If there's one place where politicians can easily get tripped up and spark controversy, it's mixing their public policy and their religion. It's questionable and controversial whether the two should really bear any relationship to each other, of course — the United States both ensures freedom of religion and bars the establishment of any one religion, after all. But one Republican on Capitol Hill made just such an argument on Friday, and it's caused a bit of a stir: Rep. Jodey Arrington cited the Bible to support work requirements for food assistance, invoking a passage that members of the GOP have used before.
Credit to Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post for highlighting the exchange, which took place during a hearing regarding the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Plan (or SNAP for short). Speaking with Josh Protas, the vice president of public policy for the Jewish anti-hunger organization MAZON, Arrington referenced a biblical passage from Thessalonians, in which Apostle Paul wrote the following (this is from the New International Version):
The last line was the one Arrington quoted, using it as a means to argue that people receiving food assistance should be subject to work requirements. Cutting low-income assistance programs like SNAP has long been a rallying cry for the American right, although it's not always wrapped in an alleged Biblical justification. Some conservatives have criticized the progressive outcry over Arrington's remark, accusing major newspapers like the Post of poor comprehension of Christian theology. You can judge for yourself ― here's what Arrington actually said:
Although Arrington wasn't speaking in an at all aggressive or condemning tone, he most definitely cited his own preferred religious text as a basis for supporting his preferred public policy, despite the fact that all Americans are not Christian, nor even are all of his own constituents.
It was also offered as a rebuttal to Protas' invocation of a Bible passage from Leviticus, which (in different words depending on the version) urges adherents to leave behind some of their harvest, so that the poor and downtrodden can collect some for themselves. In other words, Protas brought out a Bible passage encouraging a more unconditional brand of charity, and Arrington countered with a Bible passage more simpatico with modern "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" conservatism.
However respectfully delivered it was, it was nonetheless a bit of theological saber-rattling ― "Actually, maybe God isn't into feeding the poor without strings attached?" Needless to say, plenty of individual Christians of different political views will come down on opposite sides of this. And of course, how relying on one particular faith text to argue about hunger and poverty policies will make atheists, or Muslims, or non-Christians of any stripe feel doesn't seem to be part of Arrington's considerations.