor. For years now, both Democrats and Republicans have made the middle class their primary legislative concern, their targeted demographic for election and re-election propaganda. The poor, let’s face it, are a drag on our collective hope in the American dream. Deficit Worries Still High, but Job Situation Remains the Bigger ConcernIn fact, we’re not even sure that the poor are really all that poor. I mean, 97 percent of them have refrigerators! How bad could their lives really be?

Having written a reflection on the appointed gospel reading for this coming Sunday, I’m thinking about these matters in light of Jesus’ encounters with the poor in the towns and villages, hillsides and seashores, of the Galilee. In the deserted places of Empire, Jesus met the hungry masses in all of their tiresome, needy, inconvenient humanity. It would have been easier to stay in seclusion, to pass the problem off to the disciples, which he actually did at first: you give them something to eat,” he says to them.

But he takes a meager sack lunch of bread and fish, blesses and breaks it, and gives it to the disciples to give to the crowds. It’s a familiar story and one that strains logic, leaving us skeptical and incredulous, especially the part about collecting 12 baskets of leftovers when everyone had eaten their fill.

At least, though, we can acknowledge that the early Christians preserved and passed on a story like this because their imaginations had been shaped by a story of abundance, not of scarcity. The fear-mongering ways of Empire were rejected and a new way of being — life and health and wholeness for all, even women and children in the gospel of Matthew’s telling of the story — was the good news.

Fear and scarcity are the watchwords of Empire politics today. They divide and diminish us — reducing our elected officials to buffoons one day, calculating schemers the next — and making us, regardless of party affiliation, co-conspirators in the misery they plot.

But we can resist. Without resorting to the hard-edged parochialism of the religious right, we can embrace the politics of Jesus. We can refuse the politics of fear and scarcity and choose instead another way of being: life and health and wholeness for all — even for women and children and the poor in our midst.


Debra Dean MurphyDebra Dean Murphy is an assistant professor of Religion and Christian Education at West Virginia Wesleyan College and serves on the board of The Ekklesia Project. She regularly blogs at Intersections: Thoughts on Religion, Culture, and Politics.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.


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Reflections

Women could knock this thing out? Michelle Bachman included? Please. I agree that the people involved are thinking mainly about their own hides. But the self-serving attitudes are not gender specific.

I agree with your general points but, I have to say that this was no less disturbing than the rhetoric from Washington.  For example, you note that the Republicans now opposing the increase in the debt ceiling voted in favor of it under the Bush administration - a half-truth on two levels.  First the newly elected tea party members of congress have not previously voted for debt ceiling increases and they are driving much of the debate even if they are not the official leaders of the party.  Secondly, you fail to note that Obama voted against at least one debt ceiling increases during the Bush administration for nearly the same reasons as the Tea Partiers oppose it now.
You also where are the women in this debate, and state that women could knock this thing out.  Obviously implying that women have somehow been marginalized in the debate and indeed would rise above it all and do the right thing.  Let's talk about an implausible narrative.  Have you heard of Michelle Bachman?  And she is on;y one female voice out there if you listen to more than the news clips on Obama and Boehner.

The comments so far are mostly unsympathetic. This is what I have obseerved for some time now in comments to articles about poverty in the daily newspaper of my midwest city with a population of 150,000+ and a very high poverty rate, especially among the children and minorities. Compassion seems to be in short supply these days, and that's what I really find frightening. It's not the loss of a stellar credit-rating, or a drop in the stock market, but greed, self-centeredness, and a hardening of hearts that I'm most concerned about.

eloquently put. thank you for this perspective.

If the religious right wants to cut funding to planned parenthood, restrict abortions, and push "abstinence" over birth control, they should also be prepared to pay for the children of teenage mothers and the fatherless. The two go hand in hand. These mothers and their children make up the bulk of our poor. It always amazes me, this push for the "right to life." But then, once born, these children are not, somehow, the responsibility of the religious right anymore. How does that make any sense? 

It makes sense b/c it should be obvious that killing a child is immoral, yet, b/c you stand on this obvious point does not mean endless programs should be passed to somehow provide for everyone. First off, it's not constitutional to take from one and forcefully give to another and it just doesn't work. I give you any large city today as an example. I care for the poor and that's why I give to many charities that supports them and teaches them Christian truth, yet I don't see how you can be so shortsighted to not see that just b/c you throw money at something doesn't mean you care. If you cared about the poor you'd actually allow them to suffer from their mistakes and learn to not make those same mistakes. The path we're on now of more and more spending simply leads to, well, Detroit.

Even Deuteronomy mentions that there will always be poor among us. Perhaps it is God's way of testing our sense of justice, as well as our degree of kindness, by how we choose to help them.

If this is the case, then America is failing God's test spectacularly.

Thanks, Steve.

Radical fundamentalism (in every group) is rampant on the planet... 

the debt ceiling debate is important because we will not be allowed forever to borrow 41 cents of every dollar we spend- look at what is happening in  the Eurozone- we need to address this issue now or the country including our poor will be even worse off than they are now

Its clearly because he is a troller just attempting to get attacked so he can say everyone is a hypocrite.  He doesn't want to exchange ideas.  Although, I though that is what "educated" people do.  I'm just sayin'.  Also, he is sadly misinformed about the state of affairs in europe.  I know, I lived their for 14 years.
love you bro,
Shadow

Debra, your thoughts are a refreshing - and much needed - balm for a soul that is weary of the contemporary penchant for turning normal dialog into conversational warfare. It is true, as you say, that concern for the poor seem to be missing in our public discourse and compassion is a virtue that gets more rhetorical than actual respect. And despite the naysayers, I agree with your premise that we would be much better served by having more women at the negotiating tables where the debt ceiling and spending cuts are being discussed. No doubt there are exceptions, as some have noted, but by and large I'd be we'd find far less chest thumping and far more attempts to find workable compromises if we had more women participating. 

