Was Jesus a small-government, free-market conservative, or a welfare-state advocating liberal? There seems to be a debate about what, if anything, the New Testament offers in terms of government policy. From NPR:
What would Jesus do with the U.S. economy?
That's a matter of fierce debate among Christians — with conservatives promoting a small-government Jesus and liberals seeing Jesus as an advocate for the poor.
After the House passed its budget last month, liberal religious leaders said the Republican plan, which lowered taxes and cut services to the poor, was an affront to the Gospel — and particularly Jesus' command to care for the poor.
Not so, says Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee. He told Christian Broadcasting Network last week that it was his Catholic faith that helped shape the budget plan. In his view, the Catholic principle of subsidiarity suggests the government should have little role in helping the poor.
"Through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities — through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community — that's how we advance the common good," Ryan said.
The best thing that government can do, he said, is get out of the way.
But Stephen Schneck, a political scientist at Catholic University, says he thinks Ryan is "completely missing the boat and not understanding the real heart, the real core, of Catholic social teaching."
Schneck says Catholicism sees everyone as part of a mystical body, serving one another. True, the New Testament does not specifically speak to the government's role. "But charities and individuals and churches can't do it all," Schneck says. "When charities are already stretched to their limit, Catholic social teaching expects the state to step up and to fill that gap."
A couple weeks ago I watched Bill Maher’s irreverent documentary Religulous, and something said by Rev. V. George Coyne, a Jesuit astronomer who formerly was head of the Vatican Observatory, stuck with me. He was speaking to the debate over creationism and evolution, and he noted that the bible was written at specific points in human history, thousands of years before any texts that would be considered part of what we now call modern science. His point: even if the bible stories offer great insight to the human condition and our relationship to God and one another, the authors never intended for them to be scientific documents.
I wonder if the same can be said about the bible relating to modern governance and economics? The bible offers invaluable insight about how we are to treat one another, but do the texts offer comprehensive models for modern governments to follow? Certainly bible scholars know better than me, but I imagine that for the early Christians, who more or less expected Christ’s second coming to be sooner rather than later, writing economic treatises was less important than proclaiming the good news of the Resurrection. Catholic Social Teaching in particular and Christian ethics in general should be an important and integral part of policy conversation, especially for those lawmakers who consider themselves Catholic, but it is never helpful for either side to claim that God is on their side.
Michael J. O’Loughlin