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Shane Claiborne’s Budget Babbling

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Writing for the Huffington Post, Shane Claiborne is also asking “What Would Jesus Cut?” I’m still opposed to the whole notion of reducing Christ to budget director, as my earlier post points out. But Jesus as Secretary of Defense of the United States or rather, Jesus as secretary of peace as proposed by Congressman Dennis Kucinich is equally unhelpful. Mark Tooley, president of IRD, has already weighed in on Shane Claiborne’s not so brilliant drafting of Jesus for president.

As a signer of “A Call for Intergenerational Justice,” one should assume Claiborne is serious about deficit reduction. We should take him at his word, but what about defense spending for deficit reduction and the proper role of government? And as John has already pointed out in his post, and what everybody should know, is that defense cuts alone will not balance the budget.

There are responsible conservative lawmakers, like U.S. Congressman Justin Amash from right here in West Michigan, that have rightfully said defense cuts should be on the table as part of plan for fiscal responsibility. In terms of the proper role of government, defense spending is a clear federal mandate for taxing and spending (Article 1, Section 8). The constitution should still be relevant, and one could assume we may not be in the same spending mess we are in right now if it was taken more seriously.

Claiborne says, “Even though the 533 billion dollar military budget is the elephant in the room and the gushing, bleeding wound of America’s deficit … it has been the sacred cow.”

This is what is unhelpful, and Mark Tooley has already pointed this out in his own response to “What Would Jesus Cut?”, that “probably Claiborne doesn’t know that ‘programs of social uplift’ have out expensed defense for 40 years, starting with the Nixon Administration.” Defense spending is 20 percent of the annual budget, while Medicare and Medicaid takes up 23 percent of the budget and social security is 20 percent as well, but tack on another 12 billion in annual dollars. Claiborne says “As Dr. [Martin L.] King said, ‘A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” But this is clearly not the case as Clairborne just pulled out a pithy maxim without ever looking at any real numbers.

Tooley also makes a good point about Claiborne’s Anabaptist tradition as well:

Claiborne, an Anabaptist, is author of Jesus for President, a 2008 book describing government as the biblical Whore of Babylon. Oddly, many neo-Anabaptists ferociously denounce government as demonic, almost sounding Libertarian, while still demanding more and more government for politically correct social programs.

Claiborne believes America is the evil imperialist par excellence. But why is it then okay for God to ordain that same ‘evil’ state to fill the bellies of the masses and provide for their every social need through government fiat?

This brings up a good point about rhetoric versus reality. The nuclear freeze crowd of the 1980s hyperventilated across the United States and Western Europe with help from Moscow because Ronald Reagan was strengthening the NATO alliance by sending nuclear Pershing II missiles into Europe. Reagan’s efforts were disastrous for the Soviet Union, and the peace he achieved dwarfed the objectives of the same old arms agreements advocated by the nuclear freeze movement.

Perhaps, “A Call for Intergenerational Justice” would have been better served without the inclusion of such names as Jim Wallis and Claiborne. Serious matters call for a more serious discussion. I reviewed The Scandal of Evangelical Politics by Ronald Sider, who is also a signer of “A Call for Intergenerational Justice.” Still left of center, Sider praised market forces, saying, “On balance, a market economy respects human freedom better, creates wealth more efficiently, and tends to be better at reducing poverty.”

Claiborne can make no such statement. He seems to view the free-market as a construct of an evil imperialistic American empire. Markets seem only useful to him in the context of underpaid enlisted military men and women selling cookies to buy their uniforms. Claiborne may have something worthwhile to say every once in a while, his bio is interesting to say the least, but on budget matters and defense spending he’s clearly babbling.

Ray Nothstine is opinion editor of the the North State Journal in Raleigh, North Carolina. Previously, he was managing editor of Acton Institute's Religion & Liberty quarterly. In 2005 Ray graduated with a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in Oxford.


  • Patrick Powers

    Why would the Son of God and King of Kings want to be President, much less a bureaucratic functionary?

  • The Pershing deployment weakened, did not strengthen, the NATO alliance. The USSR collapsed because its economic system didn’t work.

    These are facts. You are entitled to believe that the USSR would have survived without an arms race, but that would evidence a faith in Communism with which few if any Russians would agree.

  • Jeff

    Matthew 22:15-22 details Jesus’ view toward paying taxes. “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” But in Matthew 6:1-4 he discusses his view about giving to the needy. “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.”

    As we are required to give taxes to the State which are then transferred to the needy, the State is, essentially, stealing our giving. We SHOULD be giving to the needy in such a way that the credit goes to God. Our current government social programs redirect the credit to Uncle Sam. It is a broken model that actually removes Jesus from our culture.

    What if, hypothetically, we cut taxes by 10% with the understanding that all of the people would give that 10% to minister in the Lord’s name? Assuming that gov’t programs and Christian service programs are equally effective (a BIG assumption) then the benefit to society would be equal. But, the relationship between the needy and the gov’t would change as would the relationship between the needy and the Christian community. The needy would be drawn to Christ and would reject the State.

    What Would Jesus Cut? Virtually all of the social programs if they are keeping people away from him.

  • Roger McKinney

    I welcome the talk about what Jesus would do because it should force people to actually study the Bible. Claiborne and Wallis will win superficial approval because they think Jesus had nothing on his mind but taking from the rich and giving to the poor.

    But a closer examination, Jesus wouldn’t do any such thing. During his stay on earth Jesus was not a wonk. He did not proclaim new political initiatives as Wallis and Claiborne insist. He told individual Christians how to be a follower of him.

    If you want policy, you have to go back to the only policy Jesus ever wrote – the Torah, as I have written before. In the only government that God ever created (this would be a good point to ask Wallis and Claiborne if they believe Jesus was God), there was no welfare state at all. There was no legislative branch and no executive branch. There were only judges and the priesthood to teach the law.

    While Jesus told Israelis how to take care of the poor in the Law, he provided no enforcement mechanism. In other words, he made it voluntary. Even Jubilee was voluntary. And Jubilee was nothing like socialist redistribution of wealth. It enhanced private property rights by forbidding Israelis to sell their land. All they could do was lease it for 49 years. Jubilee highlighted God’s treatment of private property as holy.

  • Ray

    Some very good comments follow this post. Thank you.

    Although, Randall I hate to be nitpicky, but I don’t how you can say it was a fact that the NATO alliance was weakened with the deployment of Pershing II missiles when all the NATO leaders said the exact opposite.

    Even France’s Socialist president and no big fan of Reagan, Francois Metterrand, was a supporter of deployment. West Germany’s Helmut Kohl and England’s Thatcher stood with Reagan. The plan to deploy the missiles was actually just a follow through on a promise from the Carter administration. It had wide agreement among European leaders and was largely seen as crucial to strengthening any future bargaining agreement with the Soviets. The deployment of the superior Pershing missiles was only a response to the deployment of Soviet SS-20 missiles.

    Reagan’s actions scared the Soviets because here was a president who was actually backing his words with action. Instead of a weak Europe and NATO, the leaders were now unified and speaking with one voice. The Soviet Union’s strategy was to crack the alliance and it failed.

    The only point I was making was that peace through strength was a very pro-active and successful policy when weighed against unchecked Soviet aggression, which is what the peace movements and freeze movements supported with direct and indirect support from the Kremlin. The deployment was unpopular among large segments inside the population of NATO countries, but in no way did it weaken the mission or purpose of NATO.

  • Mary

    A well written article Ray.

  • a couple of things: 1) there was a requirement for caring for the poor in ancient Israel. the first requirement was the Poor Tithe. The second was gleaning. Farmers were required by law to only go through their field ONCE, and to leave the corners unharvested…so that the poor could WORK and collect food for their use. 2) Israel could not sell her land because the “Land was the Lord’s and the fullness thereof…” The value of the land brought about wealth for all in Israel.

    Were this belief in the common ownership of the Land to be applied to our country (as proposed by Henry George, the Christian economist of the 1800s), much of the poverty (if not all of it) we have in this country would be eradicated…and the free markets would function without the barriers caused by taxes on profits.

  • Roger McKinney

    Ed, actually Jubilee did not promote common ownership, but emphasized private property. The owner of the land could not sell it, but leased it for 49 years. However, none of it was owned in common.

    Yes, poor laws existed, but what was the enforcement mechanism? Could a poor person take a neighbor to court and sue for not receiving enough from his neighbor? No. The laws were voluntary.

  • Claiborne fan

    While Claiborne does address military spending and budgets, the larger point I took away from Jesus for President is about how we choose to live our lives otuside that system. He challenges us to not merely VOTE for our values, but to make daily decisions, economically, personally, etc, that reflect the values and love of Christ.

  • Roger McKinney

    Why is it that Claiborne and Wallis remind me of the incident when the wealthy woman poured expensive oil on Jesus’ feet and washed them with her hair? Judas protested that the money could have gone to the poor and Jesus rebuked him.

    Yes, giving to the poor is a litmus test for our love of God. But it isn’t the only litmus test. Wallis and Claiborne want to make Christianity about nothing but giving to the poor as if God is not concerned about anything else.

    What about providing jobs? Taxing the rich and giving to the poor reduces job creation because it reduces investment. Why don’t Wallis and Claiborne put any value on creating jobs for the poor so they won’t continue to be poor?

    And what about voluntary giving? Forced redistribution of wealth is not voluntary at all. It is compulsion. Where is the virtue in that?

  • Roger raises a relevant question that Ray has posed around the office in this context: “What Would Judas Cut?”

  • Roger McKinney

    I like that: what would Judus cut?!

    I often compare the Biblical prescription for poverty alleviation (charity) with Biblical medicine. The Bible has nothing more to say about healing sick people than praying and anointing with oil. So do modern Christians stop with those when they have a sick child? I certainly hope not! They see no conflict between modern medicine and Biblical medicine.

    But for some reason the see a conflict between modern economics and Biblical economics. Economic development didn’t exist in the Bible. Most wealthy people inherited their wealth or got it from looting in war or kidnapping a rich person and holding him for ransom. Some got rich by buying monopolies on tax collection from the state.

    As Angus Maddison, Deirdre McCloskey and other have noted, real per capita gdp did not increase from Abraham to 1600 anywhere in the world. Some states grew richer for a while by conquering other states and stealing from them, but no wealth was created; it was merely shuffled around as in a poker game.

    The Great Leap Forward came with the Dutch Republic implementing the teachings of the Late Scholastics, which they learned from Lessius. From then on investment in new businesses created new jobs and wealth and raised wages.

    We have known since Adam Smith that capitalism helps the poor far more than does charity. So why do Christians ignore it just because it is not in the Bible?

    If one truly loves the poor, one will love capitalism. Focusing exclusively on charity betrays one’s hypocrasy.

  • …just as focusing exclusively on government welfare programs betrays an ideology.

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