Daily Beast Contributor: Conservatives Want 'Christ Out of Christmas'
Tis the season for liberals to bash conservatives as miserly Scrooges or, worse, as anti-Jesus, all because they endorse cutting back social welfare programs.
In his December 17 post, "It’s Conservatives Who Really Want Christ Out of Christmas," Daily Beast contributor Dean Obeidallah attacked what he insists is, "the glaring hypocrisy of the right" (emphases mine):
[T]hey want to keep “Christ in Christmas,” but they don’t want to keep Christ’s teachings in the policies they advocate. It’s as if there are two Jesus Christs. There’s the one in the Bible who advocates helping people in need, especially the poor. And then there’s the Jesus that conservatives worship, whose philosophy is to callously slash programs that help the less fortunate, from food stamps to health insurance to unemployment benefits.
I’m not a religious scholar, but it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in religious studies to comprehend the basic teachings of Jesus. The New Testament is filled with passages where Jesus implores his followers to care for the poor. Arguably the best known is Matthew 25:34-36, where Jesus discussed the importance of helping people in need: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Yet the same people who demand that we keep Christ in Christmas also support cutting programs advance Jesus’s philosophy. We saw that in September when House Republicans voted to slash $40 billion from the food stamps program. If this had become law, it would’ve result in nearly four million Americans being deprived of these desperately needed benefits. So much for the, “I was hungry and you gave me food.”Those leading the fight to keep Christ in Christmas need to answer this simple question. What do you think Jesus would care about more: feeding the hungry and caring for the sick or requiring that all Americans say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”? The answer is clear to anyone who has ever read the Bible.
Of course while Jesus would care more about feeding the hungry and healing the sick than how some store clerk greeted a shopper, Obeidallah failed to make his case that Jesus preached a social gospel heavy on tapping Caesar to supplant, let alone aid, the church's mission of mercy.
Indeed, reading of the Bible makes perfectly clear that Christ expects His followers to personally tend to the needs of the poor and needy, not to be content with government taxing them and using the tax monies to provide social welfare. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, the moral examplar of said Samaritan spent his own money and devoted his own time and resources to caring for the wounded stranger he happened upon on the road.
What's more, Christians can reasonably disagree about what extent, if any, that government at any level should be involved in the provision of social welfare. The Bible is not a political treatise, and Jesus's earthly ministry did not fixate on political questions. Indeed, when asked by Pharisees a trick question involving the duties of Jewish subjects to pay taxes to the occupying Roman government, Jesus simply insisted that one should "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
In a democratic republic where the people elect their own legislators, it's perfectly reasonable for Christians to be concerned with a rational prioritization of tax dollars and to fiscal sanity that preserves the nation's finances for following generations. Indeed, Christ said he came not to abolish the Law and the Prophets (the Old Testament) but to fulfill them, and the Old Testament has plenty of wisdom about responsible management of finances, principles that would be well for nations as well as individuals and families to heed.
But the simple fact of the matter is that Jesus will not be pigeonholed and hijacked for any political platform. The message of Christmas is ultimately political, but only in the sense that Jesus is the foretold Messiah, of whose kingdom it was prophesied there will be no end:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7, ESV)
It doesn't take a religious scholar to get that, and indeed, plenty of religious scholars -- particularly liberal and heterodox ones -- completely blow past it. But then again, there's a reason the angels announced the birth of Christ to lowly shepherds on the hills outside Bethlehem instead of the ruling elite -- including the priests and scribes -- in nearby Jerusalem.