Jesus announces his ministry as “Good News for the Poor” (Luke 4:18). House Republicans have released their budget and one thing is clear: this budget is “good news for the rich” and bad news for the poor and middle class.
Prominent religious leaders immediately issued a statement, “denouncing” the GOP budget for “its immoral cuts and irresponsible tax breaks for millionaires and corporate special interests.”
These religious leaders are exactly right to condemn this budget as “immoral.” This year’s GOP budget, like last year’s, is far more revealing of the ‘Gospel According to Ayn Rand’ than of the values held by Jesus of Nazareth. The new budget keeps the Bush tax cuts in place, and reduces tax rates to only 2, 10 and 25 percent, though who exactly pays what rate is not revealed. Medicare ends in its current form, corporate tax rates are also cut, Health Care Reform is gone, and student loans are reduced to 2008 levels. What kind of choice does that present to Americans?
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is on the stump for this new GOP budget in campaign style. There is a déjà vu feeling to this, as many of the so-called solutions are the same, the favor the rich and balance the budget on the poor and middle class ideas that were revealed last year. Ryan claims this will create jobs, but will it?
“I don’t care” about the unemployment rate, said Rick Santorum, currently the GOP presidential candidate of choice of conservative evangelical voters. It’s probably the case that Santorum is saying what he thinks, that he does not care about unemployment, yet Christian evangelicals flock to Santorum.
The choice between the biblical values of “good news for the poor” as announced by Jesus, and the “good news for the rich” of GOP fiscal proposals should be an easy one for Christians across the spectrum from liberal to conservative. But it’s not, as is clear from many polls. Why not?
The support of conservative Christian evangelicals for Santorum, and for GOP fiscal policies in general, rises despite such statements about not caring about unemployment. That’s because, more than any other shift in recent decades, the strong redefinition of the core of the Gospel message away from Jesus’ explicit announcement that his ministry was about “good news for the poor” toward merging biblical values with so-called “family values” defined as anti-gay, anti-abortion, and now, even anti-contraception, is the key to explaining this support. Conservatives have managed to merge conservative fiscal ideas with ‘support for the family.’ Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council says evangelicals are interested in both social and fiscal issues. Jobs and the ability of putting food on the table, he says, are all connected to the well-being of the family.
Actually, that’s true. The well-being of the American family does depend on our economic prosperity. It’s just that conservative fiscal policies are actually in conflict with the well-being of the average family. The new GOP budget does not favor the majority of Americans, it favors the rich by giving them huge tax breaks. These giant tax breaks will blow “ a hole in the federal budget, [and] the GOP will have to make up lost revenue by raising taxes on the poor and middle class (or by ending tax breaks that primarily benefit them)” or by gutting the programs that benefit women, infants and children the most.
Again, that’s not “good news for the poor,” as Jesus taught. That’s “good news for the rich” and bad news for everybody else, especially the American family.
It is long past time to call out these conservatives on what Jesus of Nazareth actually taught about money and the economy. Conservative political and economic values are completely contradicted by the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and there’s no doubt about that. None.
An On Faith panelist and former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.