Jesus offered the poor compassion, healing and the love of God, not derision, exclusion or "tough love" as some prefer to call it. If we call ourselves Christians, we must do the same. Thank you, DDM, for a very thoughtful and thought-provoking piece. I've
shared it with many of my friends. And thank you for your calm, kind and
non-inflammatory responses to some of the comments listed here.

Amen to Steve from Wisconsin. My church in Fuquay-Varina NC has become a hotbed of politics but behind the backs of most of the congragation. Leave the politics out of the pulpit and leave it to blogs like this. It seems that the ultra educated want to tell the under 'under educated' like myself how to worship Jesus but the 'poor in education' can be lead by the holy spirit just as well as the college trained person.

Sorry, but the poor (and everyone else) are not served by an economy going into the toilet.  Yes, there sure is the need for soup kitchens, food pantries, clothing closets, etc.  But, I would THINK what we want to do most for the poor is give them a good paying JOB!  That is not happening under the Obama Depression. 

If we don't take drastic action now, we will need Jesus to come down and multiply some bread and fish, because we will become the Weimar Republic part 2.  Thank God for the Tea Party. Also, the majority of government programs designed to help the folks, "defined" as being at the poverty level, are ineffective. They should be teaching them how to fish, not giving them the fish.  Instead they only serve to make those folks dependent on others.  Charity is much more effective and allows me as a Christian to try to live as Jesus commanded.  I do not want the government to decide that for me...it is individual salvation that is meaningful, not collective salvation.  Another article suggested I should contact my congressman, and so I did.  I stated we need to balance the budget and make it the law.  I also stated we should not balance it by devastating the defense budget, since this is technically the only responsiblity of the federal government as stated in the U.S. Constitution.

Please consider this excerpt from an article by Mark Tooley:

"Overall, federal spending per household has nearly tripled over the last 45 years. Shouldn't religious and moral leaders be concerned that the federal government's massive expansion is impeding not only economic growth but also the ability of churches and private charities to function fully in fidelity to their faith? Or do some of them see the Welfare and Entitlement State as ultimately a replacement for religion and charity? Maybe one of the most threatening corruptions of Big Government is its usurpation of the spiritual authority that rightfully belongs to religious institutions.

Responding to the failure of many church officials to question the morality and plausibility of an endlessly expanding federal government is a new coalition called "Christians for a Sustainable Economy (CASE)." It portrays endlessly expanding government and debt as potentially ruinous. "Compassion and charity for 'the least of these' is an essential expression of our faith, flowing from a heart inclined towards God," their inaugural statement declared. "And just as the love of God frees us for a more abundant life, so our charity must go beyond mere material provision to meet the deeper needs of the poor."

CASE warned that "to suggest that Matthew 25 -- or any commandment concerning Christian charity -- can be met through wealth redistribution is to obscure these truths." And it urged considering the "whole counsel of scripture, which urges not only compassion and provision for the poor but also the perils of debt and the importance of wise stewardship." Signatories to CASE's stance (including myself) are so far not so much senior church officials but theologians, ethicists, and lay activists. Check it out here.

In many moments of history, senior church prelates are stagnantly attached to the cultural status quo, however dysfunctional. Momentous social reforms usually arise from the lower ranks. Maybe CASE will signify a new groundswell among America's church goers for fiscal responsibility and a genuine concern for the needy rooted beyond a failing Welfare State.

The article in its entirety may be read at:  http://spectator.org/archives/...

"It strains logic" and "Christians preserved and passed on a story like this b/c their imaginations" wow, what an excellent prof. of religion and Christian education, someone who doesn't even believe in the Bible. And then this blasphemor lecture the Christian right about the politics of Jesus. It's hard to know where even to begin, but I can say simply, most Christians I know give and give to the orphanages etc. but don't like their money wasted on govt. programs that just ruin peoples' lives. Look at Indians and reservations or the Hood in any major city. Do you call this success? What is it with liberals in this country? The Christian right is a collection of great citizens who give of their own time and money for the poor way more than they do and yet they get so angry at the Christian right. Why? The major problem with liberals and progressives is they don't believe in anything, except their great wisdom and superiority over the rest of us. They sit in churches with Bibles they don't believe. They live in a country with a Constitution they think is irrelevant then lecture the rest of us to listen to their great oracles. Please, give me a Founding Father and the New Testament unfiltered any day...

You blashpheme the Bible two times in your article and yet are a prof. of religion and Christian ed? Oh my. What's the pt. when you don't believe? And then you lecture the Christian right? These are the people who give of their own money way more than the left (look it up) so why make them the enemy? Did govt. work with Indian reservations or inner city Detroit? They are obviously ruining people. It doesn't make you care more to want more govt!! I care deeply about people but unlike govt. I won't put good money after bad. Trust in the Lord Jesus (yes he is real) and repent of your jouvenile thoughts.

apples