Heaven on their minds -- Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
There’s a story in the Christian Bible that some of you may have heard of. It’s about a couple of guys named Jesus and Judas. Jesus was a preacher who was stirring up a lot of trouble for the wealthy and powerful, the moneychangers and establishment guys. Judas said he was one of Jesus’ most loyal followers, and hung around with Jesus everywhere he went. But in the end, when Jesus was really beginning to stir up some serious trouble for those in power, Judas took a payoff from the establishment boys and betrayed Jesus, sending him to his death.
That betrayal story is pretty horrible, but for a man like Jesus whose ideas were more important to him than his life, the modern day betrayal of everything he stood for by people who claim to be his followers is a far greater betrayal than what Judas did.
Most of the conservative Republicans in the House, the ones who yesterday refused to include food programs for the poor in the farm bill where it has for many decades been embedded and thereby endangered passage of any money to deal with hunger in this country, publicly and loudly proclaim at every opportunity that they are fervent, passionate Christians. But having been raised in a Christian household, and having read my bible more than a few times over the years, it is impossible not to conclude that either these Republicans have not bothered to read the book they claim to believe in. Either that, or their reading comprehension skills are remarkably low.
What the era’s Republicans have become obsessed with appear to be sex, helping the wealthy become wealthier, and cutting back assistance to anyone “dependent” on government (check out this video where a Republican congressman channels Mitt Romney’s 47% message, of for that matter, just look at that 47% video again. The man Jesus these conservatives claim to follow, at least according to the Bible they all claim to believe, had the exact opposite set of passions.
In spite of the fact that a variety of forms of abortion and contraception were frequently used in Biblical days, Jesus never mentioned it. In spite of homosexuality being a very common and sometimes quite celebrated practice in ancient Greece and Rome, Jesus never mentioned that either. And while he occasionally listed adultery in a long list of other sins, his most famous and noteworthy comment about that subject is that he who is without sin should cast the first stone. This was not a man obsessed with sex.
What he was obsessed with was justice for the poor and making sure the hungry got fed.
In the 4 Christian Gospels, the ones that tell about Jesus’ life and ministry, the ones conservative fundamentalist Christians tell us they believe word for word, Jesus spoke about mercy and kindness to those weaker and in need 24 times; he tells people to love and help their neighbors 19 times; he either speaks with disdain about rich people or tells people to help the poor or both a grand total of 128 times. Just to circle back and help y’all with your math, that’s 0 times for abortion, 0 times for birth control, 0 times attacking homosexuality, and 181 where he talks about helping the poor, the weak, the hungry, and your neighbors.
Literally the only verse where he specifically talks about how nations and individuals will be judged by God, whether they will be judged fit for heaven or fit for hell, is the famous verse about the least of these:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
That seems like pretty obvious language, doesn’t it? Like "smacking you in the head with a 2x4" obvious? And note at the beginning, he’s talking about nations not just individuals, so this isn’t just private charity we’re talking about, it is how society treats the poor and the hungry.
The House Republicans aren’t just betraying their alleged savior, either, by making people go hungry. They are betraying the values this country has lived by for a very long time. We are a country that has taken pride in having a social safety net, that has lifted our seniors out of poverty with Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; that has helped support people with severe disabilities; that has fed hungry children and families. Turning our back on those values now betrays everything that is decent about our country.
Where did the modern Republican party get this streak of cruelty? Why do they pride themselves on slashing funding for the hungry? Why do they reject the most basic teachings of our heritage and of their own religion?
America rejected this kind of ugliness and cruelty in the last election, and they reject it still. It’s time for the Democrats to stand tall on rejecting Republican desires to stop feeding the hungry, and start doing what that fellow Jesus I was talking about said 2,000 years ago: feed the hungry.