Friday, December 30, 2016

Economic Fairness and the Least of These

The whole piece is rather insipid with a talking at cross-purposes and a focus on the ephemeral over the substance; none-the-less there are some elements of interest in Democrats Have a Religion Problem by Emma Green.

The article is an interview with Michael Wear, a former Obama White House staffer, regarding the party’s illiteracy about and hostility toward faith. The interviewing seems perfunctory and ill-informed and the responses seem rooted in the individual's positions rather than the broader issue or how a secular party can function in a majority Christian society.

The passage that I found interesting was:
Some of his colleagues also didn’t understand his work, he writes. He once drafted a faith-outreach fact sheet describing Obama’s views on poverty, titling it “Economic Fairness and the Least of These,” a reference to a famous teaching from Jesus in the Bible. Another staffer repeatedly deleted “the least of these,” commenting, “Is this a typo? It doesn’t make any sense to me. Who/what are ‘these’?”
I have blogged elsewhere about the effectiveness in allusive communication when there is a shared culture. This seems to me an additional example.

The least of these is from the King James Bible, Matthew 25, verse 31 onwards. It also shows up in some of the other Gospels.
31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
It is a beautiful and inspiring passage, a call to Christians to love their fellow man without reserve, without regard to status, without consideration of personal gain.

"The least of these" are the poor, the shunned, the marginalized. Before it became the party of Wall Street, you don't have to go all that far back to know that the passage would have been commonly known among the stalwarts of the Democratic party - FDR, JFK, in fact, all the Kennedy's, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Jimmy Carter, probably LBJ; all would have been familiar with and recognized the phrase. You don't have to be a religious zealot to know of the least of these, the allusion recurs through literature and philosophy.

Wear's story is in some ways an insignificant detail but it is in some ways also illuminating. How can you know your constituents if you don't speak their language? How can you inspire them if you don't share their aspirations? How can you maintain your moral bearings if you don't recognize the least of them and only take calls from those with the most?

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