Rick Warren, WHY are you doing this?

by Karoli on April 9, 2012 · 12 comments

No, really. Why on earth would you start and continue to engage in a pissing contest over whether the church or the state feeds more unemployed people?

For starters, while it’s admirable that 70,000 people were fed by Saddleback Church, let’s not forget that there are more than 12.7  million people unemployed in March 2012, and more than that in 2011. Now you might even crow that I just offered you a talking point except that unemployment is the lowest it’s been since 2007, back when your boy was in office. So for the moment, use the number without any additional snark, okay?

Let’s have a moment of truth. When the financial crisis was at its apex back in early 2009, the numbers were substantially higher, and that doesn’t count the working poor. That’s a lot of people, the most people in this country since the Great Depression.

Here’s a fact: During the Great Depression, churches and charities could not meet the need. They also suffered the impact of the crisis, so that giving was lowered and resources spread thin. This 2005 study examines the relationship between church spending on the poor, the New Deal, and the question of whether government spending “crowded out” charitable spending. Here’s what they concluded:

Crowd-out was small as a share of total New Deal spending (3%), but large as a share of church spending: our estimates suggest that church spending fell by 30% in response to the New Deal, and that government relief spending can explain virtually all of the decline in charitable church activity observed between 1933 and 1939.

In other words, church spending dropped by 30% while government spending filled 3% of the hole.

Tell me again how churches and charities are going to take care of the poor? Not that they shouldn’t do that — it’s part of their mission. Still, the numbers clearly show that churches could not meet the need. Could not, because giving was greatly diminished and need greatly increased. You, more than anyone else, should know this, since you were driven to ask Saddleback members to help cure a $900,000 deficit in 2010. Did the church leaders forget themselves for a minute and get self-indulgent or was Saddleback suffering from the same problem as everyone else — diminished giving from diminished incomes? Perish the thought that deficit spending would happen in the church. Surely not.

So please, show us your hubris about Saddleback feeding the poor and unemployed, but don’t pretend that it proves churches can meet the needs of people in crises like the one we’re just now recovering from.

Your recent round of interviews, combined with this tweet, lead me to some questions. I note that in every Gospel account of Jesus feeding the five thousand, he didn’t point at anyone in the crowd and suggest they were in need of food because they had an instant gratification problem. As far as I can see, there is no Supply Side Jesus, nor did Jesus ask people to repent of their debt problems before offering them a piece of the fish or the loaf.

Yet that is exactly what you, Rick Warren, are doing. In one breath you express sympathy for the poor, and in the next you scapegoat them.

Really? When did pastors of megachurches decide they were economists? Do you like those roads Saddleback members use to get to church? Like the offramp that has the sign that points to Saddleback? Do you like the idea that they might be able to get jobs because they have a highway to drive on or maybe they’re the guy in the orange vest repairing, expanding, or building it? If you do, then you should also acknowledge that the progressive tax system you’re so fond of trashing paid for those things and saved churches from closing their doors when they could no longer feed the hordes of hungry people lined up outside their doors.

Speaking as a member of the human race, I can honestly say I would let God smite me with lightning before I would take one morsel and crumb from you or your church, because your words are belittling words. They are words intended to marginalize those who are not lucky enough to be Wall Street overlords or Koch oil barons. Your words suggest that poverty is a choice, that people choose poverty over prosperity, and the government enables that.

Many commenters here and elsewhere have said that if you’re so against government subsidies for the poor, you should begin by giving up Saddleback’s tax exemption, since that exemption does, in effect, subsidize church ministries and efforts. I have disagreed, mostly because I believe the tax exemption builds a firewall against church interference in politics.

However, you’re coming very near the line where they are not, just as “your brothers1“, the Catholic bishops have. Your comments were not pastoral nor were they intended to be. They were purely political, fleshed out in substance by a healthy doses of Fox talkers with their “wealth redistribution” talking points. Your brag tweet about how much good Saddleback church did in 2011 for the unemployed is a big red flag exposing your belief that all assistance comes with strings attached. Whether it’s humiliation for being in need, or giving up the notion that our country should offer fair opportunity to those who need it, there’s a price. And yet. Believing in helping our brothers and sisters who most need help isn’t a sin, just like it isn’t a sin to pay no income tax.

