Alabama copes with Jesus

It’s Easter, and I would like to talk a bit about state government with my fellow Christians.
To my non-Christian readers and friends, I apologize. This is rude. I risk the insult in part because you might find the discussion of interest and in part because there aren’t many of you.
To my Christian readers, I say, the Lord is risen! We today celebrate the greatest of miracles, the confirmation that our great teacher who suffered the agony of the cross was also the son of God and our savior. His words — which seemed wise, if radical, before death — suddenly merited bold font and red ink.
We Christians disagree on much, but we agree on his teachings. We agree that we are to love not just our neighbors, but our enemies. We agree that we are to give to the poor without reservation and heal the sick. We agree that hoarding our material wealth is an impediment to salvation. We agree that if we fail to put Christ’s teachings into practice, we are like a man who built a house without a foundation.
Jesus, of course, was not speaking to a state, but to his followers. His Judaic local government spurned his actions and words. The Roman Empire was ruled by atheists and polytheists. The followers of Jesus had no control over the government or the policies it implemented.
Alabama is different. Self-proclaimed Christians represent between 85 and 94 percent of the population.
We are not a Christian state, because we wisely promised in our constitution not to use state government as an evangelical tool. But we are very much a state of Christians. We have exclusive control over the laws of Alabama, and we provide almost all of its funding.
If we are to live as Christ lived and to follow his teachings, how shall we govern?
Some would say we should give unflinchingly. Our first priorities should be to feed the hungry and heal the sick and comfort the stranger; only upon accomplishing those imperatives should we worry ourselves about the more mundane chores of running a state.
I’m more pragmatic and perhaps less Christ-like. I think we can accept Christ’s teachings — his mandates that we love our neighbor and provide for the needy — with a recognition of our limited resources and secular realities. We can recognize that taxes, if too high, can hurt everyone by preventing economic growth.
I take a pragmatic approach in juggling my faith and my view of how we should govern ourselves with some trepidation. At no point did Jesus suggest refraining from assisting the needy because, alas, the recipients might become dependent. He did not encourage the rich man to hold back some of his wealth and invest it, rather than giving it all to the poor, because in that way he could maximize his long-term giving. Nor, apparently, was he willing to acknowledge the many temporal advantages that could have come from avoiding the brutal, bloody anguish of death. His advocacy — for the poor, the stranger and for us — was unyielding.
If, as a state of Christians, we nonetheless accept an awkward compromise between faith and pragmatism, where does it lead us?
When it comes to Christ’s commandment to evangelize — a commandment we must follow without using the state — our frustration is obvious. It is only with the greatest reluctance that we refrain from Christ-centered prayers at government meetings. We want Christian emblems in our courts and schools. We want state-funded religious education. We constantly complain that the 94 percent of us who are Christians are hampered by a constitutional provision protecting the 6 percent of us who are not.
We are oddly silent, though, about Christ’s other commandments. We watch as our state officials reduce health care for the poor — already the worst in a nation of less Christian states — and we are quiet. Some of us even applaud. We make no complaint when funding is cut that would provide breakfasts to poor children who otherwise would go hungry. Even as we remember Christ’s focus on healing the mentally ill, we are detached when our state closes its mental hospitals.
We are not just passive, but enthusiastic, when our Christian-elected Legislature passes a law that “attacks every aspect of an illegal alien’s life,” even though most of those aliens came here to escape the extreme poverty of their former homes. Even though most are Christians and many are children. And even though Christ cared nothing for man-made borders, even when it came to Samaritans.
We justify our collective departures from Christ’s teachings by pointing at state resources, which are indeed scant. Yet we tolerate the most regressive tax system in the nation, one that burdens the poor, who are blessed, to benefit the rich.
My point is not that any of these issues are easy. Hampered by pragmatism, my faith does not lead me to the conclusion that we should welcome every immigrant and reform our tax system to the point that we can provide food, medicine and housing to every poor person.
But even on this day of rejoicing for my risen savior, I mourn. Why, as Christians who both control and finance our government, are we not straining to use it to provide for the poor and welcome the outcast?
Is Jesus weeping?,94083


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Filed under Alabama politics, Health care, immigration, Poverty, Religion

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