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Jesus Loves the 47 Percent

Mitt Romney's 47 Percent

By now you’ve heard about Mitt Romney’s “leaked video”.

You’ve probably heard analysis, debate, fact-checking, and Twitter jokes. This is a day or two late. I know. I’m sorry. But yesterday I was too frustrated to write something meaningful, and instead wasted several braincells arguing in the comments section of a political blog, which never ends well. Today, after a bit of reflection, I’ve realized why I was frustrated with Mr. Romney’s “47 percent” comments.

It has nothing to do with Romney and his politics, but rather it reminds me of my own journey, and my attitudes in the not-so-distant past.

This is what has sparked the conversation:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax….[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” -Mitt Romney (source)

As a follower of Jesus I simply cannot embrace this “Us vs. Them” narrative. 

In this narrative, the hardworking “real Americans” drive big trucks to hard jobs where we give our muscle and sweat to support our families and don’t take no help from nobody. We come home to our families and family values, where we pledge allegiance to the flag, read our Bibles, and clean our guns. At the end of the day we look at our work with pride and declare “WE BUILT THAT.”

But when we get our paychecks Obama grabs a big chunk and gives it to “Them”. These are illegal Mexicans who are sneaking into our country to take our jobs and get free government benefits. These are the people who spend all day playing video games and doing drugs and would rather have food stamps than jobs. These are the “white trash” who roll through WalMart on electric carts, using their welfare checks to load up on junk food and cigarettes. These are the 47 percent – dependent upon government, victims, entitled, irresponsible.

People on Welfare are Lazy

To my shame, I confess that I believed this.

Listening to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, I’d nod stupidly as the “Us vs Them” wedge was driven deeper into my own heart. As I’ve written about before, I ended up hating my neighbor. Sadly, when Romney’s statements were released this week, I saw that same ugly narrative rear it’s head in countless conversations. And having rejected it myself, I can’t bear to see my fellow Christians repeating it over and over again. Because as long as we hold “Them” at an arm’s length – or dismiss them as irresponsible, dependent, entitled – we will never love “Them.”

Yes, I’m sure there are some who are lazy and who choose to accept government benefits in perpetuity rather than work. However, I refuse to believe that this accurately describes half of our country.  The face of Romney’s 47 percent is not slouching through Wal-Mart in pajamas. It’s a young dad working hard every day to support a stay-at-home mom and a few young kids. It’s a divorced mom, abandoned by her husband, courageously trying to keep her family together. It’s a teenage mom who chose life. It’s a veteran. It’s your neighbor. It’s your grandparents.

I want to have a different attitude now. 

Regardless of your stance on government programs and the election, please don’t hate your neighbor. Don’t make the mistake that Romney made when he painted half the country with a broad, ugly stroke. Don’t make the mistake that I made when I believed that “Us” was somehow different, better than “Them”.

Don’t forget that “the 47 percent” is not a statistic, it’s millions of people with struggles and stories and hopes and dreams. If we open our eyes and our arms, we might find they are not so different from us. They are our fellow Americans, our fellow humans – created and loved by Jesus.

Jesus Loves the 47 Percent

Disclaimer: If you want to discuss what Mr. Romney meant, whether or not it’s true, how many people are on welfare, Obama’s economic policies, or any number of related issues, go for it. I  wrote and then deleted several paragraphs addressing those points, but I personally have no interest in pursuing that debate anymore. I want MY conversation here to be personal, spiritual and relational – not political. But all civil conversation is always welcome.

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  • kathy

    I like your thoughts here, Micah. I feel tremendous frustration with the current system that rewards entitlement; that think government is the answer. But I can honestly say (and this is just me, so don’t consider this a personal attack or judgement) that I’ve ever felt “hate” for my neighbor. Really all I feel is pity. And sorrow. And hopelessness that this is now the status quo. I’ve felt lost. I’ve felt frustrated. But I honestly haven’t felt hate. And I don’t think Romney does either. I think he wants to be President so that he can help all Americans succeed. I think he probably feels all the emotions I’ve listed above, but do I think he feels hate for his neighbor? No, I don’t.

