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Curtis Stofferahn, Published September 30 2013

Letter: Cramer’s peculiar theology

A constituent challenged Congressman Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., on his Facebook page about his vote to cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) by $39 million dollars by citing Matthew 25:36-43, where Christ compelled his followers, among other things, to feed the hungry. Cramer responded by citing Thessalonians 2:3-10, implying that those who didn’t work should not eat.

The North Dakota religious community responded by noting that Cramer took the passage out of context. Paul wasn’t condemning the poor but was trying to convince the Thessalonians that they should not remain idle while waiting for the second coming of Christ lest their neighbors look down on them with suspicion.

Cramer’s comment about the hungry represents dangerous theology and even worse policy. He seems to argue that God somehow believes that people are poor because they deserve it, i.e. they refuse to work. Therefore, the government has no responsibility to the hungry among us.

In reality, most of the country’s 47 million food stamp recipients are children or the elderly, as well as many military veterans and disabled Americans. Recipients of food stamps also include America’s 8.9 million “working poor” who work full time but still rely on programs like SNAP to feed their children. Furthermore, many of the country’s 17 million hungry families have earnings above the poverty line but because of low wages are food-insecure. They would be removed from food assistance on which they depend if the House-passed SNAP bill were to become law.

In opposition to Cramer’s poor theology, which is ironic for a Concordia College graduate who once contemplated becoming a pastor, religious leaders have long been among the most vocal supporters of SNAP. Groups such as Circle of Protection, which is a large coalition of Catholic, mainline Protestant, and Evangelical faith leaders dedicated to protecting government programs that help the poor, have been writing letters and launching campaigns urging Congress to restore funding for food stamps and honor Jesus’ clear Scriptural call to care for the “least of these.” Their call echoes the sentiments of countless other prominent religious leaders, including Pope Francis, who tweeted in July: “The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty.”

It isn’t just religious leaders, however, who believe that caring for the poor is a government responsibility. According to recent polling, huge majorities of every major American religious denomination agree that the government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. Even a majority of white Evangelicals oppose cutting federal programs that help the poor.

Cramer, and House Republicans, are wielding a harmful and hypocritical theology that ignores both the daily reality of America’s poor as well as 2,000 years of faith-based activism on behalf of the least among us. They instead choose to twist a few cherry-picked Bible verses to keep food out of the mouths of hungry families and their children.

As the farm bill moves to conference and possibly back to the House and Senate for a vote, Republican Christian lawmakers should abandon their crusade against the poor and remember Christ’s repeated calls to feed the hungry.

For the rest of us Christians who are deeply worried about these drastic cuts in SNAP benefits, we can heed the injunction of Paul to Timothy (1 Timothy 2: 107) that supplications, prayers, intercessions be made for all who are in high positions. Call or write Cramer to implore him to vote to restore these funds and pray that the pleas of the faithful and of the hungry will melt the hardness of his heart.

Stofferahn lives in Grand Forks.