Who Would Jesus Starve?

On Wallbuilders Live yesterday, David Barton and company tackled the question posed by the “religious left” in the budget debate: “What would Jesus cut?

“The role of the government is not to exercise mercy, but to exercise justice. It is improper for government to take care of the poor. That is up to us, as individuals,” they said.

With guest Michael Youseff (active Islamophobe who recently wrote on his blog about the application of the Bible to government spending and the poor), Barton and his sidekick Rick Green invoked the framework for limited biblical jurisdiction developed and promoted by Rushdoony. They claimed that there are “205 (Bible) verses about taking care of the poor,” and asserted that “only one is directed to government” and that one requires no more than that they (the poor) be “treated fairly in court.”

This view is taken directly from Rushdoony, in which God has ordained three spheres of government and delegated limited authority to each: the family, the church, and the civil government (I have written more about that here). Each sphere has specific biblical responsibilities, and any action on issues outside those responsibilities is “tyrannical.”

More specifically, government action outside the limits of its biblical jurisdiction is the very definition of socialism (for Reconstructionists) which seeks “salvation through the state.” Rushdoony didn’t originate the idea of “sphere sovereignty” (for you church history buffs, it was Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd). But it is Rushdoony’s variation on the earlier versions that you find in contemporary usage, and it is Rushdoony and the Reconstructionists who have popularized it.

In the work of Rushdoony and other Reconstructionists, the responsibility to take care of the poor is limited to families and churches; and while Barton doesn’t follow through with the details of how Reconstructionists think this should work, it’s worth exploring. 

In addition to Rushdoony, Gary North, David Chilton, George Grant, and others have written on biblical law and poverty. One of the more accessible places to find their view is in George Grant’s volume in Gary North’s Biblical Blueprint series entitled Bringing in the Sheaves.

Grant explicitly links poverty with sin and disobedience to biblical law. The solution to poverty is to bring the poor under the authority of “Godly” institutions that can foster “obedience.” The “poor” are divided into those who are “denied the opportunity to work and those who refuse the opportunity to work.” And those who “will not work shall not eat.” But Grant develops even more stringent requirements:

Even more than these (hard work and diligence), though, obedience is required. Submission to the standards of the Kingdom is required… The eighth basic principle in the biblical blueprint for welfare is that only those who are either in God’s covenant or are dependent on God’s covenant may receive charity. The work of charity begins in the company of the faithful, but it then extends to-the four corners of the earth, to all who will submit to God’s Word.

Barton and Green assert that taking care of the poor is not the job of the government, but had nothing to say about how families and churches should do so. Yet the architects of the framework on which Barton bases his view are quite clear: biblical charity may extend to the four corners of the earth, but only to those who are in submission to biblical law as it is articulated by the Reconstructionists.

jingerso@unf.edu'

Julie Ingersoll is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Florida. She is the author of Evangelical Christian Women: War Stories in the Gender Battles and is currently writing a book on the influence of Christian Reconstructionism.