Why do so many social conservative leaders get worked up about issues like gay rights and abortion, while seeming to ignore the biblical directive to address the plight of the poor? The Family Research Council's Tony Perkins didn't have a great answer to that question when asked by MSNBC's Martin Bashir in an interview Monday afternoon.
Bashir noted that the budget passed last week by House Republicans would slash programs serving the poor. "I didn't hear you, sir, stand up and say a word about these issues," he told Perkins. "I cannot find a Christian leader who will stand up and say, 'we are for the poor, and this is wrong.'"
In response, Perkins tried a few tacks. He mentioned something abut the deficit, arguing that "we've got to cut everywhere," and said he personally does charity work to benefit the poor through his Louisiana church. Finally he settled on the line that government intervention "crowds out" charitable support from churches and other institutions -- though just how was never explained -- and that in the long run, the poor will benefit by being taught to be self-sufficient.
Perkins wasn't all that convincing. So what's a better answer? The fact is that the political wing of American Christianity -- a very different thing from American Christianity itself -- has decided over the last few decades it cares more about "social" (meaning mostly sexual) issues than economic ones. And it's made the calculation to sign on with one political party to achieve its goals. But politics being what it is, being on Team GOP requires it to embrace the party's platform pretty much across the board -- or at the very least, not to make trouble by speaking out about things like economic unfairness (it's the same reason you saw few politically connected Christian leaders speak out against the war in Iraq, despite an equally clear biblical directive to promote peace). As a result, the social conservative movement consistently toes the party line by backing tax cuts for the rich over spending programs for the poor.
That's not necessarily an irrational position -- it's allowed the movement to achieve enormous sway within the Republican Party. But it does leave movement leaders like Perkins in an awkward spot sometimes.