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Invitation to Rick Warren: Talk to me

It appears as though my post earlier this week about Saddleback pastor Rick Warren set off a bit of a firestorm that could actually result in a dialogue worth having. After tweeting to me that he sounded mean, Joan Walsh wrote a post which he responded to over on Salon.

His reply, in part:

What I should have said was that I honestly don’t believe our nation can tax its way out of bankruptcy. There simply aren’t enough taxpayers. The unemployed CANT pay taxes, and right now 11% of our church is out of work. Saddleback is not a rich white church- we are multicultural & speak 67 languages. My view is that a better solution to increasing revenue is to focus instead on incentivizing JOB CREATION which will spur both consumer spending AND tax revenue.

And there was this, too:

Finally, it is arrogant nonsense to insist (as many hate-filled responses tweeted) that only those who support larger government love the poor.

Which is, of course, not at all what I said.

But what interests me most is that Pastor Warren considers himself a member of that amorphous group of “independents” apart from the two parties. A self-described “small government independent.”

I would like to invite Pastor Warren to a dialogue about this. We could do it on the radio via the MOMocrats channel, or here on the blog. Either way works for me. I’d like to stress that I don’t view this as a debate as much as an opportunity to clear up misconceptions on both sides. It has bothered me that those on the liberal end of things were so quick to jump to the conclusion that Warren was some kind of rich televangelist (he’s not) and bothered me that he would conclude that those of us who do think taxes need to rise *in the future* are somehow modern-day Robin Hoods waiting to steal from the rich (we’re not).

Now, to clarify my post, which seems to have confused many, and also to address Mr. Warren’s concerns about this notion of “taxing ourselves out of bankruptcy.”

It is financially irresponsible to put 2 wars and a prescription drug benefit on the national VISA card. It was even more financially irresponsible to roll back tax rates in 2002, right at the beginning of the spending spree on the credit card. To further exacerbate the irresponsibility, the wars were charged off the books, so they didn’t set off deficit hawks’ radar. Further, it’s unbiblical:

Proverbs 22:7-8 (NIV): The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity, and the rod they wield in fury will be broken.

Without getting into a deep discussion of all of this, verse 7 seems to be a statement of fact, with verse 8 being a statement of consequences.

Here’s an illustration of those consequences:

This data ends just before the housing crash that stripped even more of their income, savings, and homes.

Worse yet, the ones who have been hurt the most are minorities. The ones least able to recover without a leg up from someone.

Now let’s consider our current debate. The extremists in the House of Representatives and the Senate have made it clear it’s not spending cuts they want as much as it is to dismantle the social safety net that protects those very same people from abject ruin. They are willing to stake the good name of our country on that goal. They are willing to actually suggest that we should walk away from an agreed-upon contractual obligation if they don’t get what they want. And what they want is Medicare and Social Security handed to them on a platter. That social safety net was put into place because churches could not meet the need. Could not, and do not. Yes, churches and charities certainly assist. But on their own, they cannot meet the need. NPR interviewed pastors standing for protection of the poor and needy in any deal cut by Congress. A quote: “So if Congress slashes food stamps, there is no way that churches and charities can make up for the difference.” And that is only one area of concern.

Meanwhile, there’s a direct nationwide legislative assault on the minimum wage, child labor laws, voting rights, women’s health, education, and unions, which are the only firewall between this nation’s workers and penury.

As Christians, we should be standing against these efforts, not enabling them or even, as some do, applauding them.

So when a pastor I respected makes a statement that comes straight off the Fox News commentary after President Obama’s speech to the nation, and that statement appears to marginalize the poor and middle class in this country by saying they’re perfectly happy to take without giving anything of their own, I object. And I will continue to object.

Asking for tax equality is not “taxing our way out of bankruptcy.” It is asking for everyone to step up and be patriotic, to keep this nation great, to preserve our freedoms and continue our 225-year tradition.

To those of you who suggest I somehow believe government is a substitute for giving or churches or charity, you missed my point entirely. My point is that as a nation, we’ve stacked the deck against those who can least afford to lose anything while protecting those who can most afford to help. And those people fall into the Proverbs 22:16 definition, which says this:

One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and one who gives gifts to the rich — both come to poverty.

Or perhaps I can put it this way: Under our current system, their bootstraps were mortgaged and foreclosed. Nothing there to pull themselves up with. No voice, no standing, no liberty, no hope.

They deserve more than that. As citizens of this country, we owe them more than that. Otherwise that part of the pledge of allegiance that says “liberty and justice for all” is simply a hollow paean to times past.

Update: I hear a lot of remarks about Saddleback Church’s tax-exempt status. Yes. The church is tax-exempt. Employees of the church are not tax-exempt, nor are royalties on book sales tax-exempt. The point here isn’t the tax-exempt status of the church. I’ve struggled with this issue too and have concluded that their tax-exempt status actually protects our system. Imagine the Citizens United decision applied to churches? We’d have Mormon and Catholic churches funding campaigns with zero requirement for disclosure! A sure disaster.

So yes. The church is tax-exempt, but pastors are not tax exempt, and authors’ royalties are not tax-exempt.

Update #2: I received an email just now from Pastor Warren agreeing to have a discussion with me, time and date tba. As he stated in his timeline, his mentor John Stott passed away today, so it may be a bit down the road, but we will have the discussion and I will let you know when.

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