N.C. Harrison takes issue with former Cincinnati mayor Ken Blackwell’s claims of a scriptural basis for cutting off food stamp assistance.
Ken Blackwell, an architect of George W. Bush’s narrow political victory in 2004 and former mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio, has stirred a little bit of controversy lately with some of his comments on food stamps. It wasn’t his actual commentary on them that proved controversial. No, claiming that you are in favor of cutting off a necessary source of nourishment for families with children is not considered problematic at all by the mainstream media or public at large. The controversy, rather, lay in his claiming that there was “nothing more Christian” than food stamp cuts and that, by implication, this was something that Jesus would have been on board with.
Even as a recent graduate of a famously conservative evangelical seminary, I viewed this as more than a “usual” unusual. In Luke 18:16, Jesus said (my paraphrase), “Allow the little children to come to me; do not keep them away. This is the essence of God’s Kingdom.” Although there is a certain amount of debate over what almost any biblical verse can say, as these texts were written at least two millenia ago in a different language, no interpretation takes this to mean that Jesus was saying, “You know what? Put those little boogers to work or let them starve. Man, I hate kids. Get them the heck off my lawn and keep them off the lawn of the many mansions you will have in my Father’s house.” He just didn’t mean that. Likewise, when He compared the lilies of the field to Solomon in all that proud king’s glory, He found the lilies to be superior, not the king. He manifestly did not say, “Man, you know those lilies? I hate those things. I’m going to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.” Joni Mitchell said that. Sarcastically.
I was, to put it mildly, upset by all of this horrible misuse of my faith and the message of my Rabbi and Messiah. This was not some simple difference between consubstantiation and transubstantiation, a question which had once been considered pressing enough to bring about a halfway depopulation of the Holy Roman Empire. Considering how radically opposed to the message of Jesus this call to defund food stamp programs and to rely on the inherent goodness of mankind for charity really was, I was–and still am–wrestling with calling it actually blasphemous, coming as it does from a fellow believer like Mr. Blackwell. When I finally figured out how I was going to word this I decided to put it it, in no uncertain terms, on Facebook like a good little member of Generation Y should.
And yet I ended up softening my message considerably–and still have, all things considered. There are people in my family, people I love quite a great deal, who for reasons unknown to me actually side with Mr. Blackwell and believe, to one degree or another, that food stamps are actually a bad thing. Maybe they don’t understand how important this stuff is to hard working folks (and, in one case, a well-educated white-collar couple with whom I’m friends), or maybe they’re just not the people I think I know… I just can’t say. I do know that I wouldn’t want to hurt these people, and never would, especially not for the sake of something as silly as a political fight.
I remembered, at this point, a tale from my undergraduate years in a class on political behavior. A young lady and I spent much of the semester together crunching numbers, poring over maps, arguing loudly until we laughed louder, drinking way too much coffee and passing notes during lectures. Our professor joked that we needed a cable news show. I came to really like every short skirted, blonde, blue-eyed Republican inch of her and asked her out to dinner one night. “But…but I can’t!” she said. “You’re a Democrat!” This is when I realized that some interactions, like those between man and woman–especially those involving kissing–are so deep and primal that they go well beyond party affiliation. I vowed at this point that I would never let ideology damage the bonds of human affection. Ideology, I decided, was for the birds.
Some things, however, are even more fundamentally important than the bonds of affection: those of authenticity to the core of one’s own being. Will I be a good man in my own way, as this whole website suggests I’m trying to be, or cop out and be a bad one for the sake of it being easier? Jesus tells His talmidim in Matthew 10:33, and I consider myself a devout disciple of His, that He brings us not peace but a sword of conflict into our lives. Being true to His message, in the best way that I can, will be painful from time to time–even many times, if John 15:18-21 is to be believed. That’s why I finally went ahead and called it as I saw it–called out Ken Blackwell’s comments for what I thought they were–but I’m still not comfortable with it. I’m not perfect, nowhere near it, and probably won’t ever feel comfortable with language that strong.