    • http://redemptionpictures.wordpress.com micahjmurray

      Thanks for commenting, Kathy.

      I know “hate” is a strong word, and while I may not have felt “hate” as an emotion, when I’ve put my neighbor into a box, stereotyped and judged him, dismissed him as dependent and irresponsible, I believe I’ve been the opposite of loving. Therefore, “hateful.”

      I agree with you so much that government is not the answer, and I am very frustrated with the current systems that are in place. But while we work for a better system, let’s make sure that we don’t allow creeping prejudices to cloud our views of those in the system.

  • joann

    Soooooo tired of all these words of HATE!!! Let’s just call a “rock” a rock and leave it at that! I lived a long amount of years….single parenting, never accepting any form of “entitlement”….working minimum wage jobs and purchasing pampers rather than tampons as THAT was what was required of ME! Now I am a proud parent of adult children who KNOW the value of a dollar, how to pay the rent, what the DIFFERENCE is between a “need” and a WANT! the 47% is a real #…..plain and simple…..a rock is a rock! Simply, it has just gotten too easy to become part of that “percentage”. I have no hate for those of that %, nor do I have pity……they are only a product of a complete GENERATION of persons who wanted to be hated or pitied and did not have a strong-willed or minded parental figure that took the time, experienced the sacrifice of CHOOSING to purchase the pampers OVER the tampons (or ciggs, or cable, or acrylic fingernails…….etc!) and NOT ask for that entitlement that granted, would have made it so much easier! The man simply called a rock a rock…….and unless this country wants to go down the road that other countries such as Greece & France are headed down, the USA can not have almost HALF of it’s viable citizens choosing entitlements rather than choosing the “pampers”! On a personal note, I am an Ecumenical…..I hold respect, love and faith in persons of ALL faiths, religions, races, ethnic backgrounds/beleifs….so my opinion on this subject of the 47% is not mired in judging which race, ethnic, socio-geographical “make-up” comprises this percentage….rather as I stated above…..it’s simply generational….and it is those of my generation who failed miserably in setting proper examples to those we brought into this world to NOT be a person who “feels” entitlement is a right and not a “choice”!

    • http://www.facebook.com/michael.rowe.75470 Michael Rowe

      You might feel differently about it if you were a Christian.

  • kathy

    So you’re saying that (according to Jesus) if you are not “loving” toward your neighbor, you must therefore “hate” him? Really? That saddens me PROFOUNDLY, Micah. I simply do not adhere to that type of faith, reasoning or logic. I’m sorry, but you have lost me. I love many people, but I can’t name one person whom I hate.

    • http://redemptionpictures.wordpress.com micahjmurray

      Kathy,

      I was just using the word “hate” to mean “the opposite or absense of love”. Do you have a better word for that? (I know “hate” is pretty strong.)

  • Brian Hawkins

    So, I started to write and ended up with a long and elaborate reply, but I finally realized I could simplify: 2 Thessalonians 3: 6-15. Verse 10 says, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Paul goes a step farther in verses 6 and 14, even advising Christians to avoid association with such people. Why? “That they may feel ashamed.” Wow. Evidently, there is an enormous disparity between Biblical, Christian love and modern America’s concept of compassion.

    • http://redemptionpictures.wordpress.com micahjmurray

      Brian…

      I think you may have missed the point of what I was saying here.

      What I’m challenging is the conservative assumption that most of the people receiving government support (or the lower 47% of the income bracket who don’t pay taxes) are “ones who are unwilling to work.”

      I know this for a fact, because I’ve been in that 47%, receiving WIC and medicare for the past few years, while simultaneously working my butt off to support my family and finish college. And I knew many others in my same situation.

      • Brian Hawkins

        Admittedly, I really DON’T see your point. Sure, Jesus loves the 47%, but in exactly the same way he loves the other 53%. I do understand that as a Christian, you want to avoid an “us vs. them” scenario, but it seems like all you did was jump from one “side” to the other. I see little difference between generalizing conservatives as judgemental (hateful, even) and generalizing the 47% as lazy.

        My intent was to share a Christian response to one aspect of the actual problem, not a political response to the imagined or assumed.

