How House Republicans Are Preaching A False Gospel About Food Stamps
BY JACK JENKINS, GUEST BLOGGER ON SEPTEMBER 25, 2013 AT 2:30 PM
As lawmakers on Capitol Hill continue to battle over whether or not to cut funding for federal food assistance programs, House Republicans are wielding a bizarre new weapon in their attempt to gut government services that help the poor: bad Bible skills.
Last Friday, Kevin Tengesdal, a Bismark, North Dakota-based actor and activist, posted a comment on the official Facebook wall of Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) criticizing the congressman’s recent vote to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – or SNAP, also known as food stamps – by $39 billion dollars. Tengesdal appealed to the lawmaker’s Christian faith by quoting Matthew 25: 36-43, a biblical passage in which Jesus compels his followers to, among other things, feed the hungry. Cramer responded by posting a Bible verse of his own—2 Thessalonians 3-10: “For even when we are with you, we would give you this command: If you are not willing to work, let him not eat.”
As North Dakota faith bloggers were quick to point out, Cramer was taking the passage wildly out of context. The author of 2 Thessalonians was not condemning the poor, but rather attempting to convince ancient Christians who had become idle in anticipation of Jesus’ Second Coming to get back to work, lest their neighbors “look down on the new Christians with suspicion.”
Cramer’s sloppy theology is only the latest in a series of attempts by Republican House members to use the Bible to justify cutting programs that help feed the poor. Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) also cited the 2 Thessalonians passage to support cutting SNAP at a hearing in May, a move that was widely condemned by religion writers, Tennessee faith leaders, and faith-based activists such as Rev. Jim Wallis of the Sojourners, a Christian advocacy group. Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) quoted Ephesians 2:8-9 at the same meeting, erroneously arguing that scripture instructs followers to care for the poor only as individuals instead of through government programs. Finally, in September, Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI) went so far as to publicly reprimand Sister Simone Campbell—a Catholic nun and executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby—as she testified before House Budget Committee on the merits of government programs such as SNAP.