Commentary: When Did Cutting Food Stamps And Health Care Become Christian?

Christian voices on the right should be demanding that our country stand up for the poor and the powerless. 

Posted: 09/20/2013 02:05 PM EDT

This Sunday morning, millions of Americans will stream into churches all across the country. They'll dress up in their Sunday best, sit down in cushioned pews, listen to their pastors, read from the Bible and then go home and become some of the most selfish people in the world.

No, I'm not talking about all churchgoers. I'm talking about what used to be called the Christian right, a decades-long movement of conservative people of faith that has redefined Christianity into a belief system Jesus would surely never recognize.

Many of these Christian conservatives have taken up residence in the modern Republican Party, an odd choice considering how the party has demonstrated its Christian values lately.

Just this week, House Republicans voted to slash billions of dollars in food stamp assistance to 3.8 million Americans. The move comes in the same week in which Republicans voted for the 41st time to deny health care coverage to millions of uninsured people. And while GOP leaders push to slash funding for schools, job training and seniors, they still plan to cut tax rates for rich corporations and wealthy investors.

In what Bible is this considered Christian?

Instead of helping the poor and needy, modern conservative Christians have turned the teachings of Jesus on their head. It was Christian conservative presidential candidate Rick Santorum who last year proposed a plan to cut taxes on the rich while actually raising taxes on single mothers. And despite all their talk about the benefits of tax cuts, GOP lawmakers opposed the payroll tax cut this year that would have helped millions of ordinary working Americans who receive their income from paychecks instead of stock dividends.

When it comes to abortion, these conservatives have labeled themselves pro-life, but when it comes to almost everything else, they've endorsed a culture of violence. It was conservative Phyllis Schlafly, for example, who argued "the atomic bomb is a marvelous gift that was given to our country by a wise God." And despite the shooting of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December, conservatives blocked legislation in April for universal background checks on gun purchases. Even after a gunman killed 12 innocent people at Washington's Navy Yard shooting this week, the right-wing continues to oppose common sense efforts to keep dangerous weapons away from people who shouldn't own them.

What would Jesus do?

Regardless of whether you believe in using religion as a justification for public policy, it's hard to imagine Jesus would cut taxes for the rich, raise taxes on the poor, deny health care to the sick, take food from the hungry, arm the angry and praise a weapon of mass destruction as a gift from God. But these are all principles advocated by prominent conservatives who call themselves Christian.

In the past few decades, Christian conservatives have become more focused on abortion and homosexuality than on Jesus' teachings. They used to find support for their agenda from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, but this week even Pope Francis questioned his own church's obsession with such narrow social issues. "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods," the pope said. "When we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context," he added.

Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus condemn abortion or homosexuality, but he repeatedly admonishes his followers to help the poor and the needy. This sentiment seems lost on today's Christian conservatives, who have instead remade their religion in the shape of their own privileged image — mostly white, mostly male, mostly southern, mostly American and definitely mostly Republican.  

It's a movement that started with Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority in the 1980s and evolved into Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition in the 1990s. By 2004, they helped re-elect George W. Bush, preying on the public's twin fears of Muslim terrorists hijacking planes and gay couples getting married in neighborhood churches.

Over the years, these conservatives have learned to use the Bible as a weapon of fear rather than a tool for love. Now it's time for good people of conscience in the conservative movement to challenge them. There once was a time when conservatives like Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp could at least support the earned income tax credit to lift Americans out of poverty. But Today's Tea Party crackpots view the working poor as mere "moochers" and 'takers."

That raises a lot of questions.

When did this selfish, me-first, anti-poor attitude become Christian? Where are the Christian voices on the right demanding our country stand up for the poor and the powerless? Do these people still exist in the Republican Party? Are they afraid to challenge the orthodoxy? Or are they all too busy comforting the rich and the powerful?

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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