Money and Politics – What we saw in Election 2012

The following post is an excerpt from The Little Scroll, a blog by ecumenical writer Philip Jenks.

The topic of money – who has it, who doesn’t, and what people do to acquire it – is central to Jesus’ thinking in the passage highlighted in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary.

As the story unfolds in Mark 12:38-44, Jesus is sitting outside the treasury of the temple, watching as people passed by to satisfy their financial obligations to their house of worship. Jesus watched silently as several persons dropped large sums into the till. But when a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins that have become known in Sunday school lore as widow’s mites, he called his followers together.

“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury,” he told them. “For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Jesus made a theological comment based on elementary math. I’m tempted to construct a flawed proof text demonstrating that God thinks millionaire Mitt Romney’s tax rate of 14 percent is unfair to me and working stiffs whose percentage is much higher. But I will resist the temptation, in part because I think Jesus had something else in mind besides percentages.

And to be fair about it, both Governor Romney and President Obama are on record as wanting to support poor widows and others who slip below the poverty line.

Last September, candidates Obama and Romney accepted an invitation by the Circle of Protection to go on the record about their intentions for dealing with poverty. Their video statements be viewed at http://bit.ly/TyQyif.

The Circle of Protection is composed of more than 65 heads of denominations, relief and development agencies, and other Christian organizations representing a wide array of churches in the U.S. The National Council of Churches is a founding member of the Circle.

The Circle, a unique amalgam of evangelical, ecumenical, Roman Catholic and Christian Orthodox churches and groups, came together in 2011 to protect essential poverty programs from being cut from the federal budget.

The church leaders told the candidates, “We believe that this presidential campaign should include a clear focus on what each candidate proposes to do to provide help and opportunity for hungry and poor people in the United States and around the world.”

They stressed that God holds nations accountable for the treatment of those Jesus called “the least of these” (Matthew 24:45).

The Circle of Protection leaders said they were disturbed by poverty figures which show that more than one in seven Americans – 46.2 million people – live in poverty, more than 16 million children.

These sad figures pale in comparison to poverty levels around the world, where millions live in daily squalor so crushing it threatens their ability to stay alive each day.
I’m sure both major candidates in the recent and blessedly extinct election campaign are good men of faith who can quote Matthew 24:45 as easily as a bunch of preachers.

But in their feverish campaign for middle class votes, neither candidate gave evidence they were equally concerned about Americans so poor they and their kids live in their cars and fall asleep hungry every night. And neither seemed in the least bit apologetic that the $2.5 billion they raised for manipulative and often dissembling campaign ads rather never brought food to the tables of starving children.

Granted, it’s difficult for U.S. politicians – and preachers, for that matter – to criticize those who are good at raising money and making profits. That kind of preaching shrinks congregations as quickly as poll numbers.

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