Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX) seems unaware that nowhere in the United States Constitution will you find mention of 2 Thessalonians 3-10 – or any other biblical passage. That, as it turns out, is the least of his problems. His biggest problem is that he did not read his own Bible before he opened his mouth.
Arrington cited those verses – “if a man will not work, he shall not eat” – as justification for cutting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits during a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing, “The Next Farm Bill: The Future of SNAP.”
He cited them in response to a Jewish witnesses’ recitation of a passage from Leviticus, the Jewish law Republicans claim to uphold with all their talk of the Ten Commandments.
Watch courtesy of The Washington Post:
“Leave the corners of our fields and the gleanings of our harvest and vinyards for the poor and the stranger.”
Or, as Republicans call “the poor and the stranger,” freeloaders.
Something of which Rep. Arrington was quick to remind Mr. Protas:
“I did hear Mr. Protas, your opening remarks, where you quoted Leviticus, I believe — and I think that’s a great reflection on the character of God and the compassion of God’s heart and how we ought to reflect that compassion in our lives. But there’s also, you know, in the Scripture, tells us in 2 Thessalonians chapter 3:10 he says, uh, ‘for even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: if a man will not work, he shall not eat.’ And then he goes on to say ‘we hear that some among you are idle’ … I think it’s a reasonable expectation that we have work requirements.”
Protas was having none of this, telling Arrington,
“No one is suggesting that people who don’t want to work should get benefits. There are stereotypes about SNAP recipients and myths about the program … that are very harmful to people in need who could take advantage of it.”
We are talking here about, as The Washington Post reminds us, “the mentally ill, the borderline disabled” and another group Republicans pretend to champion, veterans.
People who literally cannot work.
The author of 2 Thessalonians, on the other hand, was talking about people who chose not to: he was talking about Christians of the First Century who, thinking Jesus’ return imminent (2:1-2), had simply stopped working on the grounds that a job no longer mattered.
It’s right there in the letter, literally right in front of Arrington’s eyes if he would but read it.
The problem for that early Christian community in question is that those who were still working had to feed those who had stopped in expectation of the end. Through a conscious decision and not an inability to work, they had become a burden on the community of believers.
Context is everything, and Rep. Arrington should abandon his cliff-notes version and actually read the book he claims to champion.
The biblical passages are as problematic as the Words of the High One in the Heathen Poetic Edda as a matter of public policy but it seems particularly egregious that he chose a New Testament passage to pit against the Old Testament passage from Leviticus.
Though scholars agree 2 Thessalonians is only questionably the work of Paul of Tarsus (there are clear signs of fiddling by a later hand), even if it were certainly written by Paul, that would not privilege it. According to the First Amendment, the New Testament does not trump the Old, or, for that matter, the Poetic Edda.
Worse yet is the complete hypocrisy of Rep. Arrington. Leviticus is one of the Five Books of Moses, or as they are more commonly known to Christians, the Pentateuch, or Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Leviticus is a book of law. It is remarkable that a Republican of all people, a party that promotes the Ten Commandments, should reject a passage from Leviticus, which, just to drive the point home, has as its final passage (NRSV):
“These are the commandments that the LORD gave to Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.”
Add to that, Jesus said (Matthew 5:17-20):
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”
Rather than rejecting Leviticus, Arrington should have defended it to his last breath, but his Bible is not a Bible of belief but a Bible of talking points, in contradiction of the very words of Jesus, a weapon with which to beat the poor over the head.
For Jesus, these people were not freeloaders. They were blessed.