John Kasich's Passion for the Poor Is Rankling Conservative Christians

Photo: AP Photo/Tony Dejak
John Kasich's Passion for the Poor Is Rankling Conservative Christians
2016 Election


By Photo: AP Photo/Tony Dejak
Ohio’s governor John Kasich certainly won't be president, nor even receive the Republican party’s nomination in 2016. But if Kasich does throw his hat into the increasingly packed Republican primary ring (as some sources suggest he intends to do), the long-term outcome for American politics could be even better than a hypothetical win. This is because, unlike his Republican competitors, Kasich takes Christian politics very seriously.

Within the lore of conservative Christian politics, there is a line of questionable thinking regarding state-funded welfare that is far more recent than its proliferators make it seem. The story goes like this. While Jesus Christ undoubtedly promoted (if not commanded) charity and generosity toward the less-fortunate, He never said that the state should be the vehicle of these virtues. Further, the tale continues, because taxes are involuntary and welfare is funded with tax revenue, welfare doesn’t count as morally meaningful charity, which is what Jesus intended to inspire with His preaching on the poor. Thus, we are led to conclude, support for poor and vulnerable people should be transmitted voluntarily through the community, thanks to the good graces of generous individuals. Echoes of this reasoning resound in the anti-welfare rhetoric of Republican frontrunners from Rand Paul to Rick Perry.

It’s a good story if you want to avoid supporting social insurance programs without overtly sacrificing your Christian street cred. Unfortunately, it’s also theologically incoherent. First, it isn’t clear why politicians, whose job entails the just governance of citizens or subjects, should consider support for the poor an individual task. If Christian wedding cake bakers should be permitted to exercise the fullness of their Christian conscience in their work, why wouldn't politicians? Moreover, when politicians do seek to support the poor, it need not be solely under the banner of charity: Justice and order are fine enough reasons to make sure all people are stable and secure. Lastly, the right-wing, anti-welfare narrative is alien to historical Christianity, contemporary global Christianity, and the teachings of Jesus Himself. Candida Moss, an author and professor of Early Christian studies at Notre Dame, explained to me in an interview, “Jesus hasn't always been viewed as an anti-taxation figure. His famous statement about ‘rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s, rendering to God what is God's’ can easily be read as indicating that Christians should pay taxes. This idea that Christians shouldn't pay taxes is remarkably novel.”



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