An electronic benefit card for Georgia's food stamp program sits on the counter of Shinholster Grocery & Meat in Irwinton, Ga., Nov. 21, 2013.
Bryan Meltz/The New York Times/Redux

This Week in God, 4.1.17

First up from the God Machine this week is a congressional Republican relying on Scripture – or at least trying to – in order to push a conservative line on food stamps. The Washington Post reported on Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Tex.) pushing work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by quoting the New Testament.
The biblical passage, 2 Thessalonians 3-10, was a rebuttal to one of the hearing’s expert witnesses, a representative of the Jewish anti-hunger group MAZON. (He referenced Leviticus.) It is also a familiar refrain to anyone who has watched past debates about SNAP.

House Republicans have historically cited the verse – “if a man will not work, he shall not eat” – as justification for cutting some adults’ SNAP benefits. Arrington referenced the verse in a discussion about increasing the work requirements for unemployed adults on the food stamp program.
There are two key problems with the argument: one substantive, the other theological.

First, to suggest struggling Americans who rely on food assistance are lazy freeloaders, unwilling to work, is at odds with the evidence. The Post noted data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which found that “nearly two-thirds of SNAP recipients are children, seniors and people with disabilities,” the vast majority of the remaining third have jobs. In fact, 86% of Americans who receive SNAP benefits work 30 or more hours per week. The rest include, among others, teenagers aging out of the foster care system, the homeless, and recently released convicts.

The article added, many of the adults on SNAP “want to work,” but “effectively can’t.”

As for the New Testament, context matters. Religion Dispatches had a report a few years ago, explaining that the scriptural passage in question refers to a group of people who believed the Second Coming was imminent. They stopped working, not because they were indolent, but because they were waiting for the literal apocalypse.

The Religion Dispatches piece warned against depriving poor families of food today based on “a verse written for a specific time, a specific place, and specific situation in Thessalonica thousands of years ago.”

That sounds like good advice.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Bad news for another Catholic archdiocese: “A Montana Roman Catholic diocese will file for bankruptcy protection as part of a settlement with 72 people who filed sex abuse claims, church officials said Friday. The Diocese of Great Falls-Billings said it expected to make the Chapter 11 reorganization filing later in the day and the diocese and its insurance carriers would contribute to a fund to compensate victims and set aside additional money for those who have not yet come forward.”

* This report out of Alabama sounds like a bad idea: “You can call it a God Squad. An Alabama megachurch is seeking to establish its own police department – and a bill that would green light the force is already moving through the state senate.”

* So disappointing: “More than a dozen bills based on anti-Muslim animus have been introduced in the states this year. At least three of these anti-Sharia bills – in Montana, Arkansas and North Dakota – could be signed into law soon.”

* And the estimable Sarah Posner wrote a very good piece for The New Republic explaining how Donald Trump, “a thrice-married, biblically illiterate sexual predator,” managed to “hijack” the religious right movement.

Rachel Maddow Show This Week in God

This Week in God, 4.1.17