The Idolatry of Politics
by Rev. Dustin Bartlett
Custer Community Church
The church I serve, the Custer Community Church, has been running a month-long food drive to support our local food pantry. It has, by any measure, been an enormous success. We’re on track to collect 2,000 pounds – literally a ton of food – for the food pantry. Everyone is participating. As a pastor, I was proud of the church’s efforts, so I put a picture of all the food we collected on our church’s Facebook page.
Most people who saw the post were enthusiastic, applauding our church’s effort to feed the hungry. But amid the enthusiasm and applause, one person’s comment stood out. It read:
“Here’s a suggestion. Don’t feed the community. Support business and industry so people can get jobs and feed themselves.”
I deleted the comment because it wasn’t helpful to build enthusiasm for the mission work our church was doing. And because who in the H-E-double-hockey-sticks asked for his opinion anyway. But that comment is symptomatic of a larger issue – increasingly, people’s politics are influencing their faith when it should be the other way around.
Now, I want to be clear that I am all for giving people a job. Having meaningful work to do gives people a sense of pride and dignity. And I totally see the wisdom of “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” The only problem is, “Give a man a fish…” doesn’t actually appear anywhere in the Bible (even though a lot of people think it does). It originated in a late 19th century English novel titled, “Mrs. Dymond.”
What does appear in the Bible are countless admonitions to feed hungry people. From the ancient Israelites being told not to harvest all their grain, but to leave a bit in the field for poor people and immigrants (Lev. 23:22) to the prophets’ warnings that God will judge nations by how they treat the poor (Isa. 58, Ezek. 18, Mic. 6, Am. 2, etc.) to St. James writing that true religion is caring for widows and orphans (James 1:27) to Jesus telling his disciples that when we feed a hungry person, we feed a hungry Christ (Matt. 25:31-46), the Bible is clear – so long as there are hungry people in God’s world, God’s people are supposed to be feeding them.
And that’s where I take issue with the gentleman’s comment – “Don’t feed the community.” That’s neo-liberalism. It’s laissez faire economics. It’s not Christianity. And we cannot serve two masters.
I’m all for a more just and inclusive economy in which every person who is able to work is able to find a job that pays a living wage. But until that day comes, we’re going to keep feeding hungry people… because Jesus did it first.