Nicholas Kristof, columnist for the NY Times who is famous for being an all around good guy and doing stuff like personally buying a freeing sex slaves, wrote a column on Wednesday about how in addition to not agreeing with conservative values, liberals don't really understand them, either. The column is pretty interesting, but I'm always leery when people start asserting that we are hardwired towards philosophical attitudes like he does towards the end though. What is more serious, though, (as usual) is the commentary from the blokes on the internet.
Aside from the clear demonstration of the fluid definitions of "liberal' and "conservative" and the repeated assertions from each camp that you must be brain dead in order to belong to the other, the thing that jumped out to me most is the attitude repeated by more than one poster that giving money to churches isn't really charity because churches don't really care for the poor. This is troubling for a couple of reasons: there is a fundamental misunderstanding of people out there of what churches and other religious communities missions' actually are or those communities are not fulfilling them.
Make no mistake: caring for the poor is absolutely and unmistakably a mission of the Christian church. It is also a mission of just about every other religious community as well, but the tenor of the commentary of the article is largely American and largely focused at Christians, so I will focus on that from here on out. Helping the poor, though, is intrinsically wrapped up in Christian identity, starting with the Old Testament. (Leviticus 19:10, 23:22, Deuteronomy 15:7, 15:11, 24:14-15, 24:17-18, Matthew 6:1-3, Luke 4:18-21, 14:7-14. I could go on...) One specific example, though, is the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46) which is an excellent summary of the position and the inspiration for a fun Cake song.
In the parable, Jesus, after His return, will separate people into two categories -- sheep and goats. The sheep will be blessed and given the inheritance of the Kingdom of God because "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink..." there are a few other needs that the sheep satisfied, but ultimately, it comes down to the fact that they took care of the earthly needs of those who were needy. The goats, on the other hand, are cursed and rejected from the inheritance because they did not do those things. "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."
Now, if the churches are not doing those things, then we are failing at one of our missions. If people don't know that this is part of what Christians are charged to do, then we are also failing on another mission -- one so important that it is known as the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) -- to teach "all nations" what Christ taught. I hope it's the second one, because that's easier to fix.