Does God Really Back Obama’s Jobs Plan?

30,000 layoffs are planned at Bank of America over “the next few years.”

Advanced Micro Devices is cutting 10% of its global workforce.

And Motorola Mobility will be eliminating 800 jobs, post-Google takeover.

Government’s response?

Passing a bill reaffirming “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States.

Though the motto has been reaffirmed twice in recent years — once in 2002 and again in 2006 — the House of Representatives just wanted to make absolutely sure there was no confusion, and members of both parties voted 396 to 9 to re-reaffirm the motto once again to “support and encourage the public display of the national motto in all public buildings, public schools, and other government institutions.”

H. Con. Res. 13 did not go over particularly well with President Obama, who admonished legislators for wasting time on symbolism while the country struggles under the weight of 9% unemployment and his $60 billion American Jobs Act remains stalled in the Senate.

“In the House of Representatives, what have you guys been doing, John?” Obama said on Wednesday, singling out House Speaker John A. Boehner.

“You’ve been debating a commemorative coin for baseball. You’ve had legislation reaffirming that ‘In God We Trust’ is our motto. That’s not putting people back to work,” he continued. “I trust in God, but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work.”

The next day, the headlines read: “Obama: God Backs Jobs Plan.”

So, does he?

“I’m not sure the president was necessarily saying that God has put a stamp of approval on his plan,” Pastor Steve Hassmer of the Calvary United Methodist Church in Arlington, Virginia, said in a telephone interview. “I do believe he was saying that sloganeering is not enough; that God wants us to roll up our sleeves and get moving.”

Pastor Hassmer told me that “it is clear from scripture that God has a tender spot for the disadvantaged, those without voice.”
“The Bible is full of references to care for widows, orphans, those that are at the bottom of the economic ladder, so to speak,” he continued. “I firmly believe that God expects every nation to come up with a plan that cares for the voiceless, the powerless, and the poor.”

Pastor Charles Booker-Hirsch of the Bethesda Presbyterian Church points to a specific Bible passage to illustrate his point of view.

“What I understand to be the basis for a good economy in terms of my ethical theological values comes from Jesus’s statement in Matthew 25:40, “As you do it to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you do it to me,” he said. “It provides the basis for my broader observation — for which there is much grander biblical merit — that what is good for the least of these is good for the whole.”

Booker-Hirsch sees “the social fabric in America unraveling in a big way,” and says that “leveling the playing field is very John the Baptist.”

“Some believe that extra assistance will bring more people to the welfare trough,” he told me. “But love and justice are central themes of scripture. I see budgets as moral documents. And we must consider, ‘How are those on the margins of society being served by the document at hand?’”

John Hill, Director for Economic and Environmental Justice at the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, in Washington, D.C., works to “give life to the social teachings of the church.” Hill, who previously served as a legislative aide on Capitol Hill, told me that, with “millions of people currently unemployed and millions more underemployed,” Congress “needs to focus on addressing that crisis, rather than what we would perceive as manufactured crises; symbolic legislation that doesn’t get people back to work.”

According to Hill, the United Methodist Church’s 2008 Book of Resolutions makes clear that “both the Old and the New Testaments show God’s desire that wealth and prosperity of society be shared.”

From the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church:

163. IV. THE ECONOMIC COMMUNITYWe claim all economic systems to be under the judgment of God no less than other facets of the created order. Therefore, we recognize the responsibility of governments to develop and implement sound fiscal and monetary policies that provide for the economic life of individuals and corporate entities and that ensure full employment and adequate incomes with a minimum of inflation. We believe private and public economic enterprises are responsible for the social costs of doing business, such as employment and environmental pollution, and that they should be held accountable for these costs. We support measures that would reduce the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. We further support efforts to revise tax structures and to eliminate governmental support programs that now benefit the wealthy at the expense of other persons.

“The Bible is filled with stories decrying both disparities between wealth and poverty and is very critical of those who would mistreat workers,” said Hill. “That’s really the foundational piece we operate from.”

To wit:

Work and Leisure — Every person has the right to a job at a living wage. Where the private sector cannot or does not provide jobs for all who seek and need them, it is the responsibility of government to provide for the creation of such jobs. We support social measures that ensure the physical and mental safety of workers, that provide for the equitable division of products and services, and that encourage an increasing freedom in the way individuals may use their leisure time. We recognize the opportunity leisure provides for creative contributions to society and encourage methods that allow workers additional blocks of discretionary time. We support educational, cultural, and recreational outlets that enhance the use of such time. We believe that persons come before profits. We deplore the selfish spirit that often pervades our economic life. We support policies that encourage the sharing of ideas in the workplace, cooperative and collective work arrangements. We support rights of workers to refuse to work in situations that endanger health and/or life without jeopardy to their jobs. We support policies that would reverse the increasing concentration of business and industry into monopolies.

Father Robert J. Gregorio of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, says he “agrees with the president.”

“It seems like God’s will for there to be no hunger, no poverty, but beyond that, there’s a lot we could be doing that we’re not doing,” he told me.

“In America, we’ve got a heavily entrenched materialistic capitalism that glorifies wealth and doesn’t care about how you get it,” Father Gregorio said. “A lot of devotees of capitalism equate ‘the common good’ with Communism. However, there was a common good for 1,800 years before Karl Marx was born.”

Father Gregorio “can’t see God approving of” an America in which “7% of the population isn’t even getting half of the poverty level income as others simply protect their own nests and accumulate more and more and more.”

“I’m not saying it’s evil to be rich,” he said. “I’m saying, if you get rich by gouging the poor, that’s evil.”

Gregorio is careful to point out that, while “we sometimes get accused of liking big government,” this is a misinterpretation of the “moral corpus” of the Catholic Church.

As he wrote last month in the Catholic Star Herald:

Catholic social doctrine teaches that government exists for the people, especially the disadvantaged. This in itself puts our teaching at variance with the strident calls for less and less government exclusively because it costs money that is some of the resources God intended us to share and not to hoard. Only government is big enough to see to the minimal care of all.

“We’re not into big government,” Father Gregorio clarified. “We’re into reflective government that meets the minimum needs of the people, as spelled out by Pope John XXIII in the Mater et Magistra in 1961.”

Peter J. Rubinstein, Senior Rabbi at New York City’s Central Synagogue, weighed in on “God’s approval” of the president’s jobs plan with bemusement.

“While I might have an opinion about what Jewish values would say about a particular piece of legislation,” he told me, “I would like for President Obama to explain to me how I might hear God’s opinion on anything.”

To help clear up any remaining confusion, White House spokesman Jay Carney addressed reporters after the president made his remarks.

“I think the point the president is making is that, you know, we have it within our capacity to do the things to help the American people,” he said.

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