Religion and state government are on a collision course over Gov. Pawlenty’s decision to cut General Assistance Medical Care, the program for the poor and disabled Minnesotans; and MinnesotaCare, the health care program for working Minnesotans that’s running low on cash because the Pawlenty administration has raided the fund that pays for it to cover shortfalls in other spending areas. MinnesotaCare is paid for by a tax on doctors and health care providers.
Failing on matters of policy, some religious leaders in Minnesota are turning to the Bible to explain why the state shouldn’t whack the budget on the backs of the state’s most vulnerable.
“From the Scriptures and church teaching, we learn that the justice of a society is tested by the treatment of the poor,” Catholic bishops wrote in a pastoral letter back in 1986. “The justice that was the sign of God’s covenant with Israel was measured by how the poor and unprotected — the widow, the orphan, and the stranger — were treated. The kingdom that Jesus proclaimed in his word and ministry excludes no one. Throughout Israel’s history and in early Christianity, the poor are agents of God’s transforming power.”
Minnesota’s Catholic bishops wrote to state lawmakers last week
Religious underpinnings of state policy have been mirrored in comments on the budget here on News Cut and on our Facebook page after Gov. Pawlenty vetoed an extension of GAMC benefits last week.
Said one reader:
The party that touts traditional Christian values needs to take the Christian scriptures a little more seriously. Deuteronomy 15:7-8: “If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.”
Perhaps, as some have argued, religious direction should not influence state public policy. But Gov. Pawlenty isn’t one of those people. He told conservative leaders in Washington last week:
“God’s in charge. There are some people who say ‘Pawlenty, don’t bring that up. Its politically incorrect.’ Hogwash! …I say to those naysayers that try to crowd out God from the discussion, if it’s good enough for the founding fathers it’s good enough for us.”
Pawlenty, raised a Catholic, is now an Evangelical, a member of the Wooddale Church in Edina, where senior pastor Rev. Leith Anderson is also head of the National Association of Evangelicals. Anderson, unlike his predecessor — Ted Haggerty — tends to steer away from political involvement, but made his moral direction on the subject of the poor clear in an interview a few years ago.
“I would extend that to other evangelicals and wish that they would share those concerns. I’m concerned for the poor. I’m concerned for justice for the disenfranchised. I have a great concern and the church of which I am a part is deeply involved in the HIV/AIDS issues in Africa and concerned that we be responsible in providing aid and sustenance and encouragement and everything that we can possibly do.”
But evangelicals do not approach the issue with one voice. There are adherents, for example, to the “prosperity gospel,” in which God is said to favor those who are the most faithful with wealth and health.
While most reporters focused on the political horse race of the presidential election, they missed the more important story : Gov. Pawlenty is either simultaneously inviting God’s word to be part of the discussion while ignoring it, or he has a different interpretation of it. After last week’s speech and invitation, nobody called his office looking for a clarification, his spokesman said.
It doesn’t appear it came up today on NBC’s Meet the Press, either. David Gregory, like many other journalists, is more obsessed with whether Pawlenty is running than what makes Pawlenty run.
To be fair, Gregory did ask Pawlenty about God, but failed to press the governor beyond the stump-speech answer he gave:
Well, the founders of this nation embraced the same perspective. They said, we are endowed by our creator. They didn’t say by Washington, D.C. or the local or state government. I believe there is a divine power. I believe there is a god and that God is in charge. If it’s good enough for the founding fathers of this country, it’s good enough for me.
In the meantime, the most substantive — if not the most compassionate — guidance for those who are about to lose their safety net in Minnesota probably came from Cal Ludeman, who said the poor need to rely on “ingenuity” to survive.