I’m going to be honest with you – the past couple years have been really disheartening for me as a believer and follower of Jesus. Not because of Jesus – no, Jesus is more dear to me now than ever before. As I get older and spend year after year getting to know Jesus better, I am completely overwhelmed by His perfect marriage of justice and mercy, by His unconditional love, by His lavish mercy, by His invitation to everyone everywhere to follow Him and bask in His love. No, it’s not Jesus who has broken my heart and disappointed me at my very core in a way that is difficult to explain. I have been thinking a lot about Gandhi’s words about Jesus and those who bear His name – (at least these words have been attributed to Gandhi, though he may not have been the one to say them) –
“I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
As I watch a certain segment of the Christian population, my soul cries out, “Same, Gandhi. Same.”
After the long campaign season and now 14 months into the Trump Presidency, I still cannot wrap my brain around the support that this President receives from so many conservative Christians. I just don’t get it.
Each day, it seems, I am reading or hearing some new proposal from the Trump Administration that will hurt or oppress poor people. I actually said to someone the other day that it seems like our President is intentionally targeting poor people to harm and further disenfranchise and oppress them. Let’s look at some of the policies or proposals President Trump has made — and this is not an exhaustive list.
• This administration has rolled back several protections to keep working class people safe on the job. These rollbacks expressly affect offshore oil and gas workers, construction workers, coal miners, farm workers, and other workers in physically dangerous jobs where they are likely to be injured.
• President Trump’s National Labor Relations Board appointees have overruled or delayed implementation of Obama-era regulations, making it more difficult for workers to bargain with employers for better working conditions and better wages and making it easier for employers to undermine unions.
• President Trump’s proposed tax plan offered huge cuts to corporations and foreign investors and the top 1% of earners while working people would enjoy only temporary cuts, if any, and would ultimately pay more.
• The Trump Administration proposed a rule that would give employers access to employees’ tips. This would allow employers to pay workers minimum wage and pocket all the tips the employees earned.
• President Trump signed an executive order that would increase healthcare premiums for working-class citizens, weaken coverage for pre-existing conditions, and encourage junk plans that hurt people more than they help.
• President Trump derailed an Obama Administration policy that extended overtime protection to 4.2 million Americans. Experts estimate that each day without that policy, American workers would lose about $3.3 million in wages.
• In August of 2017, the Trump Administration did away with a requirement to include pay data in the information employers must report to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Without this data, we have no idea how wide the gender and racial pay gaps are in this country.
• This administration has rolled back anti-discrimination policies.
• President Trump’s proposed budget threatened to cut programs for poor coal-mining communities and programs for job training and placement services for people in poverty.
• President Trump’s proposed budget threatened to end Medicaid as we know it, de-funding programs that help disabled people to live independently and work outside their homes.
• President Trump and his Education Secretary proposed a budget that would make massive cuts to student aid for lower-income college students and that would end after-school and summer programs for low-income younger children. Their proposals would eliminate community schools that provide for the physical, emotional, and social needs of students in addition to the educational needs. Their proposed budget would eliminate funding to reduce class size and improve teaching quality. Finally, their proposals would fund school vouchers, which ultimately hurt the poorest and neediest of children.
• Current census data shows that more than 12% of the US population lives in poverty, with around 6% living in what’s called “deep poverty.” With President Trump’s and the Republicans’ proposed cuts to social welfare and education and healthcare, a UN Human Rights Council independent expert estimates that those numbers would rise significantly.
Poor people are incarcerated at a greater ratio, are more at risk for multiple diseases, have less education, and do not have the same opportunities to influence public policy as wealthier Americans do. And policies that cut off opportunities for people to get out of poverty and create more opportunities to fall into poverty will only cause further harm. If a powerful leader can force people into poverty or keep them in poverty, he can wield even more power over them. Poverty leads to oppression.
As I watch professing Christians defend and support this administration and as I watch Republican leaders who claim to be Christians proposing these budgets and policies, I must judge their agendas against the only measuring stick I know to be true — the Bible. The Bible reveals God’s heart for people, including God’s heart for poor, needy, and oppressed people. So what does the Bible say?
• Proverbs 31:8-9 – Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.
• Proverbs 22:22-23 – Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the LORD will take up their cause
• Proverbs 14:31 – Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.
• Psalm 9:9 – The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble
• Psalm 12:5 – “Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the LORD. “I will protect them from hose who malign them.”
• Psalm 140:12 – I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.
• Psalm 72:4 – May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor.
• Isaiah 1:17 – Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
• Isaiah 10:1-3 – Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches?
• Zechariah 7:8-10 – And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’
• 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 – “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
• Isaiah 58:6-7 – Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
This is God’s heart for the poor. God is the defender of the poor and needy. God rises up to protect them, to uphold their cause. And what does God want from God’s people? That we would seek the good of others and not only of ourselves, that we would show mercy and compassion, that we would work for good and not for evil, that we would fight for true justice. That we would love others just as we love ourselves.
And I know some followers of Jesus will say that it’s the Church’s job to take care of the poor, not the government’s job. But if you think that banning gay marriage and giving businesses the right to discriminate and having a manger scene on government property during December will make this country a Christian country, but it isn’t the government’s job to protect the poor and the disabled and the needy and the working class, then I call hypocrisy in the highest degree. Because over and over and over again in the Bible, God shows us what God wants us to do. And none of it has anything to do with gay marriage or legalized discrimination or manger scenes or crosses or displays of the Ten Commandments or prayer in schools. None of it. Not one bit.
If I want to reflect God’s heart to the world, if we really want to be the Body of Jesus Christ at work in this world, then we will prioritize what God prioritizes. We will care about the things God cares about. And it is extremely clear in the Bible that God cares about the poor and oppressed. And it is extremely clear in the Bible that God expects us to care about the poor and oppressed too.
And I don’t see how anyone can support President Trump’s policies and claim to care about the poor and oppressed. The two are mutually exclusive.