Rick Warren and the Gospel of Supply-Side Jesus

This past weekend, evangelical mega-church pastor Rick Warren spent a portion of his Easter on the Sunday shows, where he patiently explained to ABC News' Jake Tapper that the Gospels require him to oppose both a social safety net and higher marginal tax rates on the rich:

Well certainly the Bible says we are to care about the poor. There’s over 2,000 versus in the Bible about the poor. And God says that those who care about the poor, God will care about them and God will bless them. But there’s a fundamental question on the meaning of “fairness.” Does fairness mean everybody makes the same amount of money? Or does fairness mean everybody gets the opportunity to make the same amount of money? I do not believe in wealth redistribution, I believe in wealth creation.

The only way to get people out of poverty is J-O-B-S. Create jobs. To create wealth, not to subsidize wealth. When you subsidize people, you create the dependency. You – you rob them of dignity. The primary purpose of government is to keep the peace, protect the citizens, provide opportunity. And when we start getting into all kinds of other things, I think we – we invite greater control. And I’m fundamentally about freedom.

For all the theological differences I almost certainly have with Warren, I am very interested to learn more about whatever exegetical techniques he uses to connect the stories and letters of ancient Jews in 1st-century Palestine to the platform of the 21st-century Republican Party.

My hunch is that there’s nothing, and Warren is conflating his personal political beliefs—as a native and resident of the archconservative Orange County, California—with the Gospels, which are open to wide interpretation. Indeed, if there’s a tell, it’s when he asks if fairness means that “everybody makes the same amount of money?” Given the degree to which no one in American public life argues that case—and since Jesus is silent on the proper administration of a modern nation-state—I have to assume that Warren is leaning on his conservative ideology, and not—as he intimates—the stories and lessons of Jesus Christ.

A few other points. It should be clear that I’m not conflating the platform of the Democratic Party with the Gospels. Yes, I think it’s a little odd to both acknowledge God’s preferential treatment for the poor, and denounce government action to improve the lives of vulnerable citizens, but I’ll admit that neither Jesus nor his disciples had much to say about universal health care or the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Finally, on the question of dignity, I find Warren’s belief—and the stance of many conservatives—to be completely baffling. I know lower-income people, I grew up around lower-income people, and I think it’s fair to say that not having money robs them of dignity. And for Warren to paternalistically cluck otherwise—as if the problem with being poor is that the government might give you money—is actually offensive.

With that said, it’s probably true that you risk dependency with a robust welfare state. Still, if given the choice between a world with dependency and a world where mothers and children dig through trash to make ends meet, I think I’ll take the former.