I don’t like revealing negative emotion to people.

Okay, maybe annoyance and irritation are fine–I don’t mind showing those. But real anger? Sadness? Grief? Embarrassment?

Those are things I prefer to keep to myself.

That’s why it’s too hard for me to start this blog post with the sentence that I feel should start this blog, which is this: I cried tonight when I saw this image pop up in my Facebook feed.

horrible offensive terrible meme

“Don’t forget to pay your taxes this year so the government can give it to people who don’t work as hard as you.”

The vitriol I see spewed at the poor finally got to me tonight, and here I am, sitting in my living room with tears on my cheeks because I just don’t know how to keep excusing people for these kinds of statements. It’s in my nature to see the good in people, even when they have views that conflict with mine, but how much of this am I supposed to take?

I see angry, hateful images that target the poor on a daily basis. Even though I try to hide people from my Facebook feed who post offensive stuff frequently, it still pops up in unexpected places. And it’s not just Facebook. I hear stuff like this in the waiting room at the dentist, in the lobby of a hotel where I’m spending the night before a family wedding, in my classroom coming from my students, walking through the streets of my city or another, in editorials in my local newspaper, on blogs, in church services. I can hide problematic people on Facebook, but I can’t hide ideas like this from showing up in the real world.

Everywhere I go, I hear this message: There are poor, lazy people everywhere trying to cheat the system, and those of us who have money and jobs are better than them, morally and ethically and spiritually and intellectually and in every other way it is possible to be better than someone else.

How else am I supposed to read things like this?

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The facts are irrelevant here. I can comfort myself with the knowledge that the people who post these things are wrong–that there are very few people who cheat the system, that those who do cheat the system are often not doing anything other than cheating a different system that those of us with money get to cheat, that the majority of families who are in poverty/eligible for welfare/receiving welfare are working families, that everyone benefits from taxes and not just the poor. For every anecdote someone has of a person scheming and scamming the government so that they don’t have to work, there are countless more good, honest, hardworking people who use government benefits, even if they don’t realize it.

Yes, I can comfort myself with the knowledge that facts are on my side, but I can’t get over the fact that there is such hatred. Such vitriol. Such anger toward people without money.

And it comes from Christians.

From Christians!

Our holy book has over 100 verses that instruct us to care for the poor.  These verses don’t say to care for the poor and complain about it the whole time. They don’t say care about the poor people whose morals and values match ours. Our Bible doesn’t tell us that we should care for the poor when they’re ready to see the world the way we do, or do certain jobs, or stop being addicted to drugs, or stop suffering from mental illness that prevents them from holding down a job, or raise their IQ, or move to a town with better schools so they can be around people who are better role models, or go to college even though they don’t have the money for it, or not have sex but also don’t have an abortion if you do have sex but also don’t have too many kids you can’t afford.

Heck, Jesus himself told us to pay our freaking taxes and get over it! There are lots of things we have to think about, interpret, and wonder about how Jesus would feel or act, but one thing we know for sure. He said to pay our taxes, and he didn’t add any caveats about what that money was being used for.

Our Bible, in Deuteronomy 15:7, says, “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.” That’s what these memes and attitudes demonstrate! They demonstrate hardheartedness and tightfistedness against the poor in our country! I know that some people feel that “handouts” simply encourage people to continue on in their poverty, but from what I can tell from reading scriptures like these, it doesn’t matter!

A few verses later, in Deuteronomy 15:11: “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”

None of these verses are followed up with, “Ensure that those who you give money to are responsible with what you give to them, and don’t let them grow dependent upon your generosity.”
No. It says “I command you to be openhanded.

These commands are given to the Israelites of the Old Testament, but they’re given frequently enough that they seem worth considering today. The attitude seems important.

1 Samuel 2:8 says, “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.” Again, it doesn’t say that God raises the worthy poor or the moral poor or the righteous poor. It says THE POOR.

I suspect the reason that there is not a distinction made is because the truth today mirrors the truth that has always been: that the poor are not any more lazy, immoral, or unrighteous than those who have money.

Of course there are people who are lazy and without money, but I know a heck of a lot of lazy people who do have money. And I know people who are cruel and heartless, and they have money, too. I know people who are selfish and heard-hearted, and they have money. Greediness, laziness, and selfishness are not the character traits of the poor–they are the character traits of humanity.

These memes prove it.

I feel sick when I see these images and hear these words because they are a disgrace to a God who loves justice and seeks to shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, and heal the sick whether or not rich Americans think they deserve it.
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Thank you to the friends who helped me with the depressing task of putting together the gallery of offensive memes.
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Don’t miss my follow-up post to this one, When Christians Discovery Empathy.

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