During last week’s blistering budget debate, most in the the media missed a fascinating political sermon delivered by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. During a photo-op for the Hunger Fast Coalition, while posing with Rev. Jim Wallis, Ms. Pelosi pointed to the Gospel of Matthew as spiritual evidence that the Republican budget cuts were against our “national values”:
"When I hear you speak about this issue, of course it's the Gospel of Matthew: When I was hungry, He gave me to eat and the rest of it goes on.”
Ms. Pelosi continued:
"In one of the bills before us, six million seniors are deprived of meals -- homebound seniors are deprived of meals. People ask us to find our common ground, the middle ground. Is middle ground three million seniors not receiving meals? I don't think so. We've got to take this conversation from a debate about numbers and dollar figures and finding middle ground there to the higher ground of national values."
Ironically, the only media critiquie I heard leveled against Ms. Pelosi’s comments was an errant one.
A few bloggers and cable news commentators disparaged her for an “obvious” disrespect for the sacrosanct, secular Constitutional mandate for “the separation of church and state.”
I applaud Ms. Pelosi for refusing to bow to a false interpretation of the healthy Constitutional principle of mutual respect of unique areas of authority of church and state entities (the church should not be endorsing political candidates and the government should, in turn, stay out of interior affairs of the church).
But as Ms. Pelosi seems to understand well, politicians have no reason to shy away from quoting the Bible or speaking about their religious beliefs as they relate to our “national values.” Likewise, religious figures should be unafraid to speak out on social issues that have clear ethical consequences.
But—and this is a huge caveat--when a politician does refer to the Bible, or points to religious teaching of any sort, he or she had better do it well. As a start, it should be theologically sound and rational.
Here are some points members of the media could have made in response to Ms. Pelosi’s remarks:
1) If you are going to hold up the Bible as a standard for our national values, all Christian theologians will concur you can’t pick and choose the verses you like. Is Ms. Pelosi, a supporter of abortion rights, willing to quote, for example, Jeremiah 1: 5: “Before you were formed in your mother’s womb, I knew you.”
2) Ms. Pelosi stated we have to move the debate away from “numbers and dollar figures” and to “the higher ground of national values.” The implication is that reducing the debt is not a moral issue. She suggested it is a purely political game and has nothing to do with our national values.
I disagree. Every economic decision is, by its nature, a moral issue. This includes burdening future generations with our unpaid bills.
3) It is fallacious logic to posit that seniors will not get meals if the federal government doesn’t send those meals to them. The federal government is not the only, and certainly not the best, caretaker of people.
In an imperfect society like our own, there is certainly a need for a government safety net for people who have no other way of getting quality, basic care. But the starting point of a federal safety net should be the support of families, neighbors, church and social groups, communities, and local governments (in that order), as they take care of their own.
Father Jonathan Morris is a Fox News Contributor and the author of the brand new book, “God Wants You Happy: From Self-Help to God’s Help.”