Whited Sepulchers in the House

On September 19, the House approved H.R. 3102, a Republican-sponsored bill to slash nearly $40 billion from food aid over the next decade. Sponsors of the bill claimed that SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has grown too bloated and fraudulent to warrant continued funding, an accusation contested by the bill's opponents. What both sides of the aisle agree on is that if the bill becomes law, at least four million recipients of food stamps will lose their benefits.

The bill passed 217-210, almost exclusively along party lines.

H.R. 3102's sponsor, Oklahoma's Frank Lucas, is a Southern Baptist. Nearly all the House members who voted for his bill also call themselves Christian. Some of them do so loudly and often.

That Republicans in the House are mainly Christian isn't surprising, because most U.S. representatives are. According to the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life, 90.3 percent of House members in the 113th Congress overwhelmingly claim to be Christian:

246, or 57.2 percent call themselves Protestants,
134, or 31.2 percent call themselves Catholics,
5, or 1.9 percent, call themselves Orthodox.

What is surprising, though -- shocking, really -- is that they voted for H.R. 3102.

In both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, there are literally hundreds of injunctions to welcome strangers, feed orphans and widows, and care for the sick and indigent so that justice -- justice, mind you, not charity -- can roll down like living waters. The prophets and Jesus consistently champion the marginalized and powerless. Jesus punches the point home by saying that whatever we do to the least among us, we do to him. There's just no reasonable room for disagreement about the Christian tradition's insistence that fidelity to Christ means, in part, privileging the poor. Likewise, there's no reasonable way of squaring a vote for H.R. 3102 with a profession of Christianity.

I'm not insensitive to the fact that Christians in positions of political authority often find their faith commitment at odds with Capitol Hill culture, and that many of them agonize over the choices they're called to make. (I won't comment on whether Christians should think twice before entering the political arena.) But surely, surely, when it comes to one of the ethical rockbottoms of the faith, looking out for the least privileged among us, it's not too much to expect them to stand firm. If House members who won't still claim to be Christian...well, a little something about "whited sepulchers" comes to mind.