  • Morgan Guyton

    This is the rap version of “Jesus is my candidate.” It seeks to address some of the theological problems raised by the comments here. God’s grace is a “culture of dependency.” The degree to which we make up stories in our minds about other peoples’ laziness is the degree to which we don’t know Christ (which is not to say that we should have ever outsourced our mercy to the least of these to the secular state in the first place).
    http://morganguyton.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/jesus-is-my-candidate.mp3

  • Chad

    I used to think the 47% were just lazy good-for-nothings that simply wanted a handout rather than working hard. Then I developed some health problems that forced me out of work, and my highly educated wife was unable to find full-time employment. Yes, we’ve taken government assistance in order to keep our heads above water and to feed our family. I’m now one of the 47%, and I’ve come to realize that the stereotypical caricature of the fat, lazy, welfare mom is just that – a caricature. While it is true that there are some out there that abuse the system, the vast majority of those on public assistance are those that are simply trying to keep their heads above water. It is sad that it’s so hard to get over the stereotypes in order to see the people that we are called, as Christ followers, to love and care for.

    • http://redemptionpictures.wordpress.com micahjmurray

      Well said, Chad! You just communicated in one paragraph what I’ve been rambling on about this whole time. Thank you.

  • Max Rymer

    Micah, thank you for mentioning me in the comment on Facebook to take a look at this post. I would have commented on Facebook, but there seems to be a healthy debate already taking place there. I do have some thoughts on what you have written…

    First off, I would say that this is such a narrative versus narrative campaign on both ends. Many of the people who support the president’s reelection hold drastic hate in their hearts for those who are wealthier than them. Many who support Romney do, in fact, despise those who take advantage of the welfare system. There is are 2 sides to this coin of loving your neighbor as yourself because, well, a loving relationship typically involves two parties. I do question those who take advantage of a welfare system.I believe that there is rampant abuse of this system, and in that, very little love is shown to those who are pouring finances into it. Case and point: I worked at a food shelter for two years. The men and women who regularly attended it were all people who receive welfare benefits from the government with little-to-no accountability. Every Saturday morning, men, women, and families would come in for breakfast. It would not be a shock to see 4 or 5 brand new Escalades pull up for a free meal in a 2 hour long period. The current state of welfare allows for this. That is a problem. That is unsustainable, unloving, and to allow for that abuse is ungodly, in my opinion. It is a failure in being your brother’s keeper to allow people to take advantage of a system meant to help those who truly need it.

    Thankfully, the Bible addresses the inherently rich versus poor narrative in Romans 14:5. Some people feel entitled to those benefits because they don’t have monetary wealth. That thought may never change for those receiving benefits.

    I LOVE that America has a safety net for those who try and fail, those who struggle on a daily basis, those who need grace monetarily in order to survive. The fact of the matter is that there are an abundance of Americans who do not need welfare or help in any way, but feel entitled because life is not as comfortable for them as they would see fit. Food stamps are used in drug/alcohol exchanges, there is very little accountability provided with welfare, and because of that it does not encourage people to begin working or make a better life for themselves.

    Hate narratives should not be acceptable on either side of the aisle. This year is especially hostile. I wonder how legitimate it is to label what Mitt Romney said as hateful, when what he said could be very accurate. He proposed that he will increase accountability, and frankly the “fat” of welfare will be cut, in all likelihood. Though 47% may be a bloated number, there will be a good number of people who vote based only on the fact that they may stop receiving bloated benefits from an unsustainable welfare system. The same may go for social security, or medicare, or medicaid. These are realities that we have to acknowledge.

    Hating your brother on welfare will not solve anything. It will make for rhetoric and stimulate more hate, but Christ showed us that love is contagious, effective, and vital in transformation. I would say that we still have a responsibility to care for the poor, but we need to correct the actions of those abusing the system in love and implement better accountability for them in the future. My hope for that runs very deep, because when people have sustained this way of life for so long it is hard to reverse it.

    Proverbs 18:9 says that the man who is slacking in work (different from the truly needing) is a destroyer. I think that this plays out in today’s society.

    • http://redemptionpictures.wordpress.com micahjmurray

      Thanks for chiming in Max. Much respect to you!

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