Merry Christmas, welfare queens
December 17, 2013
With Christmas all around us, let's reflect on what Christmas is about. If we pull back from all the fuss, we see the true reason for this holiday — the celebration of the birth of Christ. What does that mean? This is the season when people talk about good will to men. However, the "War on Christmas" crowd, which has hysterics when someone says "Happy Holidays," seems indifferent to conditions affecting millions of Americans. President Ronald Reagan used the phrase "Welfare Queen," implying that the poor are gaming the system. He said nothing about the rich who game the system, costing taxpayers billions of dollars every year. We seem to have fallen into the trap of thinking that if a person is rich, they are worthy but if a person is poor, it's their fault.
How does this belief stack up to what Jesus said about the poor and how we should treat them? What did He say about the rich? For those who claim that America is a Christian nation, these questions should be of primary importance.
Pope Francis, the current pontiff, has spoken forcefully about the sin of income inequality. On May 16, he said, "We have created new idols" where the "golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal." On Nov. 24, he wrote, "While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few."
On Nov. 27, Rush Limbaugh responded, "This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope." As usual, Limbaugh is not only wrong philosophically but also is wrong historically. In the late 1800s, Pope Leo XIII said basically the same thing in his encyclical entitled "Rerum Novarum," on the conditions of labor. He rebuked employers for their unjust treatment of workers. Why is this topic such a concern to these popes?
In today's business world, workers are forced to accept low pay and unsafe working conditions, while major corporations are getting richer. To add insult to injury, you and I, as taxpayers, are subsidizing these corporations. Two of the worst examples are McDonald's and Yum! Brands, owner of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC.
McDonald's had an annual profit of $5.47 billion. Its CEO got a salary of $13.7 million, while employees can't make a living wage. McDonald's has a help line, McResources, which encourages employees to get food stamps and Medicaid. In consequence, it cost us taxpayers $1.2 billion to provide basic services to these workers. Yum! Brands made a profit of $1.6 billion and paid its CEO $14.1 million. It cost taxpayers $648 million to give their employees basic services.
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Republicans are outraged that food stamp recipients get an average of $133 a month in benefits; they want to cut nearly $40 billion over 10years. But I haven't heard Republicans complain about the billions in taxpayer dollars that subsidize these corporations. Apparently if you're a multi-billion dollar corporation, it's okay to be a welfare queen. If you're an hourly worker for a fast food company, receiving government aid makes you a bum.
For those who actually read the Bible, it's clear how God expects us to treat the less fortunate. Jesus never asked if a person was "worthy" before He healed them or gave them food. He identified with the poor and outcast of society. In Matthew 25:41-45, He said that anyone who did not help the poor and sick was also rejecting Jesus. How did Jesus feel about the rich? Read Mark 10:17-21 and Luke 18:22-25.
Some people claim that Jesus never said government was to care for the poor, but in First Century Israel, Jewish religious law was also its civil law. In the Old Testament, God rebuked the kings of Israel when they didn't care for their poor, sick, elderly, etc. Government is us; we are all accountable.
If you don't care what the Bible says about the poor, maybe the thought of your tax dollars going to already-wealthy corporations is enough. The point is, at this season of the year when we celebrate the birth of a very special baby, we should look around, see those in need, and work to eliminate the radical inequalities. In "A Christmas Carol," Jacob Marley said, "Mankind was my business." That is a thought with which we should all agree.
Jeanette Strong is a Fallon columnist.