A Further Perspective

The Food Stamp Gospel

Many activists seem starved for attention protesting House efforts to return to 2010 spending levels.

By 9.27.13

Send to Kindle

According to some church officials, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has launched an attack on the poor by "cutting" $40 billion from food stamps. Typically unmentioned is that these "cuts" are reductions in increases over the next 10 years in a program that costs nearly $80 billion annually.

Also unmentioned usually is that food stamp recipients have increased by 70 percent since 2008, with 47 million Americans, or about 15 percent of the nation, now getting food stamps. The "cuts" reportedly would reduce food stamp spending to about 2010 levels.

Still, the churchly rhetoric against the "cuts" has been heated. “These immoral cuts are incongruent with the shared values of our nation,” insisted Jim Wallis of Sojourners, who called them "severe." He added: “They demonstrate the triumph of political ideology and self-interest over sound public policy and concern for the general welfare.”

Under the "cuts," total food stamp costs for the next 10 years reputedly would be $725 billion, or 57 percent larger than the $461.7 billion of the last decade, compared to the 65 percent increase currently scheduled.

According to the New York Times, the proposed "cuts" require adult recipients "between 18 and 50 without minor children to find a job or to enroll in a work-training program in order to receive benefits." They would also "limit the time those recipients could get benefits to three months," when "currently, states can extend food stamp benefits past three months for able-bodied people who are working or preparing for work as part of a job-training program."

The "cuts" also would limit access to food stamps by recipients of other social welfare programs and would allow states to drug test and cut off lottery winners.

In response, the Presbyterian Church (USA) lobby office pronounced the "cuts" to be "devastating" and "doubling the malice." Bread for the World, a church supported lobby, denounced the "cuts" as a "devastating attack" that will "gut" food stamps and "increase suffering" for 47 million Americans. Another church supported lobby, Faith in Public Life, bewailed the "draconian cuts." The National Council of Churches condemned the "cuts" as "short sighted and cruel." Such "cuts" assault the "values Jesus embodied," according to the head of the American Baptist Church.

According to Christian Churches Together in the USA: "The Bible calls us to care for our neighbor and remember ‘the least of these,'" a principle these "cuts" egregiously "violate." A Lutheran relief official lamented the "cuts" as "morally indefensible" and "simply inexcusable." The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (Catholic) claimed the House bill "denies our cultural values and violates the tenants of our faith."

The National Association of Evangelicals and the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops also oppose the "cuts" but did not rhetorically equate them with attacks on God's Kingdom. Nearly all of these groups collectively denounced the "cuts" through the resurrected "Circle of Protection," which emerged during the 2011 debt ceiling crisis to effectively side with President Obama, with whom they met, against Congressional Republicans, rejecting limits on spending for social welfare and entitlement programs. By implication, they favored tax increases and military cuts.

Jim Walls was a prime organizer of the Circle. He insists "it is impossible to read the Bible and not recognize God’s abiding concern for the hungry and vulnerable," which is certainly true, properly understood. And he always quotes the Gospel of Matthew as the divine endorsement of Big Government: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in."

Wallis and company never quote St. Paul's admonition: "If you don't work, you don't eat." The biblical view of compassion understands humans as moral beings, not just victims, who need not just assistance when afflicted, but also encouragement towards labor, and discouragement away from dependency.

Enormous increases in food stamp spending have included stories of yuppies spending food stamps at Whole Foods, and college students resorting to food stamps as supplemental income. Many recipients no doubt need help. But it's likely that many of the 47 million need to help themselves more.

Welfare State religionists seem never to admit any ceiling to proper social spending and to fear any proposed limits to government programs as attacks on the poor. The ostensibly devastating "cuts" to food stamps will only allow growth of 57 percent. Does Gospel fidelity require doubling or tripling the spending instead? And why stop there?

Jesus purportedly favors government's constantly increasing control. Does He not affirm any brakes on state power or have no concern for unending welfare's impact on the souls of individuals, communities, and nations? Are these church food stamp enthusiasts never willing to consider alternatives to chronic dependency?

Neither the Gospel nor the poor are well served by church officials who think the height of Christian charity is for government merely to write larger checks.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.