I saw it online a few weeks ago, and yesterday I ran across a full-page ad for it in RELEVANT magazine. The campaign is called Matthew 25, and its intent is to attract Christians to a candidate who supports the verse -namely, Barack Obama.
The campaign is referring to verses 35-36 of said book and chapter in the New Testament:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
On the site’s homepage (matthew25.org) you will find little information – only a large photo of Obama beside the excerpt and a large Donate button. But please, fellow Christians, do not be swayed so easily, as I will ask for the next few moments of your time to explain why this makes my blood boil.
It is not that I don’t believe in the spirit of this passage, or that I do not want a president who embraces it to the fullest extent. My hope is that every American citizen would accept this call, and that more public leaders would step out and challenge people to give of themselves. What bothers me is that the policies of this group’s chosen candidate are designed to make the spirit of the letter into the law of the land, and this is a fundamental violation of freedom.
We must understand that there are primarily two ways a government can influence people’s actions. The first is to make rules about what is and is not permissible. Laws are designed to protect. However, this authoritative effort of protection requires, inherently, that some form of freedom must be removed from one or both parties. The nature of law is that it is an antithesis of freedom, whereby a government restricts free will by imposing its own – by force – and usually with punishments attached for those who disobey. Speed limits, non-smoking areas, building codes, etc. – they are all bits and pieces of freedom lost. Most of them necessary, but many of them not, and this is what politics is all about. The second is to create incentives and opportunities that encourage a particular action. Perhaps the most common form of this comes in tax breaks and tax hikes. If the government doesn’t want you to smoke, it can just raise the taxes on cigarettes instead of outlawing them. Or if they want you to give to charity they can let you write off the value of your gift on your income taxes. Both of these examples are already in play.
Considering this, we have to ask ourselves which approach is best for various objectives, and in this case, getting help for those in need. Do we manipulate people by force or by encouragement? Obviously you cannot put murder on the second list, but many things you can – particularly the “gray areas” of morality. This is one reason I support the separation of church and state, because the moment a government begins legislating based purely on religious doctrine, freedom is dead. God gives us His law, and His word, but also our freedom. We are not forced by His hand to act according to His will, though it is strongly encouraged. There are many things we can all agree must be prevented by strict laws, but we have already gone too far in making laws out of opinions. Personally, I am in strong disagreement with the smoking ban that went into effect last year here in Houston. Restaurants and patrons should have the right to make that choice for themselves.
Barack Obama’s political approach is to fix people’s problems by creating government programs. These programs will be funded by taxes. He will have to raise them significantly to do what he promises, but he justifies this by telling stories of old ladies being evicted by rich white republican landlords (an exaggeration, but a very slight one). If by some miracle he is able to refrain from raising taxes, he will need to pull the money from countless other institutions and programs of which we know little about, and surely ending our involvement in Iraq will open up a few bucks.
Matthew25.org encourages people of faith to be actively involved in the political process, and I agree! But insinuating that it is our duty to elect officials who will force people, by law, to give more, and whose ideas are essentially socialist in nature, is downright wrong! It infuriates me.
If you want Americans to give more and support one another, it is much more effective to focus your energy on private organizations who are committed to social service. From national organizations like The Salvation Army and the YMCA, to local ones like the Nehemiah Center near downtown Houston, who provides free schooling, ministry, food and recreation for low-income kids while their parents work, these faith-based initiatives make a huge impact on the social welfare of Americans in need without the bureaucratic hand of the government. If people become givers it should be because of their own desire and sacrifice, not because of coercion.
So I encourage all of my friends of faith to embrace the serving heart, and to do everything you possibly can to turn the hearts of others to the same spirit, but to reject the idea that this should be done through legislation. Let the spirit of Christ be our motivation, not the law of man.