God and the Minnesota state budget

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.

  • Prosperity Gospel is sickening. It’s nothing but a justification for people’s selfishness, greed, and avarice, with a religious stamp of approval.

    I am an atheist, but 13 years of Catholic schooling taught me that if Jesus were alive today, he wouldn’t exactly be agreeing with those who preach such ideas.

  • Kassie

    Let’s keep in mind that Pawlenty has also proposed eliminating the $203 General Assistance cash grant that some (very limited number) of poor receive. So between taking away their health care and their cash assistance, he will leave the poorest of the poor with nothing. Not only is he not following Christian ideals of helping the least of these, he is actually causing them to become worse off.

    Also, do the many cuts he has placed on cities and counties and different state grants, he has taken away the ability of many non-profits to help these people in meaningful ways. And now there are more to help.

  • Duke Powell

    It is inaccurate and misleading to have your readers believe that Gov. Pawlenty has tapped the Health Care Access Fund all by himself. Democrats participated in raiding the surpluses over the years, while refusing to use these excess dollars to shore up a GAMC program that was out of control.

    Senate Democrats were particularly fond of using the surpluses in expanding coverage and elegibilities for those in MinnesotaCare. Mission creep of this program has been a big problem.

    I also find it laughable that the Catholic bishops readily join hands with and trust policy makers who defend abortion on demand, same sex marriage, and embryonic stem cell research while slamming legislators who defend the Church’s teachings on those issues. Gullible does not begin to describe the Bishop’s actions.

  • I have no doubt there are many compassionate Christians in public life. As rule, though, these are the men and women who focus on doing their job instead of making speeches.

    Those running for higher office, however, like to invoke a higher power without attending to the specifics of religious teaching. They call on God’s blessing to anoint them and their ideas.

    Note Pawlenty’s generality. God is with us because we say so, or the Founding Fathers did, not because of how we act or because we follow the example of Jesus.

    This public use of religion is hypocritical, but as a diplomat character in the movie “In the Loop” said, “it’s a useful hypocrisy.”

  • Al

    Thanks for covering this, Bob. I spent a good part of the weekend contacting Pawlenty, Commisioner Ludeman (calling for his resignation), and legislators on this matter.

    Hypocrisy is at the heart of this. Hopefully this will shed some light on the Republican/religious conservative connection. While there are some Republicans who make decisions based on their Christian faith, by and large religious conservatives are being used. The anti-abortion, anti-gay positions of many Republicans are used to get your religious vote. They don’t care about the rest of your Christian values!

  • Alison

    \\I also find it laughable that the Catholic bishops readily join hands with and trust policy makers who defend abortion on demand, same sex marriage, and embryonic stem cell research while slamming legislators who defend the Church’s teachings on those issues. Gullible does not begin to describe the Bishop’s actions.

    Duke – Are you saying that a person must agree whole-heartedly with a politician or political party on EVERY issue? Is it not possible to agree with someone on some issues and disagree on others?

  • JackU

    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.

    What I find interesting about statements like these, is that they either illustrate a lack of knowledge about the “Founding Fathers” or a disregard for the history.

    One merely needs to use Google to search the phrase God and the constitution to find many references on the topic.

  • Eric

    Thanks for bringing this back around Bob.

    What I always find interesting about invoking god when it comes to certain welfare programs is that if our reason for all of these programs is because of the bible’s teachings, are we not in violation of the 1st Amendment? There are some Christians who will only help those who believe in their church or their same values. What about Hindus and Muslims – their holy book is not the bible. What about agnostics, atheists, pantheists, etc that don’t follow the bible’s teachings?

    I do believe that many Christian values happen to coincide with American values, because we try to be good people. However, I don’t think we should be forcing charity on anyone. I would rather see my tax money go to help people in my own community rather than be spread around to those I don’t ever see. Why? Because in my community, I can make sure the money is used properly and withhold my charity if it is misused. If some government official gives it out, there is little consequence if the money is used poorly. Let me do the donating, not the government. Let me practice my religion, not the religion of our political leaders.