Coerced Compassion and the American Nightmare

This is my contribution to our local op-ed page in which assertions were made about what Jesus’ political affiliations might be, were he alive today.  Of course, he is alive today, and his affiliation is King of the World.  Nevertheless, here is my response to two local gents who differ with me.

It’s nice to see that Andy Schmookler, in his May 25 column, and Art

Fr. John Heaton
Fr. John Heaton

Costan, in his June 22 letter to the editor, are appealing to the Bible in support of their political agenda. When Christians like me do that, we’re routinely shouted down and told that the Bible is a hide-bound collection of condemnations of our culture’s cherished sins.

Except when it comes to caring for the poor. Political liberals

love Jesus, not because he saves them from their sins, but because his message is so easily hijacked into fitting their narrative of compassion. Indeed, Jesus indicted the political powers of his own day for their oppression of the poor. He taught that in his kingdom they would find compassion, justice and mercy because people in his kingdom, when they are shaped by the Gospel, tend to behave justly and compassionately.

Thus, Costan points out rightly that the early Christians were sharing communities. He overlooks the fact, however, that St. Peter himself declared that Ananias and Sapphira were free to do with their own goods as they pleased — voluntarily. They were not coerced by either the church or by Caesar. Nor were they struck dead for lack of generosity. Check your text; they were punished because they pretended to be more generous than they were and lied about it.

I don’t know any of Jesus’ followers today who are against helping the poor. I do know a bunch who resent a government that coerces compassion and pretends that it’s mercy. These are the same people who are least likely to vote for those who would perpetuate the charade and raise our taxes further. The moral demands of Christian faith become terribly twisted when they flow from the barrel of a gun. When Representative Jones extorts money from Citizen Smith so that Bureaucrat Bobby can give it to Smith’s neighbor — that’s not compassion; that’s not how mercy works. It buys food stamps, of course, and it buys Section 8 housing, and did I mention? It buys votes.

Come with me to downtown Lynchburg and I’ll show you what else it buys. It buys the American nightmare of multi-generational poverty, disconnected from successful education and meaningful work, and it locks in a permanent underclass which is contained in its own zip code nice and tidy. When the state takes our tax money and sends it down there, it doesn’t fix a problem, it just segregates it. It grants me the illusion that I can help the poor, and thankfully, makes it possible for me to avoid meeting poor people, to be offended by their dirty clothes or to put up with how they talk. I don’t actually have to personally give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. The state gives it in my name. In short, the whole arrangement is rigged so that I don’t have to have a relationship with them.

This is the tender mercy of state enforced compassion. I don’t object primarily because it increases my tax burden. I object because it is an obvious failure and it overlooks the core of Jesus teaching to love your neighbor, which means compassionate relationships. Helping the poor requires far more than the kind of giving that the state and its shiny coercion gun creates. But if you insist upon measuring compassion by money, who cares most? We can paint by the numbers here. When it comes to private philanthropy, private generosity, Americans are far more generous than Europeans. Inside America, the red states are far more giving than the blue states. Christians of every stripe are far more generous than secularists. Protestants are more generous than Catholics. And the evangelicals that Schmookler despises are way more generous than the Protestant mainliners. That’s a fact.

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