NC Protests Split on Bible's Message to Help Poor

Matthew Wilson, political science professor at SMU's Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, talks about the recent protests in North Carolina opposing policies to benefit low income families.

By Chris Kardish

Over the last two months, hundreds of protesters have walked out of North Carolina's capitol in handcuffs to show their opposition to policies by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

While a broader coalition of supporters is building around the "Moral Mondays" started by the state chapter of the NAACP, the inspiration behind the protests is a throwback to the biblical message of civil rights leaders fighting segregation in the Jim Crow era.

They argue that cutting benefit programs and cutting tax breaks for low- and middle-income families violates Jesus Christ's teaching to care for those with the least. It's running into another school of Christian thought followed by many Southern conservatives: The best way to help the poor is through private charity, providing jobs and promoting self-reliance, rather than government programs....

Matthew Wilson, a professor at Southern Methodist University who writes about the intersection of religion and politics, said differences in responses to poverty historically come down to denomination. Roman Catholics and black Protestants don't oppose public solutions, but Protestants of evangelical or Baptist leanings often do. And those denominations — heavily clustered in the South — emphasize personal responsibility, an individual relationship with God and work ethic, he said.

"A lot of studies show that evangelicals give more money to private anti-poverty groups than any others, so they do take very seriously the biblical imperatives to help the poor, but they differ in that they see the biblical imperative to help the poor as being an individual imperative as opposed to a collective social imperative," Wilson said....