A brief Bible study on SNAP benefits

Hi Joel,

This SNAP proposal is so detestable that I can hardly believe it. Which makes me think that it might not be believable. That is, the goal might not be to really legislate but to intimidate, to punish poor Americans (who tend to be more likely to vote Democrat) and to shame those on the border of poverty to accepting ever shittier wages and insecure jobs because, God forbid, you don’t want to need food stamps.

No debate about food stamps ever goes too far without someone from the Christian Right quoting 2 Thessalonians 3:10  (“Anyone unwilling to work should not eat,” which Lenin took up as a slogan, too.) which is weird, this advice is about how to be part of a small Christian enclave that was struggling to survive. Paul (or whoever wrote it in his name) never gave advice about governing a nation. His words were sound: If everyone who was able wasn’t working (which, like, literally, meant finding enough calories for everyone to survive), the endeavor would have toppled. Additionally, making sure that everyone was busy taking care of the community meant that there was less time for gossip and backbiting (other problems Paul had to address to such groups).

But he never tells the community that everyone must get a paying job. Throughout his letters, Paul admonishes people to take on different roles, to care for each other and especially for the young and old and ill. In fact, his advice in 3:10 shows us that the standard for the community was that everyone’s needs were met by the collective work of the group. His advice in 3:10 is about when Christians could be excused from that standard, which means he was affirming that real Christians should almost always be communalists.

Even if we wanted to apply his warning that “if any would not work, neither should he eat” to SNAP… well, we’ve done so by creating a system that is hard to game. People who receive SNAP benefits are people who are unable to work, either through illness or disability. More to the point, 40% of people receiving SNAP benefits DO work. We just pay them poorly in order to subsidize earnings for businesses and, by extension, stockholders. The fraud here is committed by employers who don’t pay enough for their workers to buy food.

Then there is this passage from 2 Thessalonians 3:14 that I hear informing the cruel politics of Republicans, though I never hear anyone quote it because that would be too honest:

Take note of those who do not obey…. [H]ave nothing to do with them, so that they may be ashamed.

The threat of hunger is terrible enough, but I fear that the larger goal is to further establish that these poor people are not part of us. They are not our problem because they are not ours. And I think that what really motivates this attitude isn’t the desire to make poor people not our problem but to make them not us. The poor are reviled not because they are a burden (We carry the burden of the rich all the time!) but because they remind us that you can work hard and still be poor. They are the evidence that this whole damned system doesn’t work like it pretends to. And we cannot look at that evidence because it would just call too much into question.

What did Jesus say about the matter?


Image result for jesus feeds the multitude in artAbove, The Feeding of the Five Thousand by Hendrik de Clerck. Some readings of this text argue that Jesus didn’t multiply fish but instead opened hearts. The real miracle was that he led the people around them to share their food with each other. Like Christians should do if they follow Jesus’ model. 

Well, he fed everyone. It was one of the things he was known for.

And he told us to do the same, without question.

And this is what God does for us and thus what we ought to do for others.

In Matthew 7, Jesus asks,

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?

It was a rhetorical question, but I’m not sure of today’s Republicans would understand that. 

Jesus continues:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

The implication here is that even evil people know how to care for the vulnerable who belong to them. 

I’m not sure where that leaves Republicans.



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