House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan recently commented that the House Republican Budget for the federal government reflected Catholic principles. While Catholics have been debating the veracity of that claim, the occasion has also provided an opportunity for evangelicals of different political persuasions to debate how they understand biblical principles and the federal budget.
The Christian Post previously interviewed two Catholics, the Rev. Robert Sirico and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and one evangelical theologian, Ron Sider. For another perspective, CP interviewed two politically conservative evangelicals, Jordan Ballor, research fellow at the Acton Institute, and Josh Good, an affiliate of Christians for a Sustainable Economy (CASE).
Ballor and Good were both in agreement with Sider that the large national debt, now over $15.6 trillion, is immoral in the way it passes debt from one generation to the next. Sider deserves a lot of praise, Ballor said in the interview, for bringing attention to the severity of the debt crisis.
"This is absolutely a moral problem. We have an irresponsible government. It doesn't have anything to do with one administration or another, one party or another, we've got a federal government that for decades upon decades has been spending more than it has been taking in, has been irresponsible, and needs to be taken into account," Ballor said.
Like Sider, Good would also like to see a balanced budget within the next five years. Regarding which programs might be cut to achieve balance, though, Good would need to understand more about what Sider believes makes an "effective" government program.
Good believes that there is a role for government "in providing a basic safety net for those truly in need," but would like to see policies that "look at ways to serve the poor more effectively, via local solutions, and personal solidarity through mediating institutions, rather than increasingly costly bureaucratic solutions that often fail to treat each person in need as an individual made in the image of God."
Critics of Ryan, including Sider, have argued that the budget is not consistent with biblical principles because it makes too many cuts to programs for the poor.
One of the problems with that reasoning, Ballor believes, is that the context of the scripture passages used for the argument are not adequately taken into account. In the Old Testament, the context is the Jewish nation of Israel, for which God had a special relationship.
"So, whatever we think of that Old Testament system of political government, it's quite different from ours today. It's not easy to make direct moves from passages that talk about what various people or institutions in the Old Testament were supposed to do to what we're supposed to do today," Ballor said.
A fundamental question that should be asked, Ballor believes, is "what is government for?" God is concerned about both material and spiritual poverty, Ballor explained. But, in the context of the United States today, the government is constitutionally restricted from addressing spiritual needs. This is different from the nation of Israel where spiritual and political leaders were intertwined. There was no religion and state separation.
Ballor also does not appreciate how some of Ryan's critics explicitly or implicitly implied that, because they disagreed with his application of Catholic doctrine to the federal budget, Ryan is an unfaithful Catholic.
"People on the left and right do this, they make political litmus test co-identical with 'true,' or orthodox Christian faith," Ballor explained.
Ballor believes that while churches provide some guiding principles, when it comes to the specifics of policy debates, faithful Christians will continue to disagree on how to apply to principles.
While the debates over the federal budget are important, and Ballor believes that some policies are better than others, he does not believe that these questions can, or should bring unanimity among Christians.
"The Church, the Christian faith, is not to identify with a single political order, or structure, party or platform," Ballor explained. "It does show something of the dynamism and vitality of the Christian faith that, in the midst of what the world thinks are the most important things, like politics, in the midst of disagreements about those things, Christians come together and worship every Sunday and say the same Lord's prayer and in many cases cite the same creed, engage in the same sacramental practices, and so on."