Romney’s statement on poor out of context

Published 11:12 am Monday, February 13, 2012

These are difficult times for a person to run for political office without a lot of personal money because it costs a lot. These are difficult times for a person with a lot of money because it is held against the candidate, as Romney knows. Mitt Romney did not say or mean he has no concern about poor people but that the focus of his policy is on the middle class for whom provisions have not been made as they have for the poor.

(My disclaimer is again: I consider an issue at a time with greatest concern for accuracy and fair and honest assessment. I do not advocate anyone voting for Romney but to do so or not for valid reasons. I have here dismissed his religion as an issue, and I have asserting there is nothing politically or ethically suspicious about his tithing to his church.)

Now, the negative criticism he has received for a recent remark about poor people, reminds me of the invalid and unfair criticism of Jesus Christ and Christian churches for his statement, most often quoted from the King James Version: “For ye have the poor with you always…” (Mark 14:7).

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This has suffered opposite treatments. Some have paraphrased it: Don’t worry about the poor, because there is nothing you can do about them anyway. Others: Jesus was wrong in saying we should not worry about the poor and, so, we should do better than Jesus and make the gospel not about salvation but social justice. Both are mistaken in facts and wrong in conclusions.

The incident occurred in the village of Bethany just prior to Jesus’ execution, which only he sensed. This very setting dispels these extreme attitudes, because he was “in the house of Simon the leper.” Lepers were the poorest of the poor as well as social outcasts considered “unclean.” One disregards the narrative by claiming Jesus had no concern for the poor while in the very act of visiting the poor.

An unnamed woman respectfully and worshipfully anointed Jesus’ head with a costly substance, and some bystanders disingenuously objected that this could have been given to some poor person. Jesus intervened by pointing out she had a sense of priority in doing what she could when she could. Besides, he explained, “whenever you want, you can do good for them [the poor].”

Liberal Baptist theologian Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) coined the term and advocated the concept a “social gospel.” He was correct that many churches and individual Christians had become self-satisfied and remained insensitive to the desperate material needs of people around them. He was also right in that love from and for God leads to loving others and helping them with their needs. However, it is not right to abandon churches’ basic and essential purpose of salvation and spiritual maturing. To do so is to abandon the very mandate for social action cited, because it eliminates the strongest motivation for social action.

Jesus himself directed to “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to it” (Matthew 6:33). Again, it is a matter of priority. Lay the foundation for good works and then do them to ensure the works are good. This is, ensure the social action actually accomplishes needed good and is not merely social grandstanding or political correctness.

Some religious groups are so obsessed with their own sense of social justice they have ceased being religious at all. Some religiously liberal people have accused conservative evangelicals of lacking social consciousness. However much this might have been a valid suspicion fifty yeas ago, today’s facts just do not tolerate this presumptuousness.

A congenitally lame man approached the Apostles Peter and John in the Jerusalem temple expecting simply alms. Peter responded: “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6). However important is money, there is something crucial. It is the church’s job, I feel, to provide this, and it is this that leads to things that are merely important.

I have not forgotten Mitt Romney and his troubling statement. It, too, is a matter of priorities. Focus on where the need is greatest, and do not forget there are realities more important than money.