Here’s the deal. If you’re going to get outraged over poor people not paying income taxes, could you manage to muster up even a small modicum of outrage for those wealthy young rulers of Wall Street who walked away with BILLIONS while ordinary people paid for it with their jobs and their assets? Could you manage to muster up even a small mention of the WARS that cost this country trillions, slaughtered innocents, and left American blood shed on soil that was never our business to occupy in the first place? Could you manage to scrape up even a tiny little bit of sympathy for the women who dig through trash barrels for enough recyclable goods to exchange for a tiny bit of cash for food, or those who actually resort to selling social security numbers for a bit of cash? Because it’s not all about food, or feeling warm and fuzzy that you beat the megachurch down the street with regard to the numbers who walked through the food lines.

It’s about shelter. It’s about taking care of children. It’s about health. It’s a community effort, and that means it isn’t only churches and it isn’t only government and it isn’t “instant gratification” that put those people where they are. It was need, and that need exists today, existed yesterday and will exist tomorrow while the Kochs and Murdochs and the other .1 percent of the 1% keep getting richer at the cost of opportunity for all of us.

What happened to humility and grace? Why are you judging people and bragging about what Saddleback Church did or did not do for people in need last year? And why, why, why would you think that people in need would shed all of their dignity and accept your pronouncements as to why they are where they are, for the promise of a meal?

Jesus healed the sick and fed hungry people and did so without one word of judgment on them. Not one word. He loved people and they felt it, and followed because of it. They didn’t follow him so they could be the Big Shot Who Feeds People. They followed him because they responded to love.

Once I thought you did too. What happened to you?

1 Yes, the quote was “brothers and sisters”, but the Catholic nuns have actually been pretty appalled by the hits their brethren, the Bishops, have been laying on women. Therefore, gender is relevant.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bill Wolfe April 10, 2012 at 2:47 pm

suppose you just want and need the food, and not the indoctrinating sermon?

2 Kevin Boyle April 10, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Thanks Karoli.

3 Amy Meier April 10, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Excellent post! 

4 RichGardner April 10, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Also, it’s important to remember that, up until the 1870s in the US, most people were at least subsistence farmers or had the option of going back to the land. That option was long gone when the Great Depression happened and is ancient history today. Yeah, sure, the church did a great job feeding the poor back in the 1700s or 1500s, when people could simply join their relatives back on the farm and grow their own food until the economy picked up again.
What are people supposed to do today? What choice do we have other than to get a paying job? It’s not like we need just food, either. If we want our children to do well, they need to be educated, or if they’ve finished with their schooling, they need a first job. College doesn’t do you much good if you don’t get a chance to put alla yer fine book-learnin’ into practice. People don’t live in houses they cobbled together themselves, either. How many of us could construct central air conditioning for their houses these days?

5 Einstuck April 10, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Thanks Karoli. I work for a church. We’re having a hard time meeting demands. We’ll keep trying. That is a blessing; that we can keep trying.

6 Barry_D April 11, 2012 at 6:24 am

 Actually (and not trying to be harsh), I doubt that.  When an economic crisis hit, it meant that agricultural prices dropped, which would hit farmers very, very hard.  Their income was reduced, while their debts stayed the same.  This could mean that  many farmers ended up with no place to live.  And the churches probably didn’t do a great job feeding the poor; it was just that waaaaay back in the day, famines were a recurring feature of life.   Of course peasants and the urban poor would die like flies then.

7 Barry_D April 11, 2012 at 6:28 am

 ‘Then I guess that you don’t really want the food, do ya now?’ (evil chuckle).

I now believe that a lot of these guys are deliberately trying to cut government spending on the non-rich/run that money through their own ‘faith-based’ programs, because they realize the power and wealth that they’d get.  First, they take a cut of the money, and then they dole it out to those whom they like.   If you don’t join their church (or make waves if you do), you no eat.  Darn.

8 ReverendBluester April 11, 2012 at 2:27 pm

It all needed to be said. You said it.

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