Do Conservative Christians Consistently Violate a
Fundamental Teaching of Jesus?

                                                       by Jack Clark



Several conservative bishops have recently called for denial of communion to Roman Catholic politicians who do not vote in line with the Church's teachings on abortion.  One bishop went so far as to say that voters who support such politicians should also be denied communion.


Yet as we know, Jesus never said a word about abortion.  But Jesus did explicitly state how we should conduct ourselves in another area that politicians deal with all the time.


In Matthew 25:31-46, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus proclaims that how you treat the hungry, the thirsty, the sick and other "least of these," is how you treat Jesus himself:


'Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?' 45. Then he will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.


If you have failed to help the "least of these," Jesus promises, he will send you to "eternal punishment".


Can someone be considered a true Christian if the focus of their life is thwarting others and the society itself from implementing such a fundamental teaching of Christianity as Matthew 25:31-46?


It's fine to oppose government programs to help the Matthew 25 "least of these," as conservative Christians usually do.  But to avoid violating the Matthew 25 injunction, conservative Christians must then propose Equivalent Alternative Solutions.  Equivalent Alternative Solutions are ones which:


  • help at least the same number of those people who legitimately need help
  • provide at least the same amount of effective assistance to those people
  • get the help to them at least as quickly
  • are at least as certain to accomplish these goals


Equivalent Alternative Solutions can certainly be completely non-governmental, as long as they meet the four criteria directly above.


But conservative Christians consistently both oppose the plans of others to help the "least of these," and fail to offer Equivalent Alternative Solutions.


Conservative Christians -- whether voters, politicians or talk show hosts -- should be asked: "What about Matthew 25?  If you oppose my plan to help some of the "least of these," what do you propose instead?  How does what you're espousing here fulfill what Jesus commanded in Matthew 25?  In fact, isn't what you're doing exactly what Jesus condemned in Matthew 25?"


Conservative Christians might reply:


Matthew 25 applies only to individual acts of charity.


The response is, Matthew 25 neither says nor implies any such thing.  If anything, the contrary: Jesus gathers the "nations," who speak to him collectively as "we."  Beyond that, should a passage such as Matthew 25 be interpreted narrowly so as to avoid responsibility?  Would anyone seriously maintain that Jesus would say it’s okay for society as a whole to let people suffer and die, as long as some members give some money to charity?


Yes, you are individually held to account under Matthew 25 for your individual one-on-one acts of charity or lack thereof, but you are also individually held to account under Matthew 25 for how the actions you take influence your society in its treatment of the "least of these."  As Pope John Paul II has written in this context:


It is a question not only of alleviating the most serious and urgent needs through individual actions here and there, but of uncovering the roots of evil and proposing initiatives to make social, political and economic structures more just and fraternal. Ecclesia in America


Conservative Christians have plans to help the poor, and that certainly satisfies the injunction in Matthew 25.


The response: their "plans" are inadequate to fulfill the Matthew 25 mandate.  Conservative Christians consistently advocate courses of action which by design do not help all those legitimately in need, or will help them inadequately, or will help them for too short a time, or are much less certain to take effect.


Similarly inadequate for Matthew 25 are vague hopes that "the free market"  or "competition" will solve the problem.  Vague hopes are not enough: plans to help the poor must be concrete.


As the Pope makes clear:


Christ's words "as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25 :40) were not intended to remain a pious wish…Centesimus Annus


The motivating concern for the poor--who are, in the very meaningful term, "the Lord's poor"…--must be translated at all levels into concrete actions, until it decisively attains a series of necessary reforms. Solicitudo Rei Socialis


Jesus didn't say to have a government program to feed the hungry.


True enough.  Jesus didn't specify how to help the "least of these," he just insisted it be done.  So again, the reply to the conservative Christian is, if you oppose a government program, what is your Equivalent Alternative Solution that will help the same number of people, the same amount, as soon and as certainly?


The analysis presented in this essay is supported by scores of Biblical passages relating to social justice, and by the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, some of them cited above.


Conservative Christians must start treating the "least of these" as they would treat Jesus himself. Then, and only then, can conservatives who claim to be Christian be truly considered Christian.

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