Paul Ryan and Christian Discernment
Now that Paul Ryan has been selected as the GOP Vice Presidential candidate, I’ve noticed an awful lot of talk about the Wisconsin Congressman from liberal Protestants, most of it not positive. I’ve already stated that I think Ryan’s budget was a good start in thinking about balancing the federal budget, but I tend to disagree with others on the center-right that Ryan’s budget is the end all and be all. But I also disagree with the center-left that is making Ryan out to be the devil himself.
I wish we could have a reasoned debate about the role of government and how Christians can best respond to issues like poverty. As Christians, we have differing opinions on how to deal with poverty. We can be faithful Christians and have different ideas on how to carry out God’s justice. We can disagree without resorting to painting the other side as evil.
I’m reposting a blog post I wrote about Paul Ryan earlier this year. I would love it if we could talk about public policy without being mean about it, but that’s not gonna happen.
There’s been a lot of talk lately, criticism really, about the budget released by Republican Congressman Paul Ryan. I wrote on my political blog about a year ago that I thought it wasn’t a perfect budget and even had some problems with it, but that it was a good start by the GOP. Then as now, there has been a cascade of criticism from folks about how the Ryan plan “radical” and some even questioning Ryan’s faith. What has bothered a lot of folks is that Ryan said that his Catholic faith helped shaped his budget. Here’s what he said earlier this month:
…Ryan made a moral case for his budget, saying that the government shouldn’t be responsible for lifting its citizens out of poverty — rather, that it’s the obligation of the citizens themselves to be society’s caretakers.
“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, by not having Big Government crowd out civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and out in our communities,” Ryan said.
“Those principles are very, very important, and the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenants of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life, help people get out of poverty, out into a life of independence.” …
Presbyterian blogger Michael Kruse is half joking when he responds to the article:
So is it possible that people from different political vantage points who genuinely care about poverty might come to dramatically different conclusions about the moral thing to do? Nah. I’m going with one side or the other has to be Satan incarnate while the other is Mother Teresa. ;-)
Obviously the answer to Kruse’s question is, no, people of faith can only have one viewpoint on how to deal with poverty. Columnist Dana Milbank takes Ryan to task and lauds the Catholic bishops and theologians who have spoken out against Ryan:
There is something un-Christian about the Gospel According to Paul Ryan. So, at least, says Ryan’s Catholic Church.
In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody this month, Ryan, the author of the House Republican budget endorsed by Mitt Romney, said his program was crafted “using my Catholic faith” as inspiration. But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was not about to bless that claim.
A week after Ryan’s boast, the bishops sent letters to Congress saying that the Ryan budget, passed by the House, “fails to meet” the moral criteria of the Church, namely its view that any budget should help “the least of these” as the Christian Bible requires: the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the jobless. “A just spending bill cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons,” the bishops wrote.
In fact, Ryan would cut spending on the least of these by about $5 trillion over 10 years — from Medicaid, food stamps, welfare and the like — and then turn around and award some $4 trillion in tax cuts to the most of these. To their credit, Catholic leaders were not about to let Ryan claim to be serving God when in fact he was serving mammon.
“Your budget,” a group of Jesuit scholars and other Georgetown University faculty members wrote to Ryan last week, “appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love.”
What bothers folk is that Ryan uses his Catholic faith as reason for his budget. Frankly, I don’t see anything heretical about that arguement. Just as say, someone like Congressman John Lewis is grounded in his Baptist faith. It is possible to be people of faith and yet come to different conclusions on issues. That doesn’t mean that I love his budget wholesale. But I do think its important to give people the benefit of the doubt and trust that two people from the same faith can come from different conclusions on the same issue. It’s one thing to think his budget has issues and needs refinement, it’s another to basically slam him for coming to different way of seeing things from how you see them.
What bothers me about the criticism against Ryan is the assumption that to governmental support to care for the poor is supported in the Bible. The thing is, the Bible talks a lot about caring for the poor, but it never says how to do that. For some, caring for the poor means giving to local and international charities. For others, it means creating government programs. I’m not arguing that we should never use government to help the poor, but I am saying that the call to aid the least of these with government help is not supported in Scripture. God doesn’t tell us how to care for the poor, but demands that we get it done.
Which gets me back to Michael Kruse’s “joke.” The bile that has risen against the Ryan budget makes me think that debate even among Christians on public policy is becoming increasingly impossible. If we can’t debate the merits and demerits of this budget without delving into demonization, then what can we discuss?
(I need to add that conservatives are not better when it comes to debate and discernment either.)
What I long for is finding ways that people of faith can come and debate an issue and be open to where the Spirit of God leads instead of immediately pointing fingers, hiding behind the Bible and condemning others that don’t agree with them. I wish we’d stop seeing ourselves as Mother Teresas and the other side as Satan incarnate. I long for the time when the people of God are more willing to discern than to